Earlier we posted about a bill in the 2011 Washington Legislature which would make it more difficult and costly to pursue an adverse possession claim. Under current law, someone can claim adverse possession of property (and acquire ownership of it), even though he or she is not the true owner, if they have been using the property openly and continuously as the true owner for 10 years or more. As is typical in the legislative process, since that earlier post, Engrossed Senate House Bill 1026 has been watered down. The new law, if signed by the governor, may require the party who is successful in proving adverse possession to reimburse the true owner for part or all of any taxes or assessments levied on the property during the period the prevailing party was in possession of the property. The prevailing party may also be liable for part or all of any taxes or assessments levied on the property after the filing of the adverse possession claim. Lastly, the prevailing party may be entitled to its attorney’s fees and costs. Use of the permissive “may” in the bill does not mean any of these payments are automatic. Courts, on a case-by-case basis, will determine whether reimbursement of past taxes, payment of current taxes, and the award of attorney’s fees is equitable and just. While courts have this discretion, this bill does add a layer on to current law that may reduce the number of adverse possession cases and encourage settlement because of these potential additional costs that either party is at risk to pay.
This act will apply to actions filed on or after July 1, 2012.