Lawyers…

Can’t live with them, can’t live without them….

I just got a call from a rather hostile woman. She bought the property earlier this year just north of a piece of undeveloped rural property I own in eastern WA, and then had a roadway pushed thought on the boundary – it was part on her property, part on mine. I found out about it when another neighbor called and told me about it. My non-hostile neighbors and I met and looked at the situation. The road was clearly not all on her land. I talked to the bulldozer driver who’d pushed it through; he said he’d stopped part way along when he saw that the line they’d posted wasn’t lining up with his hand-held GPS.

I looked at the situation, stretched a wire between the surveyed corner monuments as closely as I could, posted it, and went home. The wire was clearly on one side of the road in some places, and the other side in other places; the wire was pretty straight, the road wasn’t.

Background: This is a person whose children tried to chase me off of someone else’s land (the land she now owns, but didn’t at the time according to the online plat system), and government land that adjoins mine during hunting season, and in previous years tried to kick other hunters I’ve allowed to hunt my land off of my land, claiming it was theirs. They are people who are, shall we say, well-known in a nearby town.

Yeah, that sort of people.

Well, she objected to my putting up a fence – well, really just a single strand of wire that I hung a few “no trespassing” signs, and flagging on every twenty feet or so- and was very aggressive about (a) insulting me, (b) saying that because of the fence, if anyone got hurt on it there I must be accepting full responsibility, RIIIIGHT? with a clearly implied “sure be a shame is someone got hurt on that, and sued you, wouldn’t it?”

So, anyone out there have any land dispute lawyers they could recommend, preferably with experience in south central WA and rural boundary dispute issues? Or, for that matter, other than asking if I recorded the call (I didn’t, but I should find out how to do that with our phone), any “best ideas” on how to approach this?

29 thoughts on “Lawyers…

  1. Make notes – lots of them. I’m having a hard time seeing how if you have wire up between your place and yours with no trespassing signs on it (take pictures) how she would have a claim if she got hurt on your posted property. In Texas, purple paint on trees and on fence posts is a legal no trespassing indicator that can’t easily be removed. I don’t know if your state has anything like that or not.

    You should consult an attorney to be safe though. Good luck finding a good one.

    • Making notes right now. There is a fair bit of history, most of which I remember the gist and approximate timeline of. I will be talking to the sheriff tomorrow, and likely taking some pictures, etc., as well. I know that I can get at least four other people who have hunted the land and have had run-ins with them before – I should like see about getting something like a formal affidavit from them, or at least an email with all the details as best they recall.

  2. rolf:

    contact your county bar association referral service. ask the nice pleasant person you will talk to, who among the local bar is experienced in property disputes. the bar referral service will have a list of lawyers who do that sort of work, and if you are lucky, a fee list.

    understand, that lawyers do not consider property disputes as a good source of revenue for nothing. by the time you get done arguing over property, it will have turned from fairly inexpensive to rivaling choice locations on manhattan island. and, as far as the legal profession goes, the only thing in the world better than one lawyer in a property dispute is two lawyers in a property dispute.

    get out your checkbook. you’ve already determined that your adversary in this is gonna cost you money. the only thing left for you to decide is, is it worth it. (hint: this may be the method this woman/family uses to acquire property on the cheap, by being so obnoxious that no one wants to deal with them. (go to the county clerk. look up the name of cases, and see if her/her family name pops up in the context of property cases: this will give you some idea of her designs, if any, upon your property. who knows, maybe she has sold your “property” several times? the only thing better than selling something once, is to sell it often.)

    do not hire a young lawyer on the cheap. an experienced lawyer (and your adversary will have one like this) will make a youngster’s head spin, and you will pay for it.

    be ready to part w/ a considerable amount of money if you decide to litigate. lawyering is a commercial enterprise, and not an eleemosynary following.

    john jay (former lawyer)

    • Thanks for the advice, even if it isn’t what I want to hear. She’s picked up several properties in the area. Her kids had been bothering hunters in the area in the past and had the deputy’s called to tell them to keep their dogs under control (they were chasing deer and scaring hunters, including an elderly and handicapped hunter I’ve known a long time). When I mentioned the area I was in and “property boundary dispute” to a local at the cafe, they knew exactly who I was talking about, and I got the distinct impression they had something of a reputation as being difficult to deal with. My neighbor has acquired some properties by picking them up for cheap when the owner fell behind in taxes. Don’t know about all of them. She comes across as very aggressive and hostile, using phrases that a transcript of might easily be made to sound nice, but the tone and attitude made them much more threatening.

