When you and a neighbor can’t agree on a property’s boundary, a boundary dispute may arise. It’s important to deal with boundary disputes as quickly and efficiently as possible to avoid encroachment, adverse possession, and trespassing. Here’s what you need to know.
Boundary disputes are fairly common in cases where large amounts of land are involved, since physical boundaries may not be present to indicate where one property begins and another ends. Boundary disputes are also common among neighbors who do not have existing fences or other structures do designate property lines.
The best method of dealing with boundary disputes is to do everything possible to avoid one in the first place. Boundary disputes can be costly, frustrating, and may even require you to go to court and pay legal fees. To save yourself the headache, time, and money of dealing with a boundary dispute, do these three things.
Being friendly and courteous can go a long way with neighbors, and your chances of resolving a boundary dispute out of court in a friendly way are much higher if you are already on good terms with them. Be friendly and welcoming to new neighbors, and attempt to get along with your current neighbors as much as possible to encourage a warm and courteous atmosphere in your community. Consider hosting neighborhood picnics and other events to build camaraderie and to create opportunities for getting to know one another.
Establishing fences, creating hedges, or using other physical boundaries to mark property lines can indicate where properties are divided, preventing unintentional encroachment and trespassing. If you intend to build or replace a fence, do everything in your power to ensure you are doing so legally by acquiring the appropriate permissions and documentation from city officials.
Before building a fence, you need your property surveyed to find the legal boundaries. You may also be required to have a surveyor or city official “draw” or “paint” the lines of your property so you will know exactly where the boundaries lie.
I NEED A PROPERTY SURVEY →
If your fence will share a fence with a neighbor, of if your fence will be within walking or viewing distance of their home or property, it is also advisable to let them know before beginning construction. If you have pets or children that utilize your outdoor spaces and may cause disruptions for others, consider building a fence to provide privacy and a boundary between yourself and nearby home owners.
You should never under any circumstance knowingly violate boundaries by building fences or other structures on a neighbor’s land. This is not only impolite, but illegal, and can result in legal costs as well as the loss of funds used to build a fence or structure should you be required to move it. If you intend to build a new structure, or if there is any confusion over where boundaries lie, always consult a general property surveyor who can provide documentation of legal boundaries.
While you can legally sell a property which has a boundary dispute, you are required by law to disclose this information to any potential buyers. It is in your best interest to attempt to resolve any boundary disputes before attempting to sell your home. If the boundary dispute has not been resolved, many potential buyers and mortgage lenders will be unwilling to invest in your property.
READ MORE: Home Buyers’ Guide to Property Surveys
So what do you do when you and a neighbor have a boundary dispute? Follow these steps to ensure you’re doing your due diligence in a boundary dispute.
Requesting a general property survey should be the first step in attempting to resolve a boundary dispute, since a survey will clearly indicate where legal boundaries lie. In cases where a new structure is being built, or in cases where boundaries are unclear between two large properties, a property survey can help both parties understand where the boundaries of each property are located.
HOW DO I OBTAIN A GENERAL PROPERTY SURVEY? →
Because a general property survey clearly indicates a property’s boundaries, they are more beneficial than title deeds, which do not provide property dimensions but rather declare a property owner’s right to own his or her property. Therefore, if there is a disagreement over where a property is located, a title deed will not be of use.
A property survey provides indisputable evidence of a property’s boundaries, which is why many homeowners or landowners involved in boundary disputes immediately seek the help of a surveyor. Once a property survey has been obtained, your neighbors should not be permitted to build new structures on your property, since they’ll need to obtain the appropriate permissions from local officials who will not provide these permissions if there is evidence of or the opportunity for encroachment.
One mistake some property owners make is neglecting to resolve property disputes. If there is any evidence of unresolved boundary lines, don’t assume encroachment or legal issues will not arise. You may be tempted to ignore boundary disputes or property encroachments in order to keep the peace, but remember that they can affect your property’s value as well as your chances of selling your home in the future.
When property disputes are not handled appropriately, or in cases where large sections of property make determining boundaries more difficult, adverse possession may occur.
Adverse possession occurs when someone other than a property owner has utilized a property for a certain length of time. This length of times varies from state to state, but in most cases, adverse possession cannot occur until after a minimum of five years. If you discover your property has been encroached upon, it is in your best interest to handle it as quickly and efficiently as possible in order to avoid adverse possession. It’s important to note that in cases where adverse possession has already occured, the non-owning parties utilizing the property may be required to pay property taxes.
It’s also important to note that in cases where a permissive use of property has been signed by former or current landowners, adverse possession cannot be claimed. Therefore, if friends, family members, or other individuals are interested in using your land, ponds, lakes, or other features and you approve, a permissive use of property should be created. If you do not approve of others using your property, ensure no trespassing signs are located around the perimeter of your property, and notify law enforcement if trespassers are found.
If you have recently purchased a home or property and a structure is already encroaching on your land, or if your neighbor is unwilling to acknowledge a legal boundary outlined in a property survey, you still have other options before being forced to seek legal counsel.
If he or she is willing to agree to designate a particular object as a boundary, such as a hedge or row of trees, you may be able to avoid the hassle of court costs and lawyer fees with a legal document indicating both parties agree to said physical object serving as a boundary. Both you and your neighbor will be required to sign it. If you and your neighbor are both willing to agree to sign a legal document outlining a specific boundary, you may consider a quitclaim deed.
READ MORE: What Kind of Survey Do I Need?
A quitclaim deed is a legal document which allows one party to transfer interest in a property to another. While quitclaim deeds are most commonly used to transfer ownership of a property or mortgage from one family member to another, they can also be utilized to resolve boundary disputes. There are, however, several things to keep in mind before agreeing to create or sign a quitclaim deed.
It’s important to note that a quitclaim deed essentially states you are giving up your claim, or a neighbor is giving up his or her claim, on a certain area. As a result, there may be financial consequences. For example, if you are agreeing to allow your neighbor to encroach on your land, you are entitled to request he or she purchase said land in the contract. If your neighbor is allowing you to utilize their land, you may be required to pay for it in turn.
If you have a mortgage on your home or property, you must obtain permission from your lender before creating or signing a quitclaim deed. Some mortgage lenders do not allow property owners to utilize quitclaim deeds, and if you do so in this case, you may be required to pay off your entire mortgage immediately as a result. Some mortgage lenders even include a clause in your mortgage that you will be required to pay the difference on any property transferred within a certain amount of time. It’s best to check with your lender before agreeing on a boundary without a property survey.
READ MORE: When Do I Need a Property Survey?
If you’ve already attempted to resolve a boundary dispute with a legal agreement or through obtaining a property survey and have yet to agree on a property line, you should seek mediation or legal counsel to help assist you with the issue.
To prevent arguments, disputes, and general unpleasantness, mediation can help resolve a boundary dispute. Because a mediator is a third party who will have the interest of both neighbors in mind, chances are both you and your neighbor will prefer to save money on court costs and legal fees so that a mediator can help create a resolution both parties can agree to. If, however, you and your neighbors are unhappy with the resolution presented by a mediator, you have a right to seek legal counsel.
If you are willing to pursue legal action over a boundary dispute, a property surveyor may be called as a legal witness. If you have already obtained a property survey and feel your property is being encroached upon or if you feel you have a right to utilize land your neighbor feels is their own, the help of a property surveyor can be incredibly beneficial, since a surveyor can provide irrefutable evidence of legal boundaries.
READ MORE: Where Can I Find a Legal or Expert Witness in a Boundary Dispute Case?