What is Estoppel in Pais?
In Washington State, several doctrines have emerged to protect the rights of real property owners who have long used areas of land that do not actually sit within the record boundaries of their own property. Classic examples include buildings that developers have built in a fashion that encroaches upon neighboring land, or owners placing a fence several feet into another property, and then treating that fence as the boundary line for decades. The Washington Courts provide a remedy for aggrieved property owners who need to enforce their rights notwithstanding the record boundaries disclosed in the results of a survey.
Our blog has addressed some of these doctrines before, such as adverse possession here, and mutual acquiescence and recognition here. A less commonly asserted, but nonetheless still enforceable basis to claim land outside of an owner’s record boundaries is estoppel in pais. The premise of estoppel in pais involves saving a party from the consequences of detrimentally relying upon the representations of another party in the realm of real estate – to foreclose one from denying his or her own expressed or implied admission that another has accepted and acted upon.
A party asserting estoppel in pais must prove the following elements with clear, cogent, and convincing evidence:
- An admission, statement, or act inconsistent with the claim afterwards asserted;
- Action by the other party on the faith of such admission, statement, or act; and
- Injury to such other party resulting from allowing the first party to contradict or repudiate such admission, statement, or act.
Estoppel pertaining to real estate boundaries typically involves an element of detrimental reliance – often reliance upon a written representation (such as a written statement regarding a boundary location), or sometimes even reliance upon an action taken. If the reliance involves an act, that act must reasonably create a communicative intent so that the injured party would have reasonably relied upon it in taking his or her own action. The acting party must believe the representation, and the representation must have factored into the action taken. Although Washington courts have not discussed what acts in reliance will complete a claim for estoppel, a common example would be improvements made within an area in dispute, or with respect to a boundary line.
Additionally, unlike mutual acquiescence and recognition and adverse possession, estoppel in pais does not have a requisite period of time for the claim to ripen. While the circumstances involving adverse possession and mutual acquiescence and recognition must exist for at least ten years, with estoppel in pais, the situation must have persisted long enough for the action in reliance to have been effectuated. There is no specific time requirement. Additionally, although most often considered an affirmative defense, a party can use estoppel in boundary cases as an affirmative claim to obtain a decree adjusting the boundary.
Neighbors can often run into boundary disputes, and in the Pacific Northwest, where even the slightest square footage shift can have a significant impact on property value and buildability, such disputes can become hotly contested. Beresford Booth frequently litigates and resolves boundary line issues, and we stand by ready to assist should you encounter such circumstances.
If you have any inquiries relating to real estate issues, please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (425) 776-4100 for assistance.