  3. Washington state used to require that all parties to a conversation had to consent before it could be recorded. Check to see if that is still true before recording your phone calls.

    Another approach for dealing with her might be to just ignore her. When she calls immediately hang up without a word. Put up “game cameras” on the property to capture any trespass and/or vandalism. If its not too far out of my way to/from Idaho (about once a month) I’d be glad to download the pictures and put in fresh batteries for you.

  4. Been there, seen that.

    Document everything you do. Keep a log. Keep notes. Write down EVERYTHING in it.

    Take photos and videos. You can’t take too many; that ain’t possible. Make copies and put the copies in secure places.

    Consider a particular kind of game camera, one that immediately sends its photos via a cell connection to your computer. If the phone is tampered with, you’ll have some video of them doing it. If you can use two such cameras, put each in the other’s field of view, and you’ll have video of them tampering with it, even if they approach it from behind. It helps if the video includes sound. The idea is here to PUT THEM AT RISK. Get hard evidence of them breaking the law and/or acting in bad faith.

    NEVER TRUST THEM.

    NEVER GIVE THEM THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT.

    COVER YOUR ASS. NO ONE ELSE WILL.

    Make it obvious that you are defending YOUR RIGHTS TO YOUR PROPERTY. Some will get the hint, some won’t. If you let them intimidate you, they will, and you’ll lose.

    Finally, be well behaved. Never give them anything to complain about in court. You’re the plaintiff; make sure they have no grounds to make you a defendant.

    And, hang in there.

    • I’d love to have a cell-enabled camera. I’d love to be able to afford a couple or dozen of them. But even if I could, when I borrow a cell phone and go up there I get zero bars signal. Nadda. Zippoid. I have to drive for a couple of miles to get service. I bought it in part because it is somewhat remote.

      Just talked to a neighbor. It sounds like they stole the “no trespassing” signs and jacked up the wire so they could drive under it. In other words, they think the road is fine and the fence is wrong. Time to call a surveyor, find out how much a quarter mile of line with stakes every 100 feet or so on a property line (+/- 1″) will cost. I’ll likely go with the same guys that put in the corner monuments.

      • Get your attorney immediately started on filing suit against them for trespassing and vandalism. These kind of people have to be immediately escalated against, its all they understand.

        They see hesitation as weakness and they are clearly bullies.

  5. Good fences make good neighbors. I had much this same problem and solved it thusly.:
    1) hire a surveyor and get a current survey done. Markers move over time.
    2) Erect, at a minimum, a four-strand barbed wire fence.

  6. Charlie Klinge in Bellevue, WA specializes in land use matters, with years of experience here. Govt takings, trespassing, etc-he’s an excellent attorney. Check Stevens & Klinge.

  7. Just as some background on where my answers are coming from. I handle commercial litigation for an insurance company with the majority of my work occurring in the Pacific Northwest. Washington requires consent of both parties to a recording so you should not record her without her consent. From your account it appears that a road was placed on your property. That would be considered a trespass and provides for civil remedies.

    The first thing you want to do is probably get a survey ($1,000 – $2,000) to document the property line and indicate that where the road trespasses on your property. Property disputes isn’t a specialized field that warrants its own attorney. Any attorney that deals with estate planning or business law would have a good handle on the issue. You should expect about a $2k retainer or so and you are going to pay in the range of $250/hr for the attorney’s time.

    If the survey shows the road on your property you have a good case to demand that she abandon the road or you will seek costs to return your property to its prior condition. Typically in civil cases each party bears their own cost but certain types of trespass/waste claims can trigger treble damages and attorney fee reimbursement.

    Regarding the liability issue just make sure the wire visible and it should be fine. Someone coming onto your property without your permission is considered a trespasser and there is a lower duty to them than someone that is invited onto your property. For a trespasser you can’t set out to wantonly or intentionally injury them (no punji sticks) otherwise you don’t have to warn them of a hazard.

    • One of the things they did was tell the bulldozer driver to push up a berm of dirt across an existing track that cut diagonally across the property, a track they’d been using until they were very un-neighborly and I told them to stop. I.e., they deliberately damaged a road and pushed dirt up so that future owners couldn’t use the road to access the government land on the other side. The first thought I had when I saw it was “well, that’s pretty clearly a big F.U. in my direction!” If the survey turns out as I expect, the berm they pushed up is well over on my side of the line. It was clearly an intentional act of area/access denial, not just a turn in their new road where it joins the old track.

