Most agencies handle encroachment involving existing violations on an individual basis. In this case, trees were removed that were encroaching on a San Diego County Water Authority aqueduct. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority
Landscaped yards might appear harmless, but sometimes homeowners unknowingly encroach upon public land, making it difficult for workers to access underground utilities. Photo: DUDEK

The DOT performed a more extensive survey confirming the mishap. The landowners and title company were notified, and it was determined that the title company was at fault. The DOT allotted half of the strip of land to the homeowners, and the title company paid the DOT for the property.

In Spokane County, Wash., a homeowner approached the Washington State Parks Commission when he realized the property surrounding a road he had long used to access his property actually belonged to the state. Following a public hearing, the homeowner was able to purchase a 1.3-acre parcel from the state, and he continues to use the road.

“We'll often make informal agreements,” says Daniel Farber, a Washington State Parks staff member. The commission makes small land trades with owners and creates lease plans so citizens can continue to use state park property.

But if an encroachment is in any way detrimental to an agency's operation, an amicable agreement may not be possible, and the issue is settled in court.

“Despite the checks in place to ensure encroachment doesn't occur, it's often inevitable,” says Mike Gallagher, assistant manager of real estate services for the Washington State DOT's Northwest Region. “Sometimes we create our own problems.”

A prime example: the construction of noise walls along roadways and interstates. Such walls are often built 5 feet or more inside the DOT's right of way so the agency has access to make repairs, but homeowners on the other side of the walls often claim the seemingly surplus land as their own.

“A lot of times, people gradually landscape right up to the sound walls,” says Gallagher. “Unless we get into a situation where we need to reconstruct the wall or expand the highway, we don't even know they're there.”

— Bacon is a freelance writer and editor based in Seattle.