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Washington Adverse Possession Laws

Under the legal doctrine of "adverse possession," also referred to as "squatter's rights," an individual who openly inhabits an otherwise neglected piece of real estate and improves it is eligible for title after a certain period of time.

Although the basic features of the adverse possession doctrine are similar in all states, specific elements vary from state to state. Generally, the adverse possessors use must be:

  • Open and notorious;
  • Exclusive;
  • Adverse or hostile or by claim of right;
  • Continuous and uninterrupted for the statutory period.

Why Do We Have Adverse Possession Laws In The First Place?

Historically, lawmakers have used several different legal and practical justifications for adverse possession laws. The primary purpose has always been to settle land titles and bar stale claims. Why was this important? Mainly because land owners, land purchasers, and creditors need to feel more secure about land investments, thus encouraging the alienability of land.

A second reason for the doctrine was to discourage landowners from "sleeping on their rights".This implies the notion that lazy landowners should be punished.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, to settle boundary and land disputes between neighbors.

Washington Adverse Possession Laws

Washington adverse possession laws require a seven-year period of occupation and payment of property taxes before a squatter may claim title. A new law went into effect in 2012 that also allows the winning party to a lawsuit to request costs and reasonable attorneys' fees, which a court would have discretion to award all or a part of as it deems fair.

Similarly, the reimbursement of taxes would be left to the court's discretion. A court also could order the winning party to pay the county any taxes or assessments that were not paid during the time the adverse possession lawsuit was pending.

The basic provisions of Washington's adverse possession laws are listed in the following table, with links to additional articles.

Code Section 7.28.050, et seq.
Time Period Required for Occupation 7 yrs.and Color of Title: 7 yrs. and Color of Title/Payment of Taxes: 7 yrs.
Time for Landowner to Challenge/Effect of Landowner's Disability After disability lifted: 3 yrs.
Improvements -
Payment of Taxes Required
Title from Tax Assessor -

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- contact a Washington real estate attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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