Q: A house in my West Seattle neighborhood has been under construction and unoccupied for about 14 years. Its owner works on it a couple of hours a day, but the neighbors think...

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Q:

A house in my West Seattle neighborhood has been under construction and unoccupied for about 14 years. Its owner works on it a couple of hours a day, but the neighbors think it will never be finished and consider it an eyesore and a fire hazard. Why does the Seattle building department continue to let this person have a building permit without inspecting the property and requiring a completion deadline? Why doesn’t the fire department condemn it?


A:

After 14 years of watching this project, it’s no wonder the neighbors are weary. However, their best bet is to air their concerns with the homebuilder and encourage a resolution. That’s because city offices have no regulations that easily address an unusual situation like this.

Here’s the deal. Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) will continue to renew a building permit as long as the project is “substantially under way” (that’s the way it’s phrased in the city code) and the work is progressing on a continuing basis.

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“It’s fairly subjective as to how much progress is required,” says DPD spokesman Alan Justad, “but the bottom line is, as long as they’re working on the project, we’ll support getting that done and renew permits for that purpose. We have no regulation that sets an end date for when a project must be completed.”

Justad says properties are inspected when the person doing the work requests an inspection.

“We don’t inspect on an annual basis,” he says, “and we don’t inspect when someone requests a (building-permit) renewal.”

As for condemning the house, the Seattle Fire Department “has no jurisdiction over private residences,” explains department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick. Rather it’s the DPD that condemns buildings. If you want to pursue this matter further, call the DPD’s code-compliance hotline at 206-684-7899.


Q:

My condo was built in 1992. Since then several amendments to the declaration (governing document) have been approved by the association and recorded. To make the declaration easier to read in light of these new amendments, I was led to believe the association would have to file an “Amended and Restated Declaration.” What’s the process for doing this?


A:

“There’s no requirement that you have to do an amended declaration,” says Bellevue attorney Tom Hansen, of Oseran Hahn Spring & Watts. As long as they were properly adopted by your association, the amendments went into effect when they were officially recorded. Hansen says condos don’t usually go to the trouble of doing a major overhaul of their declaration unless their building was built before 1990 when the state’s condominium law changed. In that case an overhaul makes good sense because it brings the declaration in line with the newer law.

However, if yours is now such a mixture of old and new information that it’s hard to read, then you indeed might want to do a full revision. Hansen says this is not a do-it-yourself project. Although there’s no legal requirement that a lawyer must prepare this documentation, he says “typically the board would require help from counsel.”

There are a couple of reasons. First, “doing the entire restating is more work than a boardnormally would want to do.” Even more important, the declaration is a legal document, “so the board is going to be held to the standards of an attorney in drafting it. So if they misdrafted an insurance provision, for example, and the association or unit owners incurred a liability as a result of it, potentially the association then has liability for the negligent drafting.”


Q:

My neighbor and I are locked in a disagreement about who owns a big laurel hedge on the property line. She says that because the hedge is now wide and has grown onto her property, she owns it through adverse possession. After doing some reading on the Internet, I believe our agreement to trim our respective sides, which we’ve been doing, negates her adverse-possession claim. However, her trimming the top of the hedge (which she does every year) makes me wonder. Your thoughts?


A:

Bellevue attorney Greg Home says the dispute over who owns this hedge perhaps could be resolved by getting the property line surveyed.

“The burden of proof is on the person claiming the benefit of the (adverse possession) doctrine,” he explains. “That person needs to do a survey to see where the boundary lies.”

Beyond that, the issue is problematic, Home says.

“You don’t really own trees by adverse possession; you own land by adverse possession,” he says. “Now, if a tree is located on land you’ve adversely possessed, that’s different.”

But your dispute doesn’t sound like it involves who owns the land. Moreover, to successfully claim adverse possession, your neighbor would have to prove she’s had exclusive use of this hedge for the last decade and she’s acted as if it was solely hers. As you’ve been trimming your side, that doesn’t wash.

Home wonders if there’s something else going on here. A dispute that’s arisen from miscommunication, perhaps? Or a control issue? A professional mediator could help you sort it out, which hopefully would lead to better neighborly relations. Call the King County Dispute Resolution Center, 206-443-9603, for more information on this approach to problem solving. Its help is free.

Home Forum answers readers’ real-estate questions. Send questions to Home Forum, Seattle Times, P.O. Box 1845, Seattle, WA 98111, or call 206-464-8510 to leave a question on a recorded line. The e-mail address is erhodes@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies.