Property Rights in Washington – Do I need a Landscaper or a Lawyer?

The maxim that “a man’s home is his castle” has deep roots in the Anglo-American legal tradition.[1]   The home’s privileged legal status is traditionally derived from the sanctity of private property, and applied to a person in his own home.[2] Many considered the right to exclude others one of the “bundle of property rights” essential to the safety and repose to [a man] and [his] family.[3]

One of the features that motivated me to move to the State of Washington is its undeniably beautiful landscape. The legislators of the great state of Washington have long held both this beauty and private rights to property should be granted civil protection under the law. In order to ensure individuals protect their property rights, Washington enacted a timber trespass statute.[4]

The statute reads in relevant part, “Whenever any person shall cut down, girdle, or otherwise injure, or carry off any tree, …, timber, or shrub on the land of another person, or on the street or highway in front of any person’s house, city or town lot, or cultivated grounds, or on the commons or public grounds of any city or town, or on the street or highway in front thereof, without lawful authority, in an action by the person, city, or town against the person committing the trespasses or any of them, any judgment for the plaintiff shall be for treble the amount of damages claimed or assessed.” [5]

The operative term to pay attention to is at the end of the statute dealing with “treble” damages. Treble finds its roots from the Latin word “triplus” meaning three. In order to protect private ownership rights in timber the legislator created this punitive statute allowing for treble damages when trees and bushes are unlawfully removed from a property. This means you can claim up to three times the cost of the timber that was wrongfully removed from your property.[6] This statutory claim also allows for emotional damages due to loss of property.[7]

So if someone has illegally removed trees from your property and you are asking yourself if you need a landscaper or a lawyer, the answer is: Perhaps both.

[1] See Thomas Y. Davies, Rediscovering the Original Fourth Amendment, 98 MICH. L, REV. 547, 642 n.259 (1999).

[2] See, 2 WILLIAM BLACKSTONE, COMMENTARIES 139 (“So great moreover is the regard of the law for private property that it will not authorize the least violation of it; no, not even for the general good of the community.”).

[3] See Int’l News Serv. v. Assoc. Press, 248 U.S. 215,250 (1918) (Brandeis, J., dissenting) (“An essential element of individual property is the legal right to exclude others from enjoying it.”).

[4] RCW 64.12.030.

[5] Id. (Emphasis added).

[6] See Broughton Lumber Co. v. BNSF Ry., 174 Wn.2d 619 (Wash. 2012).

[7] See, Birchler v. Castello Land Co., 133 Wn.2d 106 (Wash. 1997). See also, Pearce v. G. R. Kirk Co., 92 Wn.2d 869 (Wash. 1979); Guay v. Wash. Natural Gas Co., 62 Wn.2d 473 (Wash. 1963).

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