      Triple damages and cost+fees would be nice.

  8. “The first thing you want to do is probably get a survey…”

    I’m in a different state, but I just went though something like this. There is no “probably” to it. Get a survey. One that is signed off on by a state certified engineer. Should run about $75 to $85 an hour for the surveyors and $200ish an hour for the engineer. The engineer should only have one to two hours to bill though as all he really does is review and sign off on the work the surveyors do.

    You mentioned you had the corner’s surveyed already. If you own a straight line between corner markers, a survey team can come out and put markers every X feet (whatever you ask them to do) between the corner markers in a short time. Probably only looking at a couple hundred bucks.

    Old deeds might read a boundary like: “starting at a rock with an X carved in it, thence to the top of the point, then at an angle down the gully….”

    Modern surveys use GPS coordinates. If a boundary marker gets destroyed, any surveyor can come back and put it back where it was to within a millimeter. It’s damn hard to dispute.

    Rocks can be moved. Bulldozers can change the landscape. GPS don’t care, markers can be put back.

    File a copy of your survey at the county clerk’s office.

    • Yup. Got a survey lined up. It will happen very soon. I’ll get stakes set every hundred feet or so (it’s a simple rectangle, 1/4 x 1/8 mile), line of sight through the trees as a minimum, and plant T-posts next to them and verify with the surveyors that it’s a fair placement for a fence on the property line. Then string a few lines of wire. I’ll get pictures of it all, and interview the surveyors on a digital voice recorder to get a statement about accuracy, etc. The guy doing it was the same one that did the registered corner monuments (deep-set rebar with aluminum caps) years ago when I bought it. It’ll make for a long day as I expect I’ll have to take a chainsaw to some brush and fallen logs from a fire years ago in order to properly clear the line and create an unmistakable sort of boundary, but it’ll be worth it if it’s as clear a violation as I believe it is.

      • Surveyors are now using drones with GPS for city work. Biggest use, so far, seems to be site construction management, and it is extremely accurate. I know a pilot in the SF area who was doing this for a construction company. You might want to check if your surveyor has access to this sort of system, or at least can bring in a drone to film your property line from overhead after it is visibly marked, and they will attest that it is accurate. That visual should really help when you take her to court.

    • Interesting about surveys. I look at them fairly regularly (I like to look at property records) here in NH. Haven’t seen any GPS coordinates on surveys. Also, in NH I haven’t seen anything that looks like engineers signing off on a survey; instead, the surveyors have state licenses and stamp their work. Surveys (“plans”) are often recorded at the County Registry, which makes them part of the permanent record exactly as deeds are. In fact, deeds often refer to recorded plans — the boundaries would be described in words as always, but then there’d be a comment along the lines of “meaning and intending” to refer to lot # x on plan # y.
      Old surveys can be interesting. Corners of stone walls, boundaries running “northerly” with distances sometimes given in rods…
      I once looked at a land description in NE New Mexico. Interesting: it was very short because all it had to mention is which parts of which “sections” were involved.

      • Property survey requirements vary by state law. But getting a licensed surveyor AND a professional engineer to sign off on a land survey is worth every penny. Especially in a court of law.

  9. One thing to consider: it sounds like being a royal pain in the ass to any and all is your neighbor’s default setting. I suspect it’s indicative of some sort of mental defect, but for the moment that’s neither here nor there.

    The point is, given what’s been posted so far, it appears you’ll succeed on legal grounds, suffering some expenses (perhaps substantial) in the process which should be recoverable as damages, to include legal fees necessary to that process.

    It will not stop there. Your neighbor may be a person who possesses an unreasonable view of reality, and I suspect there will be a series of contests with her over an extended period. So, plan your moves several steps ahead with that in mind. Since you’re going to have at least one attorney involved at this point, it will be beneficial to spend some time in a consultation with him or her about those moves. It’s money, certainly, to do so, but a smaller amount sent in preparation and prevention beats larger amounts spent in future litigation. Also, ask your attorney about “adverse possession” – that may be what she’s trying for here.

    And, as an FYI, a detailed GPS-based survey should have been performed the day after you closed on purchase of your property, to include marking the property lines visibly (simple pressure treated posts close enough together so that the two in each direction can be easily seen from any one works well, and add no trespassing signs to each post to affirm they mark a boundary). Had this been done the bulldozer operator would have immediately seen the requested road crossed a property line and questioned itt.

