Legal Question in Real Estate Law in Washington

How do I deal with a neighbor who wants to move my fence line? It's been there for 25 years.

Asked on 9/21/16, 8:35 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Amir John Showrai The Pacific Law Firm, PLLC

You do not provide much factual background for me to go off of, so this is a very general answer but hopefully will point you in the right direction. The most cost-efficient way to handle a boundary dispute, is to select an agreed-upon surveyor, and have that person come and survey both properties to settle the issue of where the property boundary line lies. The loser pays for the survey.

However, if your fence line has been there for 25 years, even if it has been on his side of the property line, meaning you have been using part of his property for 25 years, you may be entitled to keep that extra land under the theory of "adverse possession."

RCW 7.28.070 is Washington's adverse possession statute and it provides that, "Every person in actual, open and notorious possession of lands or tenements under claim and color of title, made in good faith, and who shall for seven successive years continue in possession, and shall also during said time pay all taxes legally assessed on such lands or tenements, shall be held and adjudged to be the legal owner of said lands or tenements, to the extent and according to the purport of his or her paper title. All persons holding under such possession, by purchase, devise or descent, before said seven years shall have expired, and who shall continue such possession and continue to pay the taxes as aforesaid, so as to complete the possession and payment of taxes for the term aforesaid, shall be entitled to the benefit of this section."

To qualify, you have to meet every single requirement of the statute. Going through the statute clause by clause, here is a short analysis:

1. You appear to be an actual possession of the land, since the fence line is there anything using the property up to the fence line.

2. You meet the "open and notorious" clause by virtue of the fact that you haven't been hiding this fact and in fact, the world at large can see where your fence line is.

3. You appear to satisfy the "claim and color of title" clause by virtue of the fact that I am guessing when you bought the property or build a fence, you did so in good faith, thinking this is where the actual property line is.

4. Since the fence line has been there for 25 years, you appear to satisfy the seven-year requirement of how long you have to have been actual possession of the land.

5. If you have been paying property taxes on the land, that have been assessed by the County, then you meet that requirement as well.

If you do the above five things, you can file a lawsuit to ask a judge to declare you to be the lawful owner of this land. The last part of the statute just says this applies regardless of whether you purchased the property, inherited the property, so long as a total of seven years have gone by and the taxes have been continually paid during that time.

I want to caution you, this is only a very generalized explanation. Adverse possession and property disputes in general can become factually complicated. Each fact may make a major difference as to whether you would succeed in the event of a legal dispute that is decided by court. I would suggest you hire local counsel, even if it costs you a few hundred dollars, and have them go over all your options in a setting where they can ask you as many questions as they want to get all the facts out on the table.

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Answered on 9/22/16, 4:50 am

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