Which homeowner pays for maintenance on a shared garage in Washington?

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Question:

I own an older home in Washington State with access from an alley. An existing garage that pre-dates my purchase of the property is located over the lot line between my property and my neighbors’ property. Which homeowner pays for maintenance on a shared garage in Washington?

Answer:

Such situations are not uncommon, and often result from non-conforming lots created before adoption of your local subdivision code, or from the customary use of the property over time by adjacent homeowners. Just because you have title insurance doesn't mean you are immune: The standard policy does not cover discrepancies that would otherwise be revealed by an accurate survey.

You do have options. First, it’s a good idea to get a survey to confirm the garage’s location.

If the garage does indeed sit over the lot line, check whether any agreements covering garage maintenance or ownership have been recorded in your county records. Agreements may be recorded under your parcel number or your neighbor’s parcel number.

If none, ask your neighbor about recording an agreement that would run with the land (be recorded so that it applies to future owners) or executing a written agreement limited to you and your neighbor.

Another option requiring your neighbor’s consent is to record a boundary line adjustment, so that the garage would be located entirely on one or the other lot. This would likely require one of you to compensate the other financially.

If you cannot reach an amicable solution with your neighbor, you may seek a court order through what’s called a “quiet title” action to establish ownership of the property where the garage is located. In Washington, the legal doctrines of adverse possession, parol agreement of adjoining landowners, estoppel in pais, or mutual recognition and acquiescence by interested parties can support a quiet title action. These doctrines are all ways to settle a conflict over the location of property boundaries. For legal advice, contact an attorney with real estate or property experience in your community.

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