Residential property line dispute (both properties in King County WA) - can I recover attorney's fees if I prevail in court?

Asked over 4 years ago - Seattle, WA

Neighbor had survey done.
Neighbor then put fences on what I believe is my side of the property line.
Neighbor says if I have concerns about the placement of the fences, I must obtain my own survey.
Neighbor also says that, even if I’m correct, I’ll still have to take him to court in order to have the fences removed.

Q1: Does his survey have to be filed with the King County Auditor? I looked online and don’t see that anything’s been filed.

Q2: If I get a survey that shows something different than his, how does the court determine which survey is correct?

Q3: If I prevail in court, can I recover my costs (my survey)? My attorney’s fees?

Attorney answers (3)

  1. Jordan K. Foster

    Contributor Level 12

    Answered . You may not be able to recover attorneys’ fees, but you may be entitled to the land and receive an injunction for the neighbor putting up a fence out of spite. Attorneys’ fees are only recoverable if permitted by a statute, a contract or other recognized ground in equity. Generally land disputes don’t invoke any attorney’s fees, and at first blush, there does not appear to be any grounds for attorney’s fees. Though, there may be grounds for waste pursuant to RCW 4.24.630 (see link below).

    Offhand, a survey does not necessarily have to be recorded, and often times a survey crew is just there to mark the four corners of the boundary for the property owner. If the surveys differ or there is confusion over legal descriptions the court may make a determination via adverse possession or boundary by acquiescence. Adverse possession is a legal claim that works against the true property owner for not claiming their land. In short, adverse possession requires open use, continuous use (10 years), exclusive use (keep others out), adverse use (no permission) and notorious use (known to others). A boundary line by acquiescence occurs when there is a mutual mistake as to the true line.

    As I have mentioned before: boundary line disputes are not fun. They can be very contentious and if they lead to litigation, very expensive. Your situation is the classic example of a developing boundary line dispute: No one really quite knows where the boundary lies, then one day the neighbor gets a survey done revealing a different line of demarcation. Then suddenly the actual survey is supposed act as the Berlin Wall (former). Yet, for however long prior to the survey no one seemed to care too much, so long as there was a general understanding.

    You should consider consulting with a real estate attorney to review specific facts of your case to see if the above elements apply or you have other remedies available to you. As mentioned, these situations can be contentious and expensive, so extending the olive branch to your neighbor to reach an amicable resolution is always helpful.

  2. Shawn B Alexander

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

    Answered . I agree with Mr. Foster on all counts. The value of the land being claimed is rarely worth the fight with the neighbors and the attorney's fees unless there is some other consideration at stake.

    Good Luck

  3. Roy Earl Morriss

    Contributor Level 11

    Answered . I generally agree with the other answers - But, I would make a couple of other points (some as an attorney and some as a land surveyor). As for the survey issue...the question of a survey being filed or not - if the survey indicates that the occupation of the land is in conflict with the survey, state law requires filing a record of survey. Also, if the property is not a platted lot and new corners are set which do not agree with and agree with a previously recorded survey then, again, a record of survey must be filed. While two surveyors might come up with slightly different answers as to a boundary, they are going to be close unless there is some issue with the existing monumentation or the the legal description. I'd be happy to take a look at the parcels online and see if there are any likely issues - and if a survey has been filed.
    From the attorney side - the problem with just letting a property boundary issue just sit is that they seldom go away by themselves - when you sell the property you would probably need to disclose that there may be a boundary issue - and if you do not disclose and your buyer ends up in a fight over the issue you could be drug into that fight. So, I really suggest you find out where the line is...boundary disputes can be solved in a number of non-litigous ways.

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