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Property Line Dispute Lawyer

A property line dispute lawyer can help settle problems with neighboring properties

With a combined 100 years of experience in all types of real estate law, the property line dispute lawyers at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess have seen it all. Over the years, in fact, Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess has become a thought leader in real estate law (especially property and boundary line disputes). Because of this hard-fought experience, they truly understand the intricacies of real estate law and know how to use them to benefit your claim.

As property ownership changes hands over time, the physical boundaries that owners observe to separate properties can shift. In fact, it is not entirely uncommon for a long-time property owner to obtain a survey of his or her property and discover that the deed’s legal description does not match how the property has been used over the years. Physical changes made to the land, combined with successive changes of property ownership, can make it challenging to determine where accurate property lines are by looking at the property alone.

It is this discrepancy that can lead to property boundary line disputes between neighbors. While it may seem counterintuitive, there are legal doctrines that can shift ownership of a property from one person to another based solely on property use. This ownership change can occur regardless of whether the person obtaining ownership rights to the property intended to do so.

In boundary dispute situations, there are often two sides to the story, and the situation may need to be settled by a court. If you are involved in a property line dispute, it is imperative that you enlist the help of an experienced real estate law firm, capable of representing your interests.

Contact us today discuss your property boundary line dispute situation and show you how our real estate attorneys can help. Call now: 206-621-1110 (Seattle), 253-572-1000 (Tacoma), 360-742-3500 (Olympia), 971-416-0881 (Portland).

Property Boundary Line Dispute Lawyers Handle Your Property Line Issues

Property boundary line disputes can be a disruptive and aggravating challenge for both business and residential property owners. Our boundary line dispute attorneys frequently deal with the following types of legal issues:

  • Determining legal boundaries, versus what has been routinely used and observed
  • Evaluating the legal impacts of structures (such as fences) or trees and vegetation that encroach over a neighboring property’s boundary
  • Changing legal property descriptions to match current use
  • Evaluating your rights in connection with a trespass, such as your neighbor’s using your property without your permission
  • Analyzing construction activities that may affect the stability of your land or interfere with an established property use, such as by blocking your driveway
  • Evaluating property improvements that cross a property line or violate laws, covenants, permitting or zoning requirements.

Steps to Take with Property Boundary Line Disputes in Washington State

Though uncommon, sometimes neighboring property owners can agree on changes to legal descriptions to match the actually observed boundaries. In other cases, neighbors may not be so amicable. In trying to resolve your property boundary line disputes, we suggest that prospective clients consider the following steps:

1. Identify the problem.

Clearly identify the specific boundary problem and consider how you would like it resolved. For example, in cases where your neighbor puts up a fence — would you like the fence removed or do you prefer restitution (payment) if it encroaches on your property?

2. Stay calm and be civil.

You want to resolve the problems, not escalate them, so discuss the problem first, if possible, with your neighbor. In so doing, be prepared to present legal documents such as title documents (title reports, etc.), property surveys, plat maps, and deeds to show your neighbor. Before turning to the courts, it is best to ascertain whether the problem was a simple misunderstanding and is, thus, solvable without further escalation. Often, we find that when neighboring property owners are dedicated to solving the boundary line dispute amicably, they can coordinate their efforts as well (such as by jointly hiring a surveyor for a report).

3. Utilize a surveyor.

Having a current survey provides evidence of your claim and prevents arguments and guess-work about where the property line actually is.

4. Check your title insurance.

While the standard title insurance policy contains an exclusion for boundary line disputes, it may help to notify your title insurer of the dispute. In some cases, it might agree to provide legal representation.

5. Consult an attorney.

Some disagreements regarding boundary lines are too deep for neighbor-to-neighbor negotiations. Typically, the party who may be losing property by virtue of the observed boundary line simply cannot accept the legal realities of his or her situation. In those instances, you likely need to consult an attorney.

The property boundary dispute attorneys at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess have several options to address this situation. We can:

  • Seek an injunction preventing your neighbor from continuing to use the property
  • Seek monetary compensation for damage to your property or its decreased value
  • Negotiate a compromise
  • Force changes through legal means.

Don’t let your boundary dispute escalate out of control. Call us today: 206-621-1110 (Seattle), 253-572-1000 (Tacoma), 360-742-3500 (Olympia), 971-416-0881 (Portland).

Washington State Property Line Laws

Washington has laws that specifically deal with property lines and fences separating your property from your neighbors.

