New Case: Gorman v. Woodinville
If you are not in the legal field, there is a chance you have never heard of adverse possession. I have received quite a few calls over the years regarding boundary disputes and fencing issues and have had to explain the concept, so I know not everyone knows what it is. Even if you have heard of it, it might be helpful to give a brief synopsis of what adverse possession is about and how it works before discussing a new case decision that was published from Division I. And by brief, I mean very brief, because there are quite a few different variations on the legal theory and each case is very fact specific.
Essentially, adverse possession is legal doctrine that can take away the right of property ownership from the legal or true owner. Under adverse possession, an adverse possessor claimant can actually become legal owner to property that was not initially theirs by use and maintenance over a significant period of time. That's right no purchase or transfer of title is necessary, just someone using the property as their own and BAM! It's theirs. Well, its not that simple, generally in Washington, in order to establish a claim to property by adverse possession, the claimant must establish open use, continuous use (10 years), exclusive use (keep others out), adverse use (no permission) and notorious use (known to others). See e.g. Chaplin v. Sanders, 100 Wn. P.2d 853,676 P.2d 431(1984). But as mentioned, there are numerous caveats to these claims and this may not begin to scratch the surface as to what may be going on in your situation, should you ever be faced with a boundary issue.
One interesting caveat to adverse possession, is that generally one cannot adversely possess against the government (go figure). However, a new case has come out from Washington Court of Appeals, Division I, Gorman v. City of Woodinville, that seemingly provides a limited exception to a claim of immunity by the government.
The facts of this case provide that an adverse possessor claimant was in control of a portion of property that was previously owned by a private individual (Tract Y). The City of Woodinville eventually acquired the property (Tract Y). The adverse possessor claimant contended the 10-year statute of limitations ran while the property was in private hands and that his quiet title action was therefore not barred by RCW 4.16.160 (governmental immunity). Division I agreed with the claimant and denied the City's claim to governmental immunity.