House accepts Shea amendment preventing adverse possession abuse

By a voice vote, the House of Representatives today accepted language written by Rep. Matt Shea that would strengthen private property rights and require a higher standard of proof for adverse possession claims.

Shea, R-Spokane Valley, says adverse possession is an old law.

“Adverse possession was enacted when the West was being settled to ensure that land was in productive use. If you weren’t using your land for more than ten years, someone else who was using it could make an adverse possession claim to the property,” said Shea. “Today, the West is settled and the issue of boundaries is much clearer due to the advent of GPS technology. Unfortunately, while technology has improved, we’re still working off the same law from the 1800s, and it’s resulted in higher claims in which legal owners could lose their lands.”

Shea’s Amendment 15 to House Bill 1026 would require those who bring an adverse possession claim for land to provide proof of “clear, cogent and convincing evidence.”

“This is a higher standard, so it makes it harder to bring a claim unless there’s truly tangible evidence,” said Shea.

The 4th District lawmaker said those who successfully claim and are awarded adverse possession must also reimburse the original property owner for the taxes that were paid on the land.

“It’s a matter of fairness. This will help to discourage trivial adverse possession claims. Obviously, we’d like to have neighbors settle these disputes among themselves, rather than involving the courts,” said Shea.

Shea noted this is one of the few substantive reforms of adverse possession law in Washington in more than 130 years.

“It will ensure fair, accurate decisions, prevent adverse possession abuse, and provide landowners with more security and predictability in their private property rights,” he said.

Shea’s amendment replaced the language of House Bill 1026, and passed the House today, 95-1. The measure now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

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Washington State House Republican Communications