Property owners can run into all types of disputes with their neighbors over the years. You may disagree with your neighbors’ decorating decisions, how often they choose to mow their lawn, or how loud they play their music. While these types of disagreements can be annoying, they are rarely grounds for legal action.
By contrast, disputes over land and access issues can quickly turn into serious disagreements that warrant bringing legal claims. Even relatively small questions about where a boundary on a property lies can raise fundamental questions about who has what property rights.
Common Boundary Problems in Bonney Lake
On a day-to-day basis, property owners rarely think about the boundaries to their properties. For most, a fence may separate them from their neighbors, or there is a basic understanding of where the lawn transitions from one owner to another. But no need to mark the exact line in stone.
Boundary issues usually come up in circumstances where one property owner is trying to make a change to his or her property, and in the course of doing so, learns that a fence or other type of structure is not where it properly should be. Or one owner may be attempting to sell his or her property (or a portion thereof) and learn that current documents related to the property are not accurate.
Boundary disputes typically arise when one owner tries to clarify an existing boundary or deal with an issue like those mentioned above. For example, in the process of renovating a garage, the garage owner may realize that his neighbor’s shed actually invades his property and prevents the remodel he or she would like to complete.
In this instant, it may become necessary for one owner to request that another move or remove a structure that crosses a boundary line, which can quickly lead to disagreements about whether the move is proper and, if so, who should pay for it.
Another example of a boundary dispute that commonly occurs is when one neighbor slowly attempts to take control over another neighbor’s land over time. He or she may slowly encroach on the property by moving landscaping or beginning to maintain a neighbor’s land. This can lead to disagreements over precise boundaries and call for formal clarification of exact boundary lines.
Cooperatively Resolving Boundary Disputes
Understandably, most property owners would prefer to avoid court to resolve boundary disputes, and instead, focus on working together to clarify where a boundary may be and ensure that it is respected. This is most easily done by turning to local government documents to confirm boundary lines.
In Washington, property owners can trace the property documents that led to the formation of their parcel of land and look at any documents that subsequently modified that parcel. For example, when a subdivision is created, the lots on that subdivision will be recorded, and that subdivision will be filed with the local government. Where individual plots are created, they are usually similarly recorded through plats.
These documents will set forth details about the land and how the specific plot at issue was created. For example, they may set forth recorded easements on the land, indicate where roads are to be placed, or where underground utilities may run. These documents will also clearly set forth the measurements for the boundaries of an individual plot. Sometimes, by referring to these older documents, neighbors can determine the precise boundaries of their land.
Another alternative route is to have a survey of the property conducted. A surveyor will use existing markings and landmarks to determine the boundaries of a property and provide a map, known as a survey, of the property in question. Surveys can also be used to resolve disputes over where boundary lines are.
Under Washington law, property owners can resolve uncertain boundaries by agreement and record a survey map with their local government that verifies these boundaries. This can help to avoid ongoing disputes or future disputes between new owners. Where an agreement on an uncertain boundary cannot be reached, Washington law then permits a property owner to sue to resolve an uncertain boundary.
Boundary Litigation in Washington
Where neighbors cannot work together to resolve a boundary issue or there is a lack of clear evidence as to where a boundary should be located, Washington law permits property owners to sue to establish where a boundary should be located.
Washington’s statutes set forth the procedure that must be followed to resolve a boundary issue through the courts in this way. The court will establish an advisory panel, which includes three individuals to evaluate and advise on where a boundary should be located. At least one of those advisors must be a surveyor.
Importantly, this process can only be used where both landowners are uncertain about where the boundary lies. In most instances, at least one landowner will believe that he or she knows where the boundary is and will use litigation to try to confirm that existing boundary. This is a separate process that uses civil litigation to establish a party’s property rights.
One of the most common doctrines used in legal disputes where one party is trying to establish a boundary that is in dispute is adverse possession. Adverse possession allows one party to acquire the property of another under certain conditions if he or she has been using that property for a long enough period of time.
Thus, even where a plat or existing recorded document sets forth a particular boundary on paper, a neighbor may still sue to have a new boundary line recognized under the doctrine of adverse possession. He or she may argue that they have been using their neighbor’s land for a long enough time, and in the correct manner, such that the land should become theirs and the boundary line should be moved.
Washington Lawyers Helping You Address Boundary Issues
Adverse possession claims can be very complicated and often require the assistance of a real estate attorney. Even reviewing documents like deeds, plats, or surveys frequently requires specialized knowledge and a keen eye for details.
At Blado Kiger Bolan, PS, our real estate attorneys can work with you to discuss your boundary issues and determine whether they can be resolved amicably or may require litigation. For more information, contact us online or at 253-272-2997.