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 What Are Property Boundary Lines?

Property boundary lines are the imaginary boundaries of a piece of land. They are essential because they permit a person to specify what property belongs to them physically and on their deed documents.

They are also helpful when neighbors dispute whether one of the parties is infringing on the other party’s land.

For instance, if Neighbor A wants to clear a tree that they think is on their land, but it is within Neighbor B’s boundary lines, who wants to keep the tree. Neighbor B can raise a legal ˛challenge against Neighbor A to prevent removal.

In general, there are four primary boundary lines found on residential property lots. These are land, water, air, and subsurface. Each kind of boundary line has a separate set of regulations to follow that explains how a person can determine them.

How Are Land Boundary Lines Determined?

Land boundary lines are the sort of property boundary lines that most individuals think of when there is a conflict. Usually, land boundary lines are determined by the deed to the property.

However, certain instances arise where there may have been an error with the deed or naturally occurring circumstances that led to the boundary line disappearing (e.g., mudslides slightly moving a fence that held the original land boundary lines).

In such a circumstance, the deed may be contested and can be supplanted by the following actions:

  • Agreed-to Boundary Line: When there is indecision as to the actual boundary line and no proper way to decide where it lies, the parties may decide to set a new boundary line;
  • Acquiescence: This happens when a party indicates consent by staying silent about the actual boundary line. For instance, if a person grows their garden onto their neighbor’s property, but the neighbor does not object to this activity, then they have implied consent to the neighbor conceivably owning up to that line of the property;
  • Estoppel: Estoppel can be utilized where a previous legal decision decides the outcome of a present property conflict. For example, if a previous case already determined the appropriate land boundary lines, then the present conflict can follow the lines defined in that case; and
  • Adverse Possession: The laws of adverse possession enable a person to obtain title to land by simply using it for the period specified by state and federal laws.

How Are Water Boundary Lines Defined?

Two common law rules address the subject of water boundary lines that may have moved over time. They include the following:


This happens when the location of a water boundary line moves slowly due to the incremental buildup of soil. It is then said that the property line has moved due to accretion. This usually indicates that the landowner has received an increase in land and has a right to the additional boundaries created.

For instance, if a house was initially closer to the shoreline of an ocean or lake, but over time there was an incremental increase of sand buildup because of the waves that moved the house farther away from the water, then the land in front of the house can be deemed an accumulation of property.


In distinction, avulsion is a hasty change in the location of a water boundary. This can happen when a storm floods the property and removes parts of the soil that were originally considered part of the land. The initial property line is deemed not to have moved if this happens.

How Are Air Boundary Lines Determined?

It has become increasingly acknowledged that a landowner only owns the portion of airspace reasonably required for their land’s use or enjoyment. The airspace above the ground is usually not contained in the description of air boundary lines.

How Are Subsurface Rights Established?

The traditional rule was that land ownership included ownership of everything underneath the land surface down to the earth’s center. As an exception to this rule, the surface owner does not necessarily own everything below the land.

This usually means that any subsurface materials, such as oil and gas, may not belong to the surface owner. Depending on the state’s laws, some state laws claim that oil belongs to the first individual to seize it through a process known as extraction.

Fences on Boundary Lines

Unless property owners decide otherwise, fences on a boundary line belong to both owners. Reasonable neighbors should arrange to split the price of repairing fences or shared boundary walls. Both owners are accountable for keeping the fence in good repair, and neither may extract it without the other’s consent. If trees hang over the fence, most states acquiesce that the property owner may cut tree limbs and clear roots where they cross over the property line, provided that such pruning will not damage the essential health and welfare of the tree.

Fences and Local Ordinances

Local fence ordinances usually regulate:

  • Height
  • Location
  • The material used, and
  • Appearance

Inhabitants of subdivisions are often subject to even more stringent homeowners’ association regulations involving fences. In residential neighborhoods, local rules generally limit backyard fences to a height of six feet and front yard fences to a height of four feet. Peculiarities exist, and a landowner can seek a variance if there is a necessity for a higher fence. While some jurisdictions have distinct aesthetic zoning rules concerning fences, as long as a fence complies with local regulations, it cannot be taken down merely because it is unattractive.

What Is an Encroachment?

An encroachment is when another individual puts up a structure that intrudes on (or over) your land. This issue might arise if, for instance, one of your neighbors were to expand his home so that a porch ends up on your property.

You might determine that your neighbor’s encroachment doesn’t concern you and do nothing about it. This choice has the benefit of maintaining goodwill between you and your neighbor. However, if you ever want to sell your property, you will need to reveal the encroachment to any potential buyers so that they can regard the issue as part of their purchasing decision.

What Is the Height Limit for a Fence?

Most fencing regulations restrict the height of artificial fences in residential areas to four feet in front yards and six feet in backyards. Local rules set by cities and counties, and sometimes subdivision regulations called Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs), handle fencing.

Some local height limitations in fencing laws apply to natural fences made of bushes or trees. The placement of a row of trees or bushes that border property will usually meet the definition of a fence. Many natural fence height restrictions range from five to eight feet.

Should I Contact an Attorney About My Boundary Line Dispute?

If you are uncertain about your property’s true boundary lines, are attempting to recognize a new boundary line, or are involved in a dispute over current boundary lines, hiring a property attorney for legal advice could be beneficial to your case.

A local property attorney will understand the complexities of title ownership and boundary line disputes. They will also know which laws apply in your jurisdiction and the best way to resolve your issues.

Not all legal actions necessarily need to end up in court, but whether they do or are instead settled using a method of alternative dispute resolution, a qualified property attorney will be able to assist regardless.


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