Wash. couple warns about 'quiet title' lawsuits after backyard nightmare

Homeowners in Snohomish claim a neighbor cut down more than a dozen of their trees and essentially got away with it.

Imagine how you'd feel if your neighbor cut down 16 trees on your property without permission.
  
That's what Christina and Ryan Hutto say happened to them.

"To me, it was complete disbelief that it was even possible to do that to someone else's property," said Ryan.

"We thought there was a mistake, like there's no way," added his wife, Christina.

The couple had just started renovations on their lakeside dream home in Snohomish when the trees came down.
  
The trees were clearly on the couple's side of a fence, which divided the two properties. They confronted their neighbor. What happened next left them stumped.  

"The next thing we know we're being served with papers as defendants in a court case," said Ryan. "It was incredible!"

The neighbor sued the Huttos, claiming "quiet title." He essentially said the trees were his because he had been caring for them. The Huttos say the property was an empty lot before the neighbor started building a new house on it recently. They believe he did it to simply improve his view.

Eighteen months after it all began, a judge awarded the couple just under $20,000 for the trees, but they're still more than $30,000 in the hole after court costs.

In the end, they won the stumps that had once been the trees that shaded their backyard.    

"I feel sick to my stomach just knowing that was the outcome," said Ryan.

Christina plans to talk with lawmakers in Olympia, hoping to change quiet title laws all over Washington.

"Quiet title" is sometimes invoked by squatters who claim possession to a house they don't actually own.

The Huttos say it's tough to find lawyers who will take such cases because risk is high and payout is low. They want to see penalties against those who lose quiet title cases increased, and attorneys should get incentives to take on such cases.

"We've spent tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours on this, and for what?" asked Christina. "You should be able to live on your property and enjoy what's yours without anybody with more money being able to take from you what's not theirs."

© 2017 KING-TV


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