“Boundary line” is a legal term that refers to the area a plot of land covers. It is generally determined by a property surveyor or GPS technology. The description of your boundary lines can usually be found in the property’s recorded title.
Determining the boundary lines of your property can often be a difficult task that could lead to disputes with your neighbors. Many cities have laws regarding how close a building or structure can be to the property line. Many cities also have rules regarding how much trees/shrubs/foliage can sit along the property line, due to any local history/issues with fire safety.
Most importantly, a clear property line can help property owners understand what is their responsibility. Whether it’s a tree that’s overgrown or a large area of dried brush that needs to be removed, it’s not always clear which neighbor should be responsible. Before you are fined by the city or suffer serious property damage, being able to settle the issue with your neighbor can make these situations go smoothly.
While boundary lines of your property aren’t always clear, you don’t have to leave it up to chance or guess. You can come to an agreement about a boundary line with your neighbors even if it is not 100% accurate. But, this could still cause some disputes down the road.
There are only certain situations where boundary line agreements will be enforceable, The following elements must be present under the agreed boundary doctrine:
- The landowners are uncertain about the true boundary line;
- Both landowners agree on the boundary line;
- Both landowners must act like the agreed boundary line is the true boundary line; and
- The landowners should identify the new boundary line. One way this could be accomplished is by building a fence.
If any of the above does not happen, the boundary line may not be legally enforceable. However, if all of the requirements are met the agreed boundary line will be enforceable even if a surveyor later determines the true boundary line.
The above list tells you what must occur, but how do you approach your neighbor with a problem over a property dispute? Rushing to a lawyer isn’t always the right answer, especially when it comes to disputes between neighbors.
If you and your neighbor have a history of tension, then you can always start off by leaving them a note that clearly informs them what you hope to do. By giving them time to reply, you can make sure that the issue doesn’t immediately become stressful or contentious.
If your neighbor refuses to comply, then check to see if you county/city offers mediation or arbitration. Many counties offer free meditation, especially for neighborhood disputes, in order to keep the local courts clear of issues/concerns that do not always need litigation.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that having the agreed boundary in writing does not make your relationship with your neighbor hostile or unfriendly. Both parties should view it as a way to keep things clear from confusion, especially if the unexpected happens like a tree crashing through someone’s roof.
Many people view anything formal or legally binding as not being “neighborly”, instead neighbors should view this as an opportunity to make sure you can focus on living peacefully and fighting over a disputed property line.
After both parties agree to the boundary line, they enter into a written lot line agreement. This document will be legally binding just as if you were signing a contract. Before doing this, you should check your local zoning and subdivisions lines to make sure the agreement does not encroach on those lines. Interestingly, the agreed boundary doctrine makes future owners subject to the new boundary lines.
Disputes over an agreed boundary line may still arise. You can usually challenge an agreed boundary line if there is no evidence of the past agreement. If there is no evidence of an agreement, it will not matter if you erected a fence or made the agreed boundary known in some other manner.
A disputed boundary line can cause serious issues, especially if your home sits or crosses the boundary line that your neighbor says is correct. If they are ultimately correct, then you may need to pay them for that portion of the land or (if possible) move the structure so it no longer sits on their property. This is why you should always put your agreed boundary line agreement into writing.
Having a local real estate lawyer draft your agreed boundary line agreement would not be a bad idea. A lawyer offers the parties extra protection and can resolve any inconsistencies or disputes before signing the agreement. A lawyer can also check the relevant state laws in your area to determine if your state follows the agreed boundary doctrine and what steps are necessary to make your agreed boundary line official.