Buying and owning a home is a part of the American dream. For many people, purchasing a home is one of the biggest and most expensive decisions they will ever make. However, there is no guarantee that your dream home will be next to your dream neighbors. So it may not be until after meticulously planning, purchasing, and moving into your new home that you even think about who lives next door. Over time, some unfortunate homeowners can experience neighborly problems that they never expected or anticipated. Many minor annoyances can be ignored. But what about disagreements over important things like the boundaries of your property?
Disputes over property lines can be challenging. Homeowners invest a great deal of time, effort, energy, and money into their homes. After such an investment, no one wants to feel like they are losing a portion of their property value. When such an issue comes up, things can get heated quickly. That is why it’s essential to know how to deal with a neighbor dispute over property lines while maintaining a good relationship with the people next door. First, we will look at available legal mechanisms for settling boundary disputes. Then we will discuss what you can do to help things go more smoothly.
Mechanisms for Changing Land Boundaries
If there is a discrepancy between what landowners believe their property boundaries are and what the official records reflect, there are two ways they can fix the discrepancy.
The Revised Code of Washington State acknowledges that sometimes land is used in a way that contradicts legal boundary lines. In RCW 58.04.007, the legislature allows landowners to reach an agreement regarding an altered boundary line. It also describes the proper procedure for legally recording this change without the need for litigation.
To make use of RCW 58.04.007:
- The interested landowners must come to an agreement on where the new boundary is;
- They must use the appropriate legal terminology to accurately describe the new boundary in written form;
- They must hire a surveyor to create an accurate map of the new boundaries and file that map with the written description;
- The written description must be signed and acknowledged by both parties in the same manner as a conveyance of property; and
- All must be filed in accordance with RCW 58.09.
One of the parties must file this agreement in the county wherein the property lies. From the time of such filing, the new boundaries are binding on the property and all its owners going forward.
If you cannot reach an agreement, the next step is litigation.
When the parties cannot agree on where the boundary is or to a change in the border, the only way to resolve the issue is to involve the courts. Courts can rule on what the boundary is. A judge can also decide to award damages when one party’s actions infringed on their neighbor’s property rights. However, you should use litigation only as a last resort when all attempts to reach an agreement have failed.
Litigation is expensive and time-consuming. In fact, it can be more costly than the value of the land at issue in a boundary dispute. So it is wise to attempt to settle these disagreements without involving the courts.
Resolving Neighborly Disputes Over Property Lines
Now that we have established that it is best to reach an agreement over disputed property lines, we come to the question of how to reach such an agreement. When arguments get heated, the chances of reaching a mutual agreement diminish greatly. So follow the steps below to keep things friendly and increase your chances of avoiding court.
Identify the Problem
Before even approaching your neighbor, be sure of what you want. For example, if you think your neighbor planted a tree on your land, decide how you want it resolved before addressing the issue with your neighbor. Decide if you want them to move the tree or pay you for encroaching on your land. It is best to have the desired remedy in mind before addressing the issue.
Talk to Your Neighbor
After identifying the issue and how you want it resolved, it is time to speak with your neighbor. Schedule a time to sit down and discuss the issue. Bring documentation that shows your neighbor the basis of your assertions. Survey maps, title documents, deeds, and the like can be useful tools to facilitate the discussion. Keep in mind that most neighbors want to resolve issues amicably, so keep your tone pleasant as you try to reach a mutual understanding.
Hire a Surveyor
You may both wish to pitch in and hire someone to survey the property. This will assure both of you that the land survey is up-to-date before you contemplate a final resolution.
Talk to Your Neighbor Again
After the joint survey, try speaking with your neighbor one more time. Many people will act reasonably and cooperate to resolve any boundary discrepancies when faced with cold hard facts.
If you cannot reach an agreement, it is time to attempt mediation. Mediation is your last best chance to resolve the issue out of court. So contact an experienced real estate legal practitioner, and set a mediation date. Having an attorney in your corner shows your neighbor that you are serious and can help you make more informed decisions during the meeting.
Have Your Attorney Send a Letter
Before initiating legal action, the last step would be to have your attorney send your neighbor a demand letter. Sometimes this is enough to make even the most stubborn person back down and resolve things amicably.
File a Lawsuit
When all else fails, it is time to file a lawsuit. Some issues are too hard to resolve amicably. Typically, the person who stands to lose money or land will be resistant to an agreement. That is what courts are there for. So have a good attorney in place and start the legal ball rolling.
We Can Help
The experienced attorneys at Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S., have decades of experience in Washington real estate issues. We understand the delicate nature of these disagreements, and it is our goal to simplify your life as much as possible. So call us directly or contact us online today for an initial consultation.