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Subdivisions Court Decisions and AG Opinions

This page provides a list of key court decisions and attorney general opinions regarding subdivision laws in Washington State.

For a general overview of the state subdivision statutes and procedures, see our page on Subdivisions.

Court Decisions

"Ownership" of plat application

Mangat v. Snohomish County, 176 Wn. App. 324 (2013) – In an unusual case, the plaintiffs filed a plat application for property that was the subject of a purchase and sale agreement with the plaintiffs as purchasers. The plaintiffs defaulted on their purchase attempt, and the property owners continued the plat application process that had been started by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs sued, alleging that allowing the property owners to continue with the plat application violated the plaintiffs' vested right to "process" the application independent of an ownership interest in the land and amounted to an unconstitutional taking of their property. The court rejected the plaintiffs' claims, holding that land use permits and permit applications run with the land and that the plaintiffs had no such vested rights, and that the plaintiffs had no property interest in the application that could be taken.

Plat restriction on further subdivision

Jones v. Town of Hunts Point, 166 Wn. App. 452 (2011), review denied, 174 Wn.2d 1016 (2012) – The town interpreted a restriction on the face of a 1951 plat to prevent a lot owner from subdividing his lot into two independent lots. The appellate court ruled that the town was required by local ordinance and by RCW 58.17.170 to interpret and apply the plat restriction to the owner's application. The town was enforcing statutory mandates, not impermissibly conducting a private action based on a private covenant. The hearing examiner did not err by finding that the plat restriction was imposed as a limit on residential density and that it achieved that limit by preventing subdivisions like the one the owner proposed.

Unusual lot configuration upheld

Friends of Cedar Park Neighborhood v. City of Seattle, 156 Wn. App. 633 (2010) – To meet the city's minimum lot size requirement, two lots in the proposed short plat were connected to an unbuildable environmentally sensitive area by two six-inch strips of land. The court rejected the argument that the short plat's “bizarre” lot configuration contravenes the intent and purpose of the city's minimum lot size requirement and does not meet the city code requirement that the city consider whether “the public use and interests are served by permitting the proposed division of land.” The court rejected that argument on the basis that, because the proposed subdivision met the requirements of the city code, the city lacked the authority to deny the proposal solely based on the unusual configuration of the lots. Where the application is consistent with applicable regulations, the application may not be denied on the basis that it does not satisfy “public use and interests.”

Innocent purchaser status rejected

Nagle v. Snohomish County, 129 Wn. App. 703 (2005) – The county was correct when it rejected the owner's request for innocent purchaser status under RCW 58.17.210, because the finding that the owner had "actual knowledge or notice" that the property was illegally subdivided was supported by the record and controlling law. "Innocent purchaser for value without actual notice" of an illegal subdivision of property is one who had given valuable consideration without express knowledge of the subdivision of the property.

Preliminary plat revocation

HJS Development, Inc. v. Pierce County, 148 Wn.2d 451 (2003) – Cities and counties have authority under state subdivision law to revoke preliminary plat approvals if a local ordinance provides that authority. "[W]hen conditions of approval of a preliminary plat cannot be satisfied or are deliberately violated, remedial action, such as revocation, may be the only remedy."

Boundary line adjustment upheld

City of Seattle v. Crispin, 149 Wn.2d 896 (2003) – A reconfiguration of boundary lines without the creation of additional lots is a boundary line adjustment that does not require approval under state or local subdivision laws. The fact that a new buildable site is created does not prevent application of the boundary line adjustment exemption found at RCW 58.17.040(6).

Mineral rights owner's signature not required

Harrison v. Stevens County, 115 Wn. App. 126, review denied, 149 Wn.2d 1031 (2003) – When the mineral rights to real property are reserved or granted to a party other than the holder of the fee title, the title to the surface and the title to the mineral rights are severed and ownership of the surface becomes separate and distinct from ownership of the mineral rights. Thus, the signature of owner of mineral rights in that circumstance was not required on the surface owners' short plat application to subdivide their property.

Liability waiver

Howe v. Douglas County, 146 Wn.2d 183 (2002) – Where local governments must, by law, accept streets, public areas, and other improvements constructed by a private developer, they may limit their liability for harms caused by the private developer. That is precisely what RCW 58.17.165 requires, and impliedly what it authorizes. However, RCW 58.17.165 is limited to certain circumstances: to plat subdivisions subject to a dedication; to damage occasioned to the "adjacent land"; to roads and the associated drainage systems; and to that infrastructure at the time it is dedicated to the local government.