  • According to RCW 16.60.020, and 16.60.030, when a landowner builds a boundary fence along a property line, that landowner generally can seek reimbursement from the neighboring landowner for one-half the cost of the fence. However, notice must first be given by the landowner building the boundary fence.  Both landowners are jointly responsible for maintaining boundary fences. RCW 16.60.050 deals specifically with hog fencing enclosures and states that respective owners shall keep up and maintain in good repair all partition fences between the enclosures.
  • Washington RCW 7.40.30 prohibits building “spite fences,” which are built maliciously and intended to spite, injure, or annoy an adjoining landowner. The law allows courts to issue injunctions to stop the construction of spite fences or other structures and to compel abatement and removal.
  • Washington laws also address tree trimming, when trees encroach on one landowner’s property from a neighbor’s property. While a property owner has the right to trim encroaching tree branches up to the property line, if the trimming kills or irreparably harms the tree, the property owner may be liable for timber trespass and the cost to replace the tree.

In addition to Washington State property line laws, check to see if there are community or local laws that affect your property boundary situation.

How To Settle Property Line Disputes With Neighbors

Property line disputes with neighbors can be upsetting and lead to costly lawsuits, but they can also be settled amicably.

It’s best for all parties to reach an agreement that can resolve neighbor property line disputes. Once you agree, you should work with an attorney to come up with a deed that details the perimeters of the land. This should be signed by all parties and be filed with your county recorder’s office or land registry office.

If you cannot work out an agreement on your own, another option is to use the services of a professional mediator, an impartial party who can help negotiate an agreement. You may find a mediator through your local courthouse, police precinct or bar association, or through the National Association for Community Mediation.

If these options do not work for you, there are a few ways to settle property boundary disputes in Washington through legal means. These include:

A Lawsuit to Resolve the Boundary Line Dispute

When parties simply cannot agree to where a given boundary line should be, their only recourse is to seek a judgment from a court. This takes place, of course, through the litigation process. By far, the most common cause of action for such a situation is adverse possession. Adverse possession is the legal doctrine that can be asserted if you’ve possessed another person’s property openly, continuously, exclusively, actually, and without permission for a period of at least 10 years (seven years, under “color of title”). If the requirements for adverse possession are met, then a court may rule that the section of disputed property has legally shifted ownership to the adversely-possessing party.

RCW 58 Agreement

Sometimes property owners recognize that the boundary line has shifted and want to avoid litigation to change the recorded legal descriptions to match the actual use of the property on the ground. To do this, the Washington State legislature passed RCW 58.04.007. This statute allows property owners to essentially change a shared boundary line by having a surveyor assist in providing new legal descriptions to match the actually-observed boundaries and executing a written agreement regarding the change in the properties; they then record that document with the county.

The statute reads as follows:
“If all of the affected landowners agree to a description and marking of a point or line determining a boundary, they shall document the agreement in a written instrument, using appropriate legal descriptions and including a survey map, filed in accordance with chapter 58.09 RCW. The written instrument shall be signed and acknowledged by each party in the manner required for a conveyance of real property. The agreement is binding upon the parties, their successors, assigns, heirs and devisees and runs with the land. The agreement shall be recorded with the real estate records in the county or counties in which the affected parcels of real estate or any portion of them is located;”

However, if all landowners cannot resolve their issues and agree to a point or line determining the boundary between two or more parcels of real estate, the law allows that any one of them may bring a lawsuit to make this determination as provided in RCW 58.04.020.

Boundary Line Adjustment

The last option to change a boundary line is through the boundary line adjustment process with the county where the property is located. Each county has its own system of how it administers proposed boundary line adjustments. Property owners seeking to change a boundary line must contact their county’s local planning department and discuss how to go about fulfilling the various administrative requirements for a boundary line adjustment. Commonly these types of boundary line changes are done between properties that are owned by the same individual; an RCW 58 agreement would be far preferable otherwise. This is due to the fact that an RCW 58 agreement avoids the county’s administrative procedures that are sometimes difficult to follow.

An experienced real estate attorney can help you determine the best way to proceed legally in a property line dispute based on your individual situation.

Call Our Boundary Line Dispute Attorneys for Help

At Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess, we know the laws and the legal system. We will use our decades of experience to protect the physical integrity of your property in any boundary line dispute. Whether you would like to change your legal property description to match current use or prevent an adjoining property owner from unlawfully encroaching on your property, we are here to defend your rights.

Call Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess today at one of our offices at 206-621-1110 (Seattle), 253-572-1000 (Tacoma), 360-742-3500 (Olympia), 971-416-0881 (Portland).