Property survey disputes are disputes between individuals about the boundaries, measurements, or location of a given piece of property. Such disputes frequently occur between neighbors.

For example, when a neighbor constructs a new fence, the other neighbor may contend that the fence is on that other neighbor’s property. These real estate disputes can be solved by having a property survey conducted. This survey will yield a report, and the report in turn will help to resolve the dispute.

What is a Professional Property Survey?

A professional property survey is conducted by an individual known as a professional property surveyor. The job of the surveyor is to locate the precise boundary lines of a piece of property. Surveyors perform their work by researching the current property deed. A deed is a document that describes the location and boundaries of a piece of land. In addition, the surveyor will perform what is called a title search. A title search reveals the history of who owned a piece of property, and how the property was transferred from one person to another.

Once the surveyor conducts the research, the surveyor goes to the property and makes a physical drawing, or sketch, of the piece of property, including its boundaries (such as fences, sidewalks, and driveways). The surveyor will include this drawing, as well as information such as street address and descriptions of neighboring property, in a survey report.

The surveyor will report any improvements a property owner has made to the property. The surveyor will also report any easements, which are rights that allow others to come on to the property for a particular purpose.

What Kinds of Property Disputes Exist?

Property survey reports frequently, but not always, resolve property disputes. Common types of property disputes include:

  • Land use disputes (neighbor X may allege that neighbor Y is using neighbor Y’s property in a way that harms neighbor X or neighbor X’s property).
  • Disputes over the location of a shared property border.
  • Disputes over a fence, tree or other object encroaches upon (extends to) a neighbor’s property.
  • Disputes between the description of property in a survey report, and how that property is described in a deed.
  • Disputes over whether a deed fully and accurately describes a property’s boundaries.

How are Property Survey Disputes Resolved?

Property survey disputes are resolved either informally or by filing a lawsuit in court. Property survey disputes may be resolved informally when neighbors agree to accept the results of a survey report. If one property owner disagrees with the results of a report, that owner can obtain their own report. If the results do not resolve the dispute, the owners can jointly select a surveyor, and agree to be bound by the findings of that surveyor.

If the parties are unable to agree with the findings of a jointly selected surveyor, they may choose to enter into non-binding mediation. During mediation, a qualified mediator will hear each party’s claims. The mediator will attempt to help the parties find common ground to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution. Mediators can help the parties do this by pointing out strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case, were that case to be presented in a court of law.

If agreement cannot be reached, a property owner may file a civil lawsuit against the other owner. In the lawsuit, the judge will evaluate each party’s evidence. This evidence includes deeds, title searches and survey reports. The judge will evaluate the evidence and reach a decision.

In the decision, the judge will determine what the actual boundary lines are. If the judge finds that, under these boundary lines, one owner’s tree encroaches on the other’s property, the judge can order that owner to prevent that encroachment. If the judge finds that one owner built a fence on the other’s property, the judge can order that the fence be removed, and that the owner who built it pay for the costs of the removal.

To prevent future disputes from arising, the judge can order that the deed be reformed. Reformation of a deed involves changing the deed’s description of the property, to conform with the judge’s decision as to the property’s proper boundaries. The judge can order that a reformed deed be filed with the county’s land recorder, recorder of deeds, or other government official responsible for keeping land records.

Once the new deed is recorded, subsequent owners are bound by the terms of that new deed. In this way, disputes that were resolved by the judge’s decision do not “crop up” again.

Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer With a Property Survey Dispute?

If you have questions about or dispute the results of a property survey, you should contact a property lawyer. An experienced property lawyer near you can assist you in determining whether to challenge the findings of the report. The attorney can also represent you at mediation, hearings, or at trial.