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Property Line Disputes: What They Are And How To Resolve Them

Andrew Dehan4-minute read

October 20, 2020

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There’s nothing worse than an annoying neighbor. Maybe they let their lawn grow way too long or they refuse to shovel the snow from their sidewalk.

Things can get even worse if there’s a property line dispute. Whether it’s your property or your neighbor’s, read on to learn what property line disputes are how to settle them.

What Are Property Line Disputes?

Property lines (also called boundary lines) are the invisible lines that define your property. They are outlined in your property deed, telling you where your property ends and where your neighbors’ begin.

Property line disputes can arise in a variety of ways. Storms can knock over a tree into your neighbor’s property or your neighbor could build a shed that hangs over the line.

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Types Of Disputes

There are two different types of property line disputes: encroaching and trespassing. Any property line dispute falls into one of these two types.

Encroaching

Encroachment is defined as one property owner crossing over their neighbor’s property lines, whether by building a structure or extending a feature. Encroachment can be something as simple as letting your tree’s branches grow over into your neighbor’s yard. Or maybe they build a fence that crosses over into your property.

Encroachment can quickly turn from a nothing issue to a big issue. It can lead to liabilities, damage to property and cause problems when you try to sell the property.

Over time, your neighbor’s encroachment can turn into an easement, giving your neighbor rights to your property.

Trespassing

Trespassing at its most basic means knowingly occupying land that isn’t yours. Images of “No Trespassing” signs along rural roads may come to mind. These signs are part of the fact that trespassing can’t be done unwittingly. You must know it’s neither your property nor public property

Adverse possession is a legal doctrine that allows a trespasser to claim ownership rights of the property. If all elements are met, a trespasser could have property rights legally transferred to them.

How To Settle Property Line Disputes

There are a variety of ways to settle property line disputes. Here are some tips, ranging from a simple conversation to a lawsuit.

Talk To Your Neighbors

This is the first step to take. If you talk to your neighbors before new construction starts or before you take down a tree, you can avoid more problems down the line. If you come to an individual agreement, the rest of these steps may not be necessary. Keeping an open dialogue is the first step towards avoiding a property line dispute.

If a dispute does arise, talk to your neighbor about ways to solve it amicably. If you can settle the problem without going to court, you can save yourselves a lot of time and money.

Put Up Signs And/Or Fences

If you live in an area with a lot of open land, it can be useful to put up signs to deter trespassers. “Private Property” or “No Trespassing” signs help define your property so anyone occupying it without permission is aware they’re trespassing.

If you want to further define your property lines, put up fencing. Fencing serves as a physical display of the property lines, separating your property from the rest. Just make sure it’s on your property and doesn’t cross over onto your neighbor’s.

Conduct A Title Search

If you’ve entered a full property line dispute with your neighbor, your first step should be to conduct a title search. A title search is a probe into public records to confirm the property’s legal owner.

With a title search, a title company or attorney typically conducts the title search. On average it costs $75 – $200. You’ll be supplied with a report on the documentation of your property, along with a list of potential encumbrances.

Hire A Land Surveyor

To truly understand your property lines, you’ll need to hire a land surveyor. They will visit your property and determine its boundaries through careful measurement. They use sophisticated equipment to supply you with an accurate map of your property.

Chances are, if you or your neighbor are building an addition or constructing a building, a land survey will need to be done beforehand. This will help ensure that the new construction is on the right property.

With a land survey, any property line dispute can be settled. Land surveyors act as legal arbiters, and a land survey will hold up as evidence in court. This clear map of property lines can eliminate awkward or heated discussions with your neighbor.

Hire An Attorney

When a property line dispute becomes serious, hiring an attorney is the next step. Uncooperative neighbors that won’t participate in an amicable solution make attorneys a necessary reality.

Attorneys can take legal steps to end this dispute. These can be sending a cease and desist letter to the neighbor or filing a lawsuit. There will be a legal record of you disputing your neighbor’s actions, prohibiting the ability for them to gain rights to the property. An attorney can also advise you on steps to take to prove your right to the land.

Don’t expect taking your neighbor to court to help your relationship with them. It will make your relationship more contentious. Unfortunately, if you’re dealing with an unruly neighbor, legal action may be the only way to solve the boundary dispute.

The Bottom Line

Nothing can divide neighbors more than a conflict over who owns what pieces of land.

There are a variety of ways to solve these disputes. If you want to maintain a good relationship with your neighbor, solve it amicably.

With tools like title searches and land surveys, you end a boundary dispute and prove whose land is whose. When these tools can’t solve the situation, a lawyer needs to be brought in, with the possible outcome of taking your neighbor to court. They won’t be happy, but action must be taken if you want to protect your property.

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Andrew Dehan

Andrew Dehan is a professional writer who writes about real estate and homeownership. He is also a published poet, musician and nature-lover. He lives in metro Detroit with his wife, daughter and dogs.