Adverse Possession in Washington

Adverse possession is a legal doctrine which allows a trespasser to obtain good title to real property through “use or enjoyment over a specified period of time.” Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009). The doctrine was created as means to encourage property owners to make good use of their land and assert their property rights against trespassers. Chaplin v. Sanders, 100 Wn.2d 853, 859-60, 676 P.2d 431, 435 (1984).

In order to prove property was adversely possessed, one must demonstrate that he or she possessed the disputed property “(1) exclusive[ly], (2) open and notorious[ly], [and] (3) hostile[ly]” (4) for an uninterrupted time period of ten (10) years.” Teel v. Stading, 155 Wn. App. 390, 393-94, 228 P.3d 1293, 1294 (Div. 2 2010); see also RCW 4.16.020(1) (2002). Each element of the test must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. Moreover, any express permission by the actual owner to use the property negates any claim for title to the property through adverse possession.

One of the major policy reasons for the adverse possession laws is to ensure that real property is not being wasted. In order to prevent property from being adversely possessed, there are a myriad of different practices that property owners can employ to ensure that their property is protected. Adverse possession, as a legal principal, can be used as a tool and a legal defense. Ten years (7 years if under color of title) can pass quickly. Accordingly, property owners and users should pay close attention to property lines, boundaries, and use and enjoyment. If you are concerned that your property is being encroached by another, a Spokane real estate attorney can help. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Wolff, Hislop & Crockett are well-versed in both property disputes and complex litigation. Contact us today for an appointment.


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