LEGAL BRIEFING - Encroachment can become permanent


Dear John,

My neighbor has been parking his travel trailer between our two houses for many years. When he first started, he asked permission and I told him it was fine. Much of the space between the houses is on my property, but I am OK with him parking there because I don't use that part of my yard and it helps keep my backyard private. He only uses the trailer briefly in the summer; the rest of the year it's idle.

I am afraid if I decide I no longer want him there he will say he's been parking there so long he has a right to that space. What would happen then?


Neighbor Newt

Dear Neighbor,

There is an old saying in the legal field: "If you steal something long enough, it becomes yours." This is referred to as, "adverse possession." Basically, if someone moves onto another's property and remains for seven years, ownership could change hands. This happens often when fences are put in the wrong place or additions are put on property incorrectly - and sometimes deliberately.

For the property ownership to change hands, the "encroachment" violation of property rights has to meet certain, complicated criteria. So, I would advise you seek legal assistance to explain in greater detail. Basically, the violation needs to be open, continuous, exclusive, adverse and notorious. This means he has to openly tell everyone the property is his, and only his for an extended duration.

You may prevail because his taking is not necessarily adverse. You gave him permission to park there, even if it was many years ago. You can argue he simply has a "license," a legal term for permission, to be there. Licenses can be revoked at any time, unless a contract prevents revocation. This means that you can still ask him to move his trailer or risk liability for trespass.

Furthermore, you do not have to give him any reason for revoking the license. You could do it for something as simple as putting a candidate sign on his yard for someone you disagree with, allowing his pumpkin patch to become unkempt, or for no reason whatsoever. However, good neighbors are people who communicate. If there is no reason to revoke his license, it may be better to just let him keep his trailer where it is.



John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only.

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