Looking at a 3 acre tax auction parcel with a great view that is adjacent to a large, corporate-owned orchard. Previous owner who stopped paying taxes says that the orchard illegally planted trees on the 3 acres and was advised by his legal counsel to not tangle with the corporation but it doesn't sound like he put much effort into a deal to sell it to them. I would think the corporation would want to clean it up and own the ground. Here are options I'm considering as the going price would make it a great deal:
1) Approach corporation to structure a sale of the ground so their orchard is made whole. This is assuming they don't claim some sort of legal loophole stating they get to use the ground and the orchard without compensation because they planted it 15 years ago. Assuming they have no easement to use the land for agriculture purposes, do they have legal grounds here? (They haven't paid the taxes on the property to claim adverse possession.)
2) If orchard won't deal, list it on the open market as a view lot ready for a SFR. Great value here but access is through the orchard easement and developing a home site would require the orchard to be cleared. Again, would the corporation have any legal grounds to prevent the clearing of trees in this case?
I believe this is a case of a disgruntled owner unwilling to engage the corporation in a tactful, business-like manner. I don't imagine they want to spend a lot of time on legal fees and would want to purchase the ground outright.
@Ian Turner The Orchard does not need to pay the taxes to establish adverse possession.
Washington State has multiple laws material to Adverse Possession. Including a statute requiring only 10 years of adverse possession which does NOT require paying property taxes. https://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/de...
Washington also has a law material to Adverse Possession in 7 years, which does require both Payment of property taxes AND Color of Title (a reason to believe the possessor has a legal claim on title, -even if mistaken). https://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/def...
My thought would be to leave the trees for a future buyer to deal with. However, I would promptly run an inexpensive wire fence down that property line. It would be neighborly to inform the Orchard, but you have no legal need to interact with them at all. Just use your property as yours. It is not likely they will go through the expense of filing a legal a claim for a few trees. It is less likely that they would prevail. The orchard would need to prove that they used the property exclusively to the extent that the real owner was excluded from using it at all. You can defend a claim of adverse possession by the orchard with a cell phone recording of, or a notarized statement from the previous owner establishing his repeated uses of that portion of the property since the trees were planted
@Davido Davido , great feedback, I appreciate the response. Adverse possession is an interesting and seemingly complicated topic! So if I'm reading you right, they could claim adverse possession on the trees and not necessarily be obligated to provide any sort of compensation? Can they claim the ground under the trees which they have been nurturing for, let's say 10+ years?
On a similar note, I have another large parcel with a neighbor's shop trespassing. I bought it knowing the trespass issue was there but its at the very bottom of a cliff and all of my useful ground is above the cliff. I would like to simply sell them the piece at the bottom of the cliff that ties more with their parcel and would clean up the issue. I thought we had a deal to easily clean it up but now it seems they are dragging their feet. Could I technically put a fence right through the line blocking access to their shop or do they actually have rights to the land and shop access due to adverse possession and the fact that the shop has been there for 10+ years? Hoping they'll just cooperate with the sale but if they don't, who actually has legal high ground here?
@Ian Turner , "So if I'm reading you right, they could claim adverse possession on the trees and not necessarily be obligated to provide any sort of compensation? Can they claim the ground under the trees which they have been nurturing for, let's say 10+ years?"
Sorry for the confusion. Adverse Possession is a claim of right to the property title by the mere fact that a nonowner has maintained XX years of past exclusive possession. A party who succeeds in such a claim owns the property and everything on it. My comment that I would "leave the trees for a future buyer to deal with" was merely an indication that, if I were the owner of the property and intent on selling it, I would not personally be inclined toward clearing the orchard's trees.
Question 2 of your original post had asked, "If orchard won't deal, ... access is through the orchard easement and developing a home site would require the orchard to be cleared. Again, would the corporation have any legal grounds to prevent the clearing of trees in this case?" The Orchard would need to prevail in a law suit against you in order to have legal grounds to prevent the clearing of trees that they planted on your property. The limited facts presented in this post prevent either of us from determining the likelihood of the Orchard filing a suit or of succeeding. However, your post did mention that your entire property is only 3 acres. To me it seems unlikely that an orchard corporation would be inclined to spend the resources needed to pursue the potential profit from trees on a portion of 3 acres. Consider also that, under WA Adverse Possession law, the orchard would only succeed in establishing a right to the property if they can prove that they excluded the property owner from use of the portion of the property they planted trees on.
In regard to your question about the other property, "Could I technically put a fence right through the line blocking access to their shop or do they actually have rights to the land and shop access due to adverse possession and the fact that the shop has been there for 10+ years?"
Be advised that I am not a lawyer. And surprisingly often, I disagree with lawyers any way. https://www.biggerpockets.com/... However, I do work with Adverse Possession in Wa. more often than most WA. attorney's do. So consult an attorney, but here are my thoughts. Yes. If you hold title to the property you have the right to put a fence across your property line even if it blocks trespassers. HOWEVER, doing so could certainly provide the incentive needed for them to file a claim of right to that portion of your property. Then you'd both have legal expenses.
Sound's like your best option is to both continue bargaining with them regarding selling your title to that portion of your property, AND, at the same time bring some pressure on them by beginning to construct an inexpensive fence across your property line. Just make it clear that the cost of purchasing from you, will be less than the cost of fighting it out in court with you. Starting a fence, whether ever completed or not, will also establish that you, the property owner, are using that portion of your property (parking vehicles there, storing your fencing materials there, etc.).
Any use of that portion of the property is important, because for the trespasser to succeed in getting a court to grant them title to your property, under a claim that they've continually possessed it in a public manner that was adverse to your interests, -they must also show that they excluded you and other past rightful owners from using that land, and that they excluded the owner continually without interruption for the entire 10 years required to complete an adverse possession.
Good luck Ian.