By Rudy Serra
MY NEIGHBORS HAVE STARTED TO BUILD A NEW FENCE. I THINK IT IS ON MY PROPERTY. WHAT SHOULD I KNOW? WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Boundary disputes are not new. There are several different kinds of property line disputes. Whenever there is a disagreement about boundaries, I recommend contacting a qualified attorney.
Real estate transactions that involve a mortgage lender usually include a review of property lines and the issuance of title insurance to protect interests in the land. Where real estate is conveyed directly from one person to another, it is usually important to get professional help. The existence of mortgage is no guarantee against property line disputes.
“Encroachment” occurs when a structure on one property is over the property line, encroaching on the neighboring property. These disputes often involve sheds, fences, landscaping, decks and sometimes larger structures. It is important to act whenever you think someone’s fence or building is on your land. This is “trespassing.” If you do nothing the encroaching property owner can sometimes claim title after 15 years.
All property parcels are defined by a “legal description.” The legal description of a parcel is kept by the County Register of Deeds. These descriptions can be interpreted by a surveyor to determine where the lines of the property are located.
In some cases, even with no wrongdoing, legitimate questions may arise over the line. There could be an error in a past deed, or contradictory or inconsistent deeds may raise questions. Markers placed by past surveyors may create questions.
WHEN ISSUES ARISE ABOUT THE CORRECT PROPERTY LINE, it is always easiest and best to try to resolve the dispute by negotiation. It is essential to remember that no interest in real estate can be conveyed unless it is in writing, Verbal agreements are not enough. If you are able to work out the sale of a piece of a parcel or a trade of land to resolve the dispute, it is essential to put it in writing. All documents that modify boundary lines should be prepared by a competent attorney and filed with the County Clerk/Register of Deeds.
If neighboring property owners are unable to resolve a boundary dispute by negotiation, then a civil lawsuit called “an action to Quiet Title” may be required. A court would determine who owns the property and issue an order into the chain of title. The “chain of title” refers to the recorded documents and deeds in the possession of the Register of Deeds.
Other elements of real estate may be involved in boundary disputes. An “easement” gives a person who is not the owner of land to use the land. Easements are granted to utility companies to install and maintain poles, and easements are used to allow a person to go over a part of someone else’s property to reach their own. Waterfront property may involve additional “riparian rights.” Many zoning ordinances and building codes have a “setback” requirement that requires that other structures or uses be a certain distance from the property line.
SOME BOUNDARY DISPUTES ARE STRAIGHTFORWARD. These can be resolved by obtaining a survey. Others are extremely complicated. All involve real estate and every parcel of real estate is considered unique. If you disagree with your neighbor about your respective property lines, get a qualified real estate attorney.