    And, a tip: litigious neighbors, or just those with a permanent burr under their saddle, are known for destructive tendencies, including the moving of property boundary markers. I agree with commenters above that a simple 3 or 4 strand barbed wire fence barely inside your property line is highly recommended, but: 1) make absolutely positively sure that it is barely inside your line, and; 2) install a hidden supplemental system to mark the line. Yes, GPS allows simple and rapid determination of the line, but that’s surveying which will carry some sort of cost. A junkyard-obtained truck axle, with the wheel mounting flange attached, driven into the ground with the flange buried about 6-8 inches below finish grade will last 15+ years, isn’t an obvious marker easily moved or removed, can be easily found with a metal detector (if you’re sure right where it is, a large magnet works as well) and is cheap enough that one can be placed every couple hundred feet directly under the line of barbed wire. Document the installation with photos and GPS data and compass references (GPS is obviously more accurate but it’s cheaper for you to operate your own compass). Should a fence get moved (it’s happened) having a hidden but identifiable boundary marker can be handy. I’ve even seen large geo markers installed well within property boundaries – a 12-16″ diameter poured concrete cylinder 6-8 feet deep, the top of which is 18″ below grade, and center-marked with stainless rod inserted while the concrete is wet. Boundary measurements from that center mark (X feet in Y direction) can quickly re-establish boundaries and being well inside the boundaries it’s less likely to be disturbed or even have anyone aware of it.

    • Good things to think about. I will consider variations on it.
      For now, lots of photos with paint-marked trees and such will be quick and easy. More will come later.

      And yes, I suspect your evaluation of the default setting is accurate.

    • Yes, the rules of adverse possession are good to know. There’s a fair amount of time involved. Also (at least in NH) it only applies if the party does not have permission.
      GPS survey: interesting. I haven’t run into that practice in NH, nor the notion of doing a survey or re-marking boundaries as part of taking possession.
      On the use of GPS to document stuff: GPS is amazingly accurate if it’s a surveyor GPS, but those work very differently from conventional navigation GPS units. Your consumer GPS will not work to survey accuracy, and may well be off by a number of feet (sometimes more).
      On boundary markers being moved maliciously: something to watch out for. If it happens, I wonder if that exposes the perpetrator to criminal liability (not just civil). It would seem reasonable, but I haven’t looked at that.

      • NEVER use a recreational GPS for anything but general location. On a good day, they are accurate to maybe 1 meter.

        That’s why you hire a (reputable) licensed surveyor. Their gear, including nearby beacons registered to nearby controlled monuments, combined with post-processing, can get the accuracy to millimeters. The credibility of such a survey to a court of law cannot be overstated.

        • I don’t think that surveys claim accuracy to millimeters, and certainly plain ordinary property surveys don’t deliver that. Possibly very specialized surveys, with very specialized equipment, could work to that accuracy. Then again, the primary reference points they use (bench marks etc.) are probably not that accurate.
          I did some analysis on a survey of a 16 acre property I owned back in 2000 – entered the lengths and bearings of each run of the boundary and fed them through some trig. The survey stated an accuracy of one in 10,000 — respectable but certainly not mm level. But I got a “closure error” of several feet, indicating that the actual accuracy was better than one in a thousand but not as good as claimed.
          The main benefit of a survey done by a licensed surveyor is that it has authority in court.

          • Talking to the surveyer, he said when working from a known corner like they were he’d expect accuracy of 4/100 of a foot or better. If he wasn’t getting a reading that it was at least that good, he’d move it down the line a little bit and test again. So… 1/4 inch or better, roughly.

          • Yes, they can, with the right equipment and post-processing (e.g., +/- 0.25″ = +/- 6.5 mm). The equipment costs less than one might realize. It’s still spendy, but not beyond a private contractor.

            Considering the litigation potential in land disputes, being able to certify to that level is nearly priceless.

            Is that level of accuracy always needed? No. But it’s needed more often than one might want, in this sad world.

  10. Seek a temporary “No trespass” order from the Sheriff. You will eventually need a permanent one, which involves a few trips to court.

  11. You might want to figure out why she wants your property, other than being next to her latest(?) acquisition. She may have big plans for the area, after she bags enough land. Knowing this goal can pay dividends in dealing with her. If she spends enough in the area, she might feel forced to pay you big bucks to get your land, enough to acquire a replacement in a better locale.
    Any way to determine how much money she has available to continue her crusade?

    She strikes me as the kind of person that neighbors should do their best to hobble. If she gets enough opposition to make her life difficult, she might just bail on her ultimate plans for that location.

    Either way, it pays to know the enemy in detail.

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