Spring is here. The cherry blossoms are blooming. It’s nearly time to roll out the grill for its summer stint on the patio. Hopefully any extended time spent outside enjoying your property includes a friendly wave from your neighbor. For residential property owners dealing with the turmoil of a contentious boundary line dispute, a wave is more likely an apoplectic stare, or worse.
We briefly discussed boundary line discrepancies in a previous article tackling legal complexities of adverse possession or “squatter’s rights.” In keeping with Holmquist + Gardiner’s mission to help our clients achieve efficient legal resolutions, we wanted to dig deeper into the topic of boundary line disputes.
Before jumping into possible legal strategies, there are a few initial principles to consider:
First off, one of my favorite pieces of neighborly advice: Residential boundary line disputes don’t have to deplete resources and cause major headaches for you, your family or your boundary neighbor. (Seriously!) But, understandably, resolving boundary disputes is a two-way street.
Your property’s county of record matters. This article specifically discusses boundary line discrepancies in King County. Yet, Holmquist + Gardiner provides expert legal services for clients throughout the Puget Sound region. The ease of recording boundary line agreement documents varies among the counties. For example, in Snohomish County, these recordings are relatively simplified in comparison to King County. If your property in question is located within King County, you may have to navigate additional barriers to achieve your desired resolution.
No matter the location of you and your boundary neighbor’s properties, it’s important to start off on the right foot.
Start with two eggs and a cup of sugar. Develop a relationship with your neighbor. Build rapport and discuss the shared boundary issue before taking any legal or administrative action. The reality is you literally have to live next to the outcome, so the most satisfactory resolution requires a mutual agreement. An initial agreement between boundary neighbors presents additional appealing legalavenues that are otherwise unavailable.
A mutual agreement does not necessarily mean skipping legal action. It may seem counterintuitive, but in some cases, there may be a mutually beneficial reason for you and your neighbor to actually toast to the success of your approaching lawsuit. Sound impossible? Stay with me for a moment.
Potential Legal Avenues to Achieve a Boundary Line Resolution:
According to King County’s land use permit webpage, which provides a brief overview of information on boundary or lot line adjustments, a property line dispute “includes activities to correct property line or setback encroachments, to create better lot design, or to improve access without creating substandard lots or setbacks.”
So, what are the potential legal avenues that can make all affected parties happy and provide the most efficient path to success? Below are three strategies to consider with your boundary neighbor and legal representative. The mode of achieving an altered boundary line depends on the location of the property and the goals of each involved neighbor. Our attorneys at Holmquist + Gardiner are experienced at helping clients navigate each of these scenarios.
File for an official Boundary Line Adjustment (BLA). Sometimes referred to as a lot line adjustment, this process is handled by the county’s Local Services, Permitting Division. Submitting a joint application initiates an administrative process that involves various demands including: delivery of additional documentation (tax, title, and insurance); a Record of Survey map from a licensed surveyor; associated county fees; and rezoning considerations. The required involvement of the health and environmental department may not impact the overall decision, but certainly increases the time it takes for the boundary line adjustment to become officially recognized. However, deploying this administrative route through King County ensures that any agreed-upon property changes will be fully insure
Take the statutory route and file a Boundary Line Agreement. Do you and your boundary neighbor prefer to achieve a boundary line agreement without involving King County? Time is a valuable asset. For some property owners, it makes more sense to sit down with your boundary neighbor and legal representatives to enter negotiations and craft an agreement recognized by the court of law.
It’s important to note that if you take this avenue, your title company may or may not insure the gain or loss of property. In this instance, a title company would most likely list the recorded boundary line agreement as an exception in the title documents. If that isn’t a particular concern, the statutory route is an effective way to keep your property boundary case out of the courts and King County’s BLA process. Nonetheless, a subdivision guarantee or discussion regarding your neighbor’s title is advisable, as the property owner or owners gaining land would not want to be encumbered by a mortgage or unknown CC&Rs.
File a friendly, quiet lawsuit. It’s exactly as it sounds and it’s pretty effective. In this strategy, one property owner sues their boundary neighbor(s) by filing a consensual lawsuit with pre-established terms. It’s a streamlined option that’s suitable for property owners who don’t want to push a resolution through the county’s departments and would like a better likelihood of title insurance over the gained land. Deploying this strategy will generate a court order that is eventually recorded with the county auditor. One item to note, for those privacy hounds, lawsuits can enter the public record.
There are multiple ways to resolve a boundary dispute in King County. Each avenue offers benefits and limitations to consider when seeking an efficient and cost-effective resolution. No matter which route is most suitable for your individual boundary conflict, it’s important to enter a mutual agreement with your neighbor. It’s also a good way to ensure that you’ll still be invited over for that summer BBQ.
If you’re interested in resolving a residential boundary line dispute, our attorneys at Holmquist + Gardiner are experienced real-estate specialists committed to providing effective, transparent and efficient legal solutions for our clients. Our attorneys have a reputation for adapting to the specific needs of individual boundary line disputes, while successfully navigating the nuances and complexities that your situation demands.
If you have any questions about residential boundary line disputes in King or Snohomish County, contact a real-estate attorney at Holmquist + Gardiner today.