Property Line Laws: Common Disputes and Legal Solutions

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 What Is a Property Line? How Are Property Lines Determined?

Property lines, also called boundary lines, are what marks the legal boundaries of a plot of land. They are essentially imaginary borders. The deed to the property is usually what defines the property’s boundaries. However, the deed may be superseded in the following circumstances:

  • If there is an agreed boundary line, such as when it may be uncertain as to where the true boundary lies;
  • By acquiescence, or the act of implying consent to a boundary line by remaining silent;
  • By estoppel, or when a prior legal decision determines a current property dispute; or
  • By adverse possession, which occurs when an individual obtains the title to land simply by using the land for a specified period of time.

What are Some Common Property Line Disputes?

There are many types of property line disputes that may arise under property line rules. These types of disputes are common among adjoining neighbors or businesses that are near each other. They may also be common in situations where a business is located in close proximity to a residential property. These types of disputes often arise when there is a question as to the legal boundaries of the property.

Some common types of property line disputes include:

  • Agreed boundary lines disputes;
  • Boundary line acquiescence;
  • Zoning issues; or
  • Title disputes.

Agreed boundary lines are boundary lines that are not necessarily designated by any documentation other than an agreement between property owners. In some cases, these types of disputes may be resolved by the property owners expressly agreeing to designate a line. Boundary line disputes are likely to arise if one neighbor moves away.

Boundary line acquiescence is a legal concept through which a boundary line is determined and overrules the boundary line described in the property deed. The property line may be established based on the conduct of the parties over time that indicates they agree to that boundary. This can potentially cause issues if, at a later time, a court rules differently on the boundary line and causes one party to lose a significant portion of their property.

Zoning issues arise from zoning laws. Pursuant to zoning laws, land can be regulated as to use, height, or land coverage. Zoning laws specify the regulations applicable to each type of zone. Examples of property line disputes involving zoning issues may include the location of a property line that indicates where commercial activities may or may not be conducted. Zoning issues may also involve access to public areas.

Title disputes generally arise when adjoining property owners disagree over who owns a piece of property. These types of disputes may involve the entire piece of land or a small piece of the property, such as an alleyway or space between two residences. 

Property line disputes may be further complicated by the involvement of local or municipal governments. City councils or boards are often responsible for determining boundary lines based upon historic usage and local resources, as well as other factors. If the municipality encroaches upon residential rights, it could lead to a legal cause of action against the municipality.

What are Some Common Legal Solutions for Property Line Disputes?

Property line disputes can lead to lawsuits if the property owners cannot resolve the dispute on their own. In some cases, a court may order that the boundary line should be redrawn or reestablished, using the measurements of a professional surveyor or GPS system.

If a party’s conduct causes damage to another party, the court may award damages to the aggrieved party. These damages are intended to compensate for various losses which may include the cost of redrawing the line, especially if the aggrieved party has to remove or rebuild parts of the real property. This may occur if there has been an infringement of property lines and the neighbor has, for example, built a fence that is on the other party’s property line.

Can Property Lines Change?

Yes, as discussed above, property lines may change. Property lines are usually determined by a professional property survey conducted by a professional property surveyor. The surveyor locates the precise boundary lines of a piece of property and provides a report which includes:

  • A physical drawing of the property;
  • Descriptions of neighboring properties;
  • Any improvements made to the property; and
  • Easements. 

The surveyor performs their work by researching the current property deed. A deed describes the location and boundaries of a piece of land. Additionally, the surveyor will perform a title search, which reveals the history of ownership of a piece of property, and how the property was transferred from one individual to another.

If an individual hires a licensed land surveyor, they will come to the land and mark the boundary lines, usually with colored flags. Different companies serve different areas and charge different rates, so it may take some research to find the proper surveyor. 

Typically, the cost of the survey is dictated by the following factors:

  • The size of the piece of land to be surveyed; 
  • Whether an accurate subdivision map already exists;
  • The geographic location; and
  • The last time a survey was conducted.

Survey costs typically range between $500 and several thousand dollars. An individual can expect to pay more for their survey if multiple survey maps exist or the land has not been surveyed for a long period of time.

If an individual does not have a copy of their boundary lines, they can have a plat survey done. Any survey of a property is entered into public records and is filed with the local assessor’s office. On average, the cost to redraw property lines is between $800 and $1,200. This may be required if a dispute arises over property lines.

What Can I Do If My Neighbor’s Fence Crosses My Property Line?

As previously discussed, a property line dispute with neighbors is fairly common. Also, title and boundary disputes with neighbors are common when a property owner has a survey done on their land. A survey often reveals that an adjoining property owner has encroached onto the surveyed property.

It is always best to try and communicate with the individual first to see if it is possible to resolve the dispute. It is essential for an individual to hire an attorney as early as possible in a property line dispute. An attorney will gather the necessary documents for the lawsuit, including the deed. The deed will provide the boundary lines for the property. It will also show the plat map for the neighborhood, if one exists.

Is There a Statute of Limitations on Property Lines Lawsuit?

Yes, nearly every type of lawsuit has a statute of limitations, or time frame in which a lawsuit may be filed. These will vary by jurisdiction and by state, so it is essential to consult with an attorney as early as possible to ensure the statute of limitations does not expire.

There are two common types of lawsuits that are filed in boundary dispute cases. These are trespass lawsuits and declaratory judgment lawsuits. 

In a declaratory judgment lawsuit, a party asks the judge to make a ruling, or declaration, as to both where the actual boundary lines are and who should prevail on the boundary dispute. In a trespass lawsuit, an individual seeks to have the other party cease their trespass onto the land, as well as damages for their previous trespasses upon the land without their permission.

Do I Need an Attorney for a Property Line Dispute?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced property lawyer with any property line disputes. These can be complicated issues, especially if a municipality is involved. If you have a property line dispute, it is important to contact an attorney as early as possible.

An attorney will research the property’s history and determine what claims may be available to you. If you are accused of encroaching on another property, an attorney can advise you if any defenses are available. Your attorney can help you attempt to negotiate a solution with your neighbor and will represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary.

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