Vesting and stormwater regulations

Westside Business Park v. Pierce County, 100 Wn. App. 599 (2000) – A developer has a vested right to the stormwater drainage regulations in effect at the time of application for short plat approval even though the application does not reveal the proposed use, as long as the county knows of the intended use and accepts the application as complete.

Road improvements as condition of plat approval

Benchmark Land Co. v. City of Battle Ground, 94 Wn. App. 537 (1999) – A preliminary plat application is not "approved" until the local legislative body giving its approval enters a written decision that includes findings of fact and conclusions of law as required by RCW 58.17.100. An oral decision is not binding. Also, a local ordinance generally requiring subdivision developers to improve the streets fronting their proposed developments as a standard regulation of new subdivisions does not absolve the local jurisdiction of its duty to conduct a site-specific inquiry into whether and to what extent a proposed subdivision will impact an adjoining street before it may condition preliminary plat approval of the subdivision on the developer's making specified street improvements.

Short plat vesting

Noble Manor v. Pierce County, 133 Wn.2d 269 (1997) – A developer's submission to the county of a completed short plat application vested in the developer the right to divide and develop the property in the manner disclosed in the short plat application under the land use and zoning laws in effect on the date the application was filed. Unlike other subdivisions, a short plat's vested rights do not divest under RCW 58.17.170 after five years.

Plat vesting

Schneider Homes, Inc. v. City of Kent, 87 Wn. App. 774 (1997), review denied, 134 Wn.2d 1021 (1998) – When a developer submits its completed preliminary plat application to a county, it becomes entitled to have not only that application, but also its companion PUD application, considered under the county ordinances then in effect on the land, even where the land is annexed by a city in the interim. Vested rights survive annexation of the land by a city.

Condominium conversion

Strauss v. City of Sedro-Woolley, 88 Wn. App. 376 (1997), review denied, 135 Wn.2d 1002 (1998) – The owners of a mobile home park sought to convert the park into condominiums without complying with state and local binding site plan regulations. The state court of appeals held that property may not be subdivided to create legal lots of record for condominiums, unless the property is subdivided pursuant to RCW 58.17.033 and RCW 58.17.060 or a binding site plan is filed with and approved by the local governing authority.

Requirement of formal findings

Friends of the Law v. King County, 123 Wn.2d 518 (1994) – The requirement of RCW 58.17.195, that a formal finding of fact be made that a proposed subdivision conforms to existing land use controls, is applicable to preliminary plat applications.

Division by laws of descent

Estate of Telfer v. Board of County Comm'rs, 71 Wn. App. 833 (1993), review denied, 123 Wn.2d 1028 (1994) – To give substantive meaning to the exemption from subdivision requirements in RCW 58.17.040(3) for "[d]ivisions made by . . . the laws of descent," property held in tenancy in common resulting from intestacy is divisible into separate parcels without complying with the platting requirements. It is not necessary that there be a will dividing the property into separate parcels for this exemption to apply; a division of the property by those taking under the residuary clause may be made without complying with platting requirements.

Plat application vesting

Adams v. Thurston County, 70 Wn. App. 471, 855 P.2d 284 (1993) – The inclusion of an environmental impact statement (EIS) as a contingent requirement for a fully completed plat application would violate the intent of the subdivision vesting statute, RCW 58.17.033, and frustrate the purpose of the vesting rule.

Subdivision of land subject to adverse possession claim

Halverson v. City of Bellevue, 41 Wn. App. 457 (1985) – RCW 58.17.165 requires a certificate of dedication be signed by all parties having any ownership interest in the lands subdivided. "Any ownership interest" is broad enough to include ownership of a portion of the land that is not yet a matter of public record because it was acquired through adverse possession. Once the city was put on notice of an adverse possession claim to part of a proposed subdivision, approval of the subdivision plat was improper.

