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I am looking to buy a home in Washington State, and many of the homes are town homes that share a common wall (or more). I want to better understand any risks with this type of arrangement.

My question is in regard to who 'owns' or is responsible/liable for any shared infrastructure? To be more specific, if there is an issue with the shared wall that needs repair, does something define who pays for that without any other agreement in place?

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The answer is: it depends. The correct term for such a wall is a party wall and who is responsible and to what extent depends on the particular circumstances of how it was created, more or less, if it is a creature of contract between the property owners or of the common law.

If it is a common law party wall and subject to any statute law in your jurisdiction then each party is responsible for as much of the wall as lies upon their land.

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There should be a party-wall agreement which you can read. In reading Washington state case laws on the topic, I did not find any case with a mysterious shared wall that wasn't definitely owned by someone. Typically, one party owns the wall as part of their structure, and the second party gains the right to use the wall via a contract (and the easement then goes with the land).

  • Fascinating - I've never heard if these in the extensively rowhoused city of Philadelphia. Are these specific to Washington state? – user662852 Mar 31 '16 at 21:16
  • They are probably vastly less common here than in Philadelphia. See Howarth v. Miller 382 Pa. 419 for one example in Philly. It is probably a term not used outside of legal discussions: It's also called a "demising wall". – user6726 Mar 31 '16 at 21:53

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