A property line, also known as a boundary line, is what marks the legal boundaries of plots of land. Property lines are essentially imaginary borders, and can be categorized in four sorts of lines: land, water, air, and sub-surface. Further, property lines often follow the natural features of the land, such as rivers, ditches, creeks, or trees. Property lines are determined by the measurements of a professional surveyor, or GPS technology.

The property’s deed is generally what defines property boundaries, but the deed may be superseded by the following cases:

  • Agreed boundary line, when it may be uncertain as to where the true boundary lies;
  • Acquiescence, or the act of implying consent to a boundary line by remaining silent;
  • Estoppel, or when a prior legal decision determines a current property dispute; or
  • Adverse possession, which is when the laws of adverse possession allow a person to obtain the title to land simply by using the land for a specified period of time.

As previously mentioned, property lines can be categorized in different ways. As water boundary lines can naturally move over time, there are two common law rules that address water boundaries. The first is accretion, which occurs when the location of a water boundary moves slowly because of the gradual buildup of soil. Thus, a property line shifts with accretion. The second is avulsion, which occurs if there is a sudden change in the water boundary’s location, deeming the property line not to have moved.

Air boundary lines refer more so to airspace that is reasonably necessary for the use or employment of the land. It does not refer to all of the airspace above the property. The surface owner does not necessarily own any subsurface oil and gas found on the property. In fact, in some states, oil and gas belongs to the first person to capture it through an extraction process.

What Are Some Common Property Line Disputes?

Property line disputes are common between adjoining neighbors, businesses that are near each other, or instances in which a business is located in close proximity to a residential property. These disputes often arise when there is some question as to the legal boundaries of the property.

Some common examples of property line disputes include:

  • Agreed Boundary Disputes: Agreed boundary lines are those that are not necessarily designated by anything other than an agreement between property owners. Some cases of property line disputes may be resolved by the two property owners expressly agreeing to designate a line. Disputes are likely to arise when one neighbor moves away;
  • Boundary Line Acquiescence: Acquiescence refers to a legal concept in which a boundary line is determined and overrules the boundary listed in the land’s deed. A property line may be established if the parties’ conduct over time indicates that they agree to the boundary. This may cause issues if a court rules otherwise during future disputes, with one party potentially losing a significant portion of their property;
  • Zoning Issues: Zones can be regulated as to use, height, and land coverage, with zoning laws specifying the regulations applicable to each zone. An example of property line disputes involving zoning issues would be the property line indicating where commercial activities may or may not be conducted. Zoning issues can also involve access to public areas; and
  • Title Disputes: Title disputes will generally arise when adjoining property owners disagree over who owns a piece of property. Property line disputes involving title disputes could be over the entire piece of land, or a small piece of the property in question, such as an alleyway or the space between homes.

Property line disputes can be further complicated by the involvement of the local or municipal government. City councils and boards are often responsible for determining boundary lines based on historic usage and local resources, among other factors. Should the municipality encroach upon residential rights, this could lead to a legal cause of action against the city.

What Are Some Common Legal Solutions for Property Line Disputes?

Property line disputes may lead to a lawsuit if the property owners cannot resolve the dispute on their own. Additionally, in some instances, the court may order that the boundary lines be redrawn or reestablished, using the measurements of a professional surveyor or GPS system.

If one party’s conduct causes damages to the other party, the court may award damages to the victim. These damages are intended to cover various losses which could include the cost of redrawing the line, especially if the process involves removing or rebuilding parts of the real property.

Do I Need an Attorney for a Property Line Dispute?

Property line disputes can be complicated matters, especially if the municipality is involved. If you are dealing with a property dispute, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable property attorney in order to determine your best course of action.

An experienced attorney can help you conduct any necessary research into the property’s history, and advise you of your best course of legal action. They can also determine which types of legal remedies may be available to you based on the specifics of your case, as well as represent you in court as needed.