Notice of preliminary plat application

South Hollywood Hills Citizens Ass'n v. King County, 101 Wn.2d 68 (1984) – The circumstances involved in a plat approval make personal notice of the public hearing on a preliminary plat application to all property owners who may potentially be affected by the council's action impractical. Thus, RCW 58.17.090's provision that notice may be given by publication in a local newspaper is reasonable under the circumstances. RCW 58.17.090 does provide additional protection to those directly affected by a plat by requiring measures to provide special notice to adjacent property owners be developed by the local authorities.

Combining of lots exempt from subdivision requirements

Island County v. Dillingham Dev. Co., 99 Wn.2d 215 (1983) – Combining lots and portions of lots by changing boundaries to form larger lots does not result in the creation of additional lots and under RCW 58.17.040(5) is exempt from the platting requirements of chapter 58.17 RCW. Also, tracts larger than five acres each, but which were largely covered by water, were exempt from platting requirements under the exemption for five-acre divisions of land.

Innocent purchasers

Crown Cascade, Inc. v. O'Neal, 100 Wn.2d 256 (1983) – The county was required under RCW 58.17.210 to issue building and development permits to innocent purchasers of lots that were created in violation of state and local subdivision laws.

Attorney General Opinions

Regulation of old plats

AGO 1998 No. 4 – The Growth Management Act (GMA) does not obligate a county to require the replatting or resubdivision of lands in the county that are outside any urban growth area and that were platted before 1937, but it allows local flexibility in applying GMA standards to such lands.

Regulation of old plats

AGO 1996 No. 5 – The requirements of chapter 58.17 RCW, enacted in 1969 and relating to platting and subdivisions, apply to land platted before 1937 under chapter 58.08 RCW or its predecessor statutes.

Cities and towns may accept plats and subdivisions filed pursuant to the 1937 platting act (chapter 58.16 RCW, repealed in 1969), but are not obligated to do so.

Short plat appeal

AGO 1987 No. 8 – King County is not required to allow an appeal to the county council of an administrative decision by the hearing examiner denying a short plat application.

Division not a boundary line adjustment

AGO 1986 No. 6 – The dividing of a lot in a previously approved subdivision into two halves with the intent that one-half be sold and attached to an adjoining parcel outside the subdivision does not create a boundary line adjustment. Rather, it is the creation of a short subdivision under RCW 58.17.020(6).

Sale of portion of property requires short platting

AGO 1983 No. 31 – Because of the necessity for a legally sufficient description in connection with an offer to sell or the sale of real property, an offer to sell a portion of a larger tract of land, or the execution of a purchase and sale agreement covering such a tract of land, constitutes a "division" of the land under the definition of a "short subdivision" contained in RCW 58.17.020(6) or (7) so as to render applicable the various provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW relating to short plats and short subdivisions.

Duties of county auditor and engineer

AGLO 1980 No. 31

  • A county auditor is legally authorized to reject records of survey that do not meet the requirements set forth in chapter 332-130 WAC, chapter 58.09 RCW and chapter 58.17 RCW.
  • A county auditor is required by RCW 58.17.190 -- prior to approval by the appropriate local legislative body -- to refuse to accept for recordation any maps or representations which in fact constitute a "plat" of a "subdivision" required to be filed under chapter 58.17 RCW, and which otherwise contain a survey of such a subdivision.
  • The duties imposed by RCW 58.17.160 on a county engineer involve the performance of the governmental function of approval of data to enable the appropriate legislative body to pass on a proffered plat or replat - and not the conduct of such survey activities as are involved in the platting; accordingly, in carrying out such review functions and granting approval, the county engineer is not engaging in the practice of land surveying.

Property taxes

AGO 1975 No. 12RCW 58.08.040 does not require the payment of a deposit for anticipated property taxes upon the filing, pursuant to regulations adopted under RCW 58.17.060, of a short plat subsequent to May 31 in any year and prior to the date of collection of the taxes.

Area previously platted under prior law

AGLO 1974 No. 7 – The provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW are applicable to the sale of undeveloped lots in an area previously platted under chapter 58.08 RCW.

Notice of preliminary plat

AGO 1971 No. 9 – The notice requirements of RCW 58.17.080 relating to the filing of a preliminary plat of a proposed subdivision adjacent to or within one mile of the municipal boundaries of a city do apply to a proposed subdivision that is located totally within a certain city but is also located within one mile of the municipal boundaries of some one or more other cities.

Last Modified: April 02, 2021