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AGO 1962 No. 171 - September 27, 1962
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


REAL ESTATE ‑- PLATS ‑- SUBDIVISION OF PLATS INTO SMALLER UNITS ‑- OWNERS ‑- TENANTS IN COMMON ‑- SEPARATE ASSESSMENT BY COUNTY ASSESSOR.

(1) Real estate which has been platted into lots and thereafter subdivided into smaller units which are in separate ownership (except for one unit owned by all the tenants in common) may be assessed by the county assessor against the unit owners separately both as to their individual units and as to their undivided interest in the unit owned in common.

(2) Compliance with chapter 56.16 RCW pertaining to plats is required in subdividing lots into smaller units.

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                                                              September 27, 1962

Honorable Herbert H. Davis
Prosecuting Attorney
Benton County
Fisk Building
Prosser, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 171

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on three questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            1. Where real estate has been platted and the lots therein have later been subdivided into smaller units which are in separate ownerships, except for one unit owned by all as tenants in common, may the unit owners be separately assessed by the county assessor both as to their individual units and as to their undivided interest in the unit owned in common?

            2. Is compliance with chapter 56.16 RCW pertaining to plats, required in subdividing the lots into smaller units?

            3. If the answer to question 2 is in the negative, can the unit subdivision be effected simply by filing a map thereof?

            We answer the first two questions affirmatively; this eliminates question number three.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            It appears from your letter that a group of people have acquired certain lots as designated in a recorded plat.  The lots have subsequently been subdivided into nine units.  Two of the group acting as trustees conveyed one unit to each member and the ninth unit to all as tenants in common.

            1. RCW 84.56.340 and 84.56.350 were codified by the 1961 legislature into a single statute, now RCW 84.56.340.  There were no changes made in the language of either section.  RCW 84.56.340 reads as follows:

            "Any person desiring to pay taxes upon any part or parts of real property heretofore or hereafter assessed as one parcel, or tract, may do so by applying to the county assessor, who must carefully investigate and ascertain the relative or proportionate value said part bears to the whole tract assessed, on which basis the assessment must be divided, and the assessor shall forthwith certify such proportionate value to the county treasurer:  Provided, Where the assessed valuation of the tract to be divided exceeds two thousand dollars a notice by registered mail must be given by the assessor to the several owners interested in said tract, if known, and if no protest against said division be filed with the county assessor within twenty days from date of notice, the county assessor shall duly certify the proportionate value to the county treasurer.  The county treasurer, upon receipt of certification, shall duly accept payment and issue receipt on the apportionment certified by the county assessor.  In cases where protest is filed to said division appeal shall be made to the county commissioners at their next regular session for final division, and the county treasurer shall accept and receipt for said taxes as determined and ordered by county commissioners.  Any person desiring to pay on an undivided interest in any real property may do so by paying to the county treasurer a sum equal to such proportion of the entire taxes charged on the entire tract as interest paid on bears to the whole."

            Your first question has been answered in so far as undivided interests are concerned, by an opinion of this office dated October 29,  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] 1947, directed to the State Tax Commission [[1947-48 OAG 69d]].  As indicated in that opinion, the legislature has, by the above statutes, recognized the fact that undivided interests in real property are separate individual interests with respect to which each owner is entitled to act independently of any co-owner.

            Whether a person desires to pay taxes on his undivided interest or to pay them upon his separate part of a tract theretofore assessed as one parcel, the statute is clear that he may do so.  Upon request, the county assessor must investigate and certify the proportionate value to the county treasurer.

            We conclude with respect to the units in question that the owners have the right to have the unit they own individually as well as their undivided interest in the ninth unit separately assessed from the interests of the other owners and co-owners.

            2. As recognized in your letter, it is possible to interpret the transaction involved as a joint venture in the whole parcel of property.  The deeds from the trustees are apparently interpreted by those concerned as a declaration of their interests as tenants in common rather than as the platting and subdividing of land.

            However, RCW 58.16.010 reads as follows:

            "The platting and subdividing of land into lots, or tracts comprising five or more of such lots or tracts, or containing a dedication of any part thereof as a public street or highway is hereby required to proceed under, and in compliance with, the provisions of this chapter."

            This statute was previously interpreted in AGO 57-58 No. 88 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Douglas County on June 26, 1957]], wherein it was concluded that the legislature in using the word "land" without an antecedent qualification, necessarily intended reference to all land to be platted or subdivided into five or more lots or tracts or containing a dedication of any part as a public street or highway, regardless of previous subdividing and platting.

            Clearly, if the persons involved had purchased the property to subdivide and sell to others they would be required to comply with the platting statutes.  The fact that they have purchased and divided property among themselves should not make any difference, particularly in view of the purpose of those statutes.

            Under the terms of RCW 58.16.060, a proposed subdivision must be  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] submitted to the proper authority for the purpose of considering the interest of the public with respect to health, safety, welfare, etc.  Such an inquiry would seem particularly appropriate with respect to the proposed subdivision which is for "occupant owned apartments" ‑-an area of more dense population requiring more controls than single dwelling areas.

            It is our opinion that despite the nature of the ownership of the property with which we are concerned, chapter 58.16 RCW must be complied with because of the plain meaning of the statutes and the public interest involved.

            3. The foregoing answers the third question.  Filing of the map without complying with the platting statutes and regulations would be a violation of chapter 58.16 RCW and should be refused by the county auditor.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

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