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Do I need a real estate attorney?

Puyallup, WA |

When I was gone neighbor moved 20 year old fence one foot onto my property. A note (we do not speak) said fence now on true property line. Never surveyed. Do I need attorney to force removal of fence? If I do, is it worth the expense?

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Attorney answers 5


Situations like this one are important, and need to be handled as soon as they are noticed. How long ago was the fence moved? Do you agree that the property line is where the fence is now? It sounds like you don't really know, and your neighbor might not know either.

As you suggest, a survey might clear this up. Perhaps you can call a survey company and determine how much it would cost to verify. Then you can decide whether you can go back to your neighbor with accurate survey data and resolve the issue, or if the neighbor still disagrees, you can take him to court.

Don't wait too long, since you don't want time to run out. Call an attorney to help if you need it.

The above is not intended to be legal advice, but may be used for general information. Please contact an attorney for specific help tailored to your needs.


First get your property surveyed, or at least the property line where the fence sits. Then make a decision after that as to what to do or not do.


first you need to consult the survey when you bought the home to see the status of the fence at that time. It would also be helpful to see the neighbot's survey as to why he thinks the fence needed to be moved. It is better to speak than sue in this case. Once you determine if you agree with neighbor or not, find out cost to solve problem, i.e. move fence back to where you feel it ought to be/original location. I would also consult the township to show where they say the property lines are. Then consult a real estate attorney to explore your options based on full facts. If this is a significant issue, you might need an appraiser to place a value on the diminution of value of your house based on the fence's new location. the consultation should not cost that much. it would be worth it for peace of mind. If litigation might be needed, you will have to make the value judgment as to whether it is worth it to you but bear in mind the impact when you go to sell the property. Good luck.


Your question indicates that there may be an issue of adverse possession - depending on where the property line is determined to be located. If the fence was in the wrong location for 10+ years and you can satisfy all of the other elements, you may have obtained title to the one foot strip of property by adverse possession. I would agree with my colleagues that the starting point is a survey to establish where the property line is. I also agree that disputes with neighbors over fences and adverse possession, etc., can be expensive and bitter. Once you have the facts, I would suggest you consult with a real estate lawyer who handles litigation and discuss your options.

Posts on this forum are intended for educational and information purposes only and do not create an attorney client relationship. The answers posted should not be treated as legal advice. The posts are intended to be accurate but are based on incomplete information and may be truncated for expediency or to avoid disclosing confidential advice on a public forum. They are not a substitute for speaking directly with an attorney in your area. Mr. Thayer is licensed in Washington state only and laws in your jurisdiction may vary.


This appears to be an issue of adverse possession.

Adverse possession is a method in which someone gains ownership of some else's property without providing compensation. The method which this ownership is gained is usually dictated by statute and through court decisions over time (this is called precedent). For instance, in Washington State, one must use another person's property openly, continuously, exclusively, actually, and without permission for a period of at least 10 years. After those 10 years run, then technically that person has a claim to that portion of the property by virtue of adverse possession. The party who lost a portion of his property subject to adverse possession is not entitled to compensation. The section of property used simply shifts to the adversely possessing party.

Now, the broader question is what to do about it? The problem with boundary line disputes involving adverse possession, is that they are usually intensely bitter. In the real estate litigation world, people have been known to spend tens of thousands of dollars fighting over a mere 6 or 7 inches of property. What likely occurred with your neighbor, is that they obtained a survey (for whatever reason, perhaps they were considering installing some utility line somewhere) and discovered that the fence was not located along the boundary line. They then took it upon themselves to simply move the fence.

The question you must ask yourself is twofold: first, is it worth a fight with your neighbor and potentially souring a neighborly relationship? Second, if so, is the section of property worth the potential cost involved in fighting for it? It would appear to me that your neighbor acted completely improperly in not discussing with you the position of the fence before moving it. In the litigation whelm, this is called "self-help" and is frowned upon strenuously by the courts. Thus, you probably have a decent claim and a solid litigation advantage from the outset to combat this maneuver by your neighbor. The problem then becomes determining whether or not this is worth the fight. If you do not care much about that section of the property, and would not otherwise notice the shift in the fence line, then perhaps the smart and economical choice is to let it go. However, if your property is located in downtown Manhattan somewhere, and that one foot shift in the property line equals tens of thousands of dollars in value lost, then it may be worth the fight.

As mentioned by other attorneys in this section, the smart step would be to first get your own survey done where they simply "shoot the boundary line". Then, based on the results of that survey, contact a real estate attorney in your area and discuss with him the options going forward. I'm sure each state has various personalities to their adverse possession law, and a competent attorney will be able to discuss those various elements with you and help you decide whether or not it is strategically wise to move forward.