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How To Settle Property Line Disputes

Andrew Dehan5-minute read
June 21, 2021

If anything can ruin a relationship between neighbors, it’s a property line dispute. You’ve probably never wanted to pay mind to your neighbor’s property. But in situations where a property line is disputed, you need to settle the situation or risk losing title to your property.

Here we’ll explain what property line disputes are, define different terms used and talk about how to settle a property line dispute. Depending on the state of your relationship, settling the issue could range from having a friendly conversation to taking the matter to court.

Read on to learn the steps you should take to resolve a property line dispute.

Property Line Disputes Explained

Property lines, also known as boundary lines, are what separate your property from your neighbor’s property. These lines are important because they determine who has the right to modify or build on the property, as well as who is liable if there’s a problem with or on the property.

When disputes around boundary lines in real estate crop up, they can be around a variety of things. Maybe you or a neighbor built a fence or a structure that crosses over the line. Or maybe a tree fell and there’s uncertainty over who’s responsible for cleaning it up.

These disputes are important to clear up ASAP. Property line disputes can ruin home sales and easements can diminish your home value. Let’s talk about different types of disputes and give you some examples so you’ll know how to spot them.

Encroachments

In real estate, an encroachment is when you or your neighbor builds something that straddles or crosses the property line. For example, you’ve decided to put up a privacy fence. Unintentionally, you’ve built your fence 6 inches into your neighbor’s property. This is an encroachment.

Another example of when an encroachment comes up is when someone builds an outbuilding or an extension on their house. Especially with a large investment in an outbuilding or an extension on a home, encroaching on a neighbor’s property can be a costly mistake.

Trespassing

Put simply, trespassing is the act of traveling on private property. If your neighbors are picnicking on or regularly walking through your property without your permission, this is trespassing. If they do this frequently enough, it could turn into an easement.

Easements

Easements give people the legal right to access your property. One common easement allows utility companies onto your property for the purpose of monitoring and maintaining their equipment.

However, an easement that allows a neighbor onto your property could have negative effects on your home value. For instance, if your neighbor uses your yard to cut through to a nearby lake, an easement could be established. If you’re buying a home with an easement you’re unaware of, it’s a recipe for a boundary dispute.

Adverse Possession

If an easement is someone having a right to your property, adverse possession is someone gaining ownership of it through hostile means. Also known as squatter’s rights, adverse possession occurs when someone occupies or modifies your property openly over a period of time.

Different localities have laws around adverse possession, including how long it must occur for it to take effect. For instance, if your neighbor builds a new shed and it crosses the boundary line onto your property, and you don’t do anything about it, that part of your property could be adversely possessed by them.

Deed Errors

When neighboring properties have conflicting errors in the property deed, this can lead to a property line dispute. Property deeds define the property boundaries. Any errors found in deeds of adjoining properties can lead to issues.

For instance, your neighbor could put up their fence in accordance with the property boundaries on their deed. An issue could arise if your deed lists different boundaries. The dispute will likely have to be solved by a surveyor and/or a trip to the courthouse.

How To Settle Property Line Disputes

Once you’ve noticed an issue with your boundary lines, you need to address it. Note that the best chances for a stress-free solution occur when you start with a civil conversation. Each step we list here after talking with your neighbor ratchets up the issue in terms of social tension, time and money.

Read these steps and determine your course of action.

Have A Friendly Conversation With Your Neighbor

This is the first thing you need to do. If you believe your neighbor has overstepped the boundary lines, you need to address it. Don’t be quick to make accusations, but don’t avoid the conflict either. Whether it’s encroachment or trespassing, calmly state your concern and talk about what needs to be done to solve the problem.

Depending on the level of money involved and how much you want to defend your property, you will have to negotiate. If your neighbor has mistakenly built on your property, you may grant an easement for as long as the structure is standing. However, if you do not want the structure on your land, you may have to take your neighbor to court.

Check Your Property Deed

Before accusing anyone, give your neighbor the benefit of the doubt. Check your property deed and ask to cross-reference your deed with theirs to get the vital information on your property lines. Property line disputes can often be avoided with a warranty deed.

Get A Property Survey 

A land surveyor creates an incredibly accurate description of a piece of land. The survey is a legal document that contains GPS coordinates for the plot’s corners, measurements for the points in between and the total measurement for each boundary line.

At this point, all your efforts of comparing the deed and getting a property survey still rely on your neighbor honoring the information you discover. If they don’t recognize they’re in the wrong, and they are, you should speak to a real estate attorney.

Hire A Real Estate Attorney

A real estate attorney will help you navigate the law. It’s good for every property owner to know a real estate attorney. They will be able to give you advice, like if you need to quiet a title or file a petition with the court.

Bottom Line: Avoid Property Line Disputes With Neighbors If Possible

Nobody wants to be in a dispute with their neighbor. Even if you aren’t friendly, being in open dispute over a property line can be a headache. A little effort to be a good neighbor goes a long way. Building positive relationships with your neighbors is the best place to start for a drama-free neighborhood.

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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.