What would happen if people identified their legal rights as easily as they could identify their titled boundaries?

This is an interesting question. There would always be gaps and overlaps in understanding. But, just as importantly it helps us to realize how boundary dispute law is such an apt analogy for all law.

So, going to the concrete steps that most people exercise when seeking to figure out their titled boundaries – i.e. the limits of their legal rights – you start by hiring an expert. That expert though is not a lawyer.

That expert is a licensed surveyor who researches their title and that of their adjoining property owners; goes to the land to locate it in relationship with other known and commonly regarded monuments; and then often (but not always) will produce a survey exhibit which at minimum depicts the land and often demonstrates relationships of fixtures upon the land regarding the boundary.

Note for surveyors out there, I know this is a far too simplified identification of the work you do. We can go into many other facets, but let’s keep it simple for this exercise.

Now, with your boundaries determined, those people your boundaries are rubbing up against – i.e. adjoining – should understand them in the same way … right?

Well, this is where an old axiom comes in to do it wonders: “Where you stand is a function of where you sit.”

This is to say that your UNDERSTANDING of the situation is a function of your PERCEPTION of it. And not incidentally, many if not most people believe they are “entitled” to everything they get.

Clarifying, where adverse possession is claimed, each party argues that they are entitled to real property – i.e. the territory of legal rights – along the farthest line of their perception of ownership OR that line which they are advised is theirs as a matter of ownership through their title.

Adverse Possession is essentially the claim: “You didn’t use it (whereas we did) for such a long time that it is unjust for you to seek to take it back and deprive us of it now.

This is why Adverse Possession is considered a Statute of Limitations. Statutes of Limitations are in place to eliminate liability for stale claims so people can get on living their life.

But, notice that the people “sitting” on the other side are also going by that same logic. It’s not that they necessarily want to take away someone else’s rightful property (although I won’t eliminate that as a possibility), it is that they don’t want to have the neighbor take property – “by title” – that is theirs away from them.

And this brings us right down to how we witness a fundamental schism in the law. There is Actual Notice and there is Constructive Notice.

Actual Notice makes perfect sense right? Well, go back up and read about all that gap and overlap business in perception if you thank that’s the case.

As to Constructive Notice, you MAY have heard it before most commonly expressed as the legal expression in Latin no less: Ignorantia juris non excusat. 

For those without working knowledge of that dead language – like me – that bold quote means: Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

The opposite of the same means simply something like ‘Everyone knows the law.’ Really? I don’t think so.

If you have a boundary dispute here in Washington State and want to know more about the law (instead of Latin), take a moment to fill out this Initial Assessment [HERE].