Mutual Recognition & Acquiescence is a legal doctrine, which though much less used and developed than adverse possession, sometimes serves as another means to settle a land fight between adjoining property owners.
The doctrine of Mutual Recognition & Acquiescence may be adequately summarized as: (1) an express or implied good faith definition of a boundary; which (2) is bilaterally recognized; (3) to be the true boundary – as opposed to a barrier; (4) for the Statutory Period (of 10 years). Moreover, the burden of proof is clear, cogent, and convincing proof.
Now, if you were to go back and look at the requirements for Adverse Possession, you would almost certainly think why would someone attempt to use this doctrine instead of it. There is no escape from the 10 year requirement and the burden of proof is more difficult than Adverse Possession’s “preponderance of the evidence.”
At first blush, I have to agree, the doctrine looks like nothing more than an extra log of wood that lawyers toss onto land fight infernos in order to ratchet up their billable hours.
However, my review of caselaw suggests that there might be a little bit more there than this. This is because Adverse Possession focuses more tightly on use and the nature of exclusion, whereas Mutual Recognition & Acquiescence focuses more on the boundary itself.
Also, it appears that Mutual Recognition & Acquiescence might be aptly applied in those situations in which the second comer to adjoining properties who reasonably believes (as apparently should too the title holder) that the demarcated boundary does just that – mark the boundary.
Later, if it is revealed through a survey that this is not the case, then so long as the Statutory Period (of 10 years in Washington per RCW 4.16.020) has run, the title holder has no right to complain. Why?
Because the adverse possessor purchased real property under the “good faith” belief that the property purchased flows right up to the boundary. And, although it might have been most prudent for the purchaser to conduct a survey prior to purchase, at some time the adjoining title holder should not be heard to complain.
At present, that time is after the boundary has been in place for the Statutory Period and recognized for the purpose of dividing the properties. As such a surreptitious land loss is prevented.
On the other hand, if a John or Jane-come-later real property purchaser, surveys after purchase and finds that he or she is “entitled” to more land than originally thought, Mutual Recognition & Acquiescence may help to prevent a surreptitious wind-fall gain.
In fairness, whether you end up as the title holder or the non-title holder, a uniform standard should apply. Right? Unfortunately, that’s not remotely close to how the law generally plays out when a land fight erupts between neighbors.
For those interested in pursuing this line of reasoning further, if you haven’t already, I encourage you to read my “When Do Land Fights Occur?” post. And if your appetite for the subject is still not satiated, follow-up with my “Is Adverse Possession Fundamentally Wrong?” which seeks to tackle the same overall issue.