An increase in boundary line disputes between neighbors parallels the expanding US population. The need for greater land use has fueled growing real estate development and subdivision, creating more and more boundaries over which to disagree.
Many root causes of boundary disputes exist, including natural or manmade changes in land features or formations, conflicting legal descriptions in the deeds to adjoining properties, contradictory or confusing language within the same deed, inconsistent or inaccurate surveys, mistakes in official plats, or other human errors or misunderstandings.
People tend to develop emotional attachments to their land, so boundary disputes can be especially sensitive. In addition, the financial stakes are higher now because of steadily increasing land values.
Boundary disputes are largely governed by state property law, which can vary greatly from state to state. Even within an individual state there can be several possible boundary dispute remedies, governed by state statute or judge-made law, or both. Additionally, the unique facts of each boundary dispute have a major bearing on its resolution. Many types of evidence are important in boundary disputes:
- Legal documents and official records containing legal descriptions or maps
- Memories of and statements from current and past owners, and from neighbors or other witnesses
- Physical indicia of boundaries, such as fences, gardens and other agricultural development, yards, driveways, paths, buildings or landscaping
- Enrichment of or detriment to property owners
- Land surveys
- Length of time encroaching structures or other features have existed, or length of time disputed land has been in use by either party
Possible Legal Remedies
Boundary-line agreement: Neighbors agree upon their common boundary or find another nonadversarial resolution, such as a license or easement agreement. Government agencies may need to be involved to resolve changes in official plats or zoning issues.
Adverse possession/prescriptive easement: If certain legal requirements are met, when a nonowner deals with land as if it were his or her own over an extended period of time preset by state law, actual ownership rights may accrue.
Boundary by acquiescence: Where neighbors have mistakenly treated a particular boundary as the true one for a set time period established by state law, this doctrine may legally recognize that boundary despite the mutual error.
Boundary by estoppel: Where a purchaser relies to his or her detriment on the boundary as pointed out by the seller, even where the seller’s description is wrong or false, the purchaser may have legal right in the seller’s described boundary.
Quiet title action: A lawsuit asking the court to decide the boundary dispute.
Other lawsuits: A landowner may sue to have his or her neighbor ejected from the disputed part of the boundary area, for trespass, for removal of an encroaching structure, for reformation of the sale’s contract or for another legal remedy.
Arbitration or mediation: Neighbors may agree to arbitrate or mediate their boundary dispute.
Title insurance: The dispute may fall within the provisions of a title insurance policy that may provide certain remedies.
Preserve Your Rights
These are just some of the possible answers to your boundary question. If you own property with an uncertain or disputed border, it is in your best interest to consult an experienced real estate attorney as soon as possible to learn how to protect your legal rights, considering the particular aspects of your dispute and the law of your jurisdiction. With the advice of your lawyer, you may be able to resolve your boundary dispute informally with the adjoining property owner. However, if the boundary problem with your neighbor escalates, legal action may be necessary.
Your First Appointment With a Real Estate Attorney
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