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Whose land is it anyway?

| Aug 23, 2017 | Neighbor Disputes |

Nothing ruins a potentially friendly relationship between new or old Washington neighbors than a possible issue about adverse possession of someone’s land.

Bad feelings and legal actions arise from the old common law of adverse possession even among well intended people.

Adverse possession lawsuit

The issue of adverse possession has arisen time and time again and recently USA Today has reported on yet another squabble that has caused more than just a lawsuit. When a new neighbor realized that the old existing neighbor was using a corner of his land, and sought to prevent it, things got ugly. Emotions have run high and have resulted in the erection of a tall fence between the properties, video surveillance equipment, a no-contact order, an arrest of one of the neighbors and untold expenses.

The grievances are over a relatively small piece of land. The old existing neighbor argued that the property piece in question should hers, based on adverse possession.

Adverse possession criteria

Washington state does not have specific defining statutes regarding the criteria a private person must meet to succeed in having adversely possessed land but relies on case law. In LeBleu v. Aalgaard, the Court of Appeals of Washington noted that to succeed in a claim of adverse possession, the plaintiff must prove his or her possession met the following:

  • Exclusive such that he was not sharing the possession
  • Actual and uninterrupted such that it was not periodic or in thought only
  • Open and notorious such that is was not in secrecy or trickery
  • Hostile which does not require ill-will but requires that the possessor treated the property as his own against all others for the required statutory 10-year period

However, subjective belief as to true right to possess or own the land is not necessary. A person can know that he or she does not officially own the land as per any legal document, that he or she did not purchase it or inherit it, but still prevail in making it his or her own.

The possessor must only behave as per the criteria above for at least 10 continuous years to succeed in the claim of ownership by adverse possession.