Many people wait years, if not decades, to purchase their first piece of property. They may take extra jobs and work long hours to save up money for an initial down payment on a home. Then, once the property is purchased, they believe that it is – and always will be – their own. While this is usually true, those who own land or infrequently visit their property, must be aware of claims of adverse possession.
What Is Adverse Possession?
Adverse possession is a special type of real estate claim where a trespasser or squatter can “adversely” acquire the right to land after living on it for a certain period of time. Adverse possessors essentially argue that the land has been abandoned – to them.
In Washington, adverse possessors must show that their possession of the land was:
- Hostile (meaning that they did not have permission from the owner)
- Actual (they must have actually been using the land)
- Open and Notorious (such that it would be obvious to the real owners of the land)
- Continuous for a period of 10 years or more.
While adverse possession can occur when a squatter openly lives on your land for a period of 10 years and gains right over the full plot, it can also occur in more subtle ways. For instance, if a neighbor builds a fence on your land that is two feet over the property line. If this doesn’t get addressed for 10 years, then the neighbor adversely gains possession over an additional two feet of property.
Preventing Adverse Possession From Happening To You
The first and most important step to preventing adverse possession is to be aware of your property and its boundaries. Take a look at surveys and the survey markers on your property to see how far it extends, and make sure that you’re regularly visiting and investigating your property to make sure that others aren’t using it. You may also consider putting up private property signs.
If you believe that someone may have built a structure on your property, is using your property to access another feature, such as a lake or road, or has taken up squatting on your land – do something! If you don’t want the person or structure to be there, consider taking legal action to have them removed, such as a declaratory judgment that they cannot be there, or a quiet title action to remove potential claims.
If you don’t care that someone is using your property, but don’t want them to gain title to it, consider granting them written permission. For example, perhaps you have a neighbor who crosses your backyard every day on her way to work. Her use may eventually constitute adverse possession of an easement, known as a prescriptive easement. If you give her permission, her use is no longer hostile and her claim disappears.
Protect Your Property From Surprise By Contacting the Real Estate Attorneys At Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S.
If you have concerns about the sanctity of your property rights, contacting an experienced property law attorney can be a good first step. Lawyers have the ability to request all title documents related to your property, including boundary surveys, deeds, and easements that have been recorded.
After reviewing these types of documents the real estate attorneys at Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S., can help you determine whether you may be facing a potential adverse possession claim. For more information, contact us online or at 253-272-2997.