A title dispute typically arises when two adjoining landowners have a disagreement over who owns a piece of property, in other words, who owns the title to that piece of land. A boundary dispute, on the other hand, comes up when two adjoining landowners disagree over where the line between their two properties runs. This usually comes up when one of the property owners wants to make a change to their property, but their neighbor disputes their right to do so, claiming it would infringe upon their property.

For instance, a property owner might want to build a home addition, but their neighbor might claim that it crosses the boundary line into their property. Or, a property owner might wish to take down a tree or a limb that they believe to be on their property, but which their neighbor claims is wholly or partially on their property.

These issues are important, of course, because you have the right to undertake home additions, tree removal and other, similar types of actions on your property only. Many property owners are not aware of exactly where their property lines are located. If both you and your neighbor are unclear about the property lines, this can lead to disputes, most likely when one of the above scenarios arises.

Recording real estate documents becomes very important in these situations. In the past, records might not have been well maintained and accurate. However, the problem of these disputes is becoming somewhat less common with newer houses, as good record keeping practices become more common.

What is a “Real Estate Title”?

“Real estate title” refers to the legal ownership of a parcel of a land by a person owns it (or claims to own it). Owning the title to the land gives the owner the right to live on that land and do as they choose with it, within the bounds of their title and local laws and ordinances. What follows is a lists of rights commonly given to title owners:

  • The general right to live on and use the land;
  • The right to any water sources on the land;
  • Rights to minerals and other resources found on the land; and
  • Easements.

The title to your property should be legally recorded, or filed with the county in which the land exists. The actual title document is known as the title deed. When a piece of land is sold, the title deed should be referred to in any related real estate paperwork.

It should then be filed with the county. It is important for a title deed to include any information that would affect property rights for its new owner, to include whether there are any mortgages or liens on the property, and whether any easements exist.

When purchasing a piece of property, you should also purchase title insurance. This insures your claim to the land should someone dispute your right to it in the future. The title insurance company is responsible for making sure your title is free and clear of any other interests prior to your purchase of the property. Some insurance companies will defend you if a boundary dispute arises, although this is not common.

How Can I Determine My Property Boundary Lines?

The deed to the home or property should contain a description of the land. The land should also be surveyed at the time of purchase, and this will show boundary lines. If you are not in possession of your deed and/or survey, you can likely acquire it from your county’s Recorder’s Office. You should also be able to acquire the plat map for your subdivision, if you live in one, which will show boundary lines.

Boundary disputes, although perhaps less common for newer homes, are not unusual, especially with older homes and properties. A dispute with someone who lives right next door can be unpleasant, so it is best not to jump right in with a lawsuit against your neighbor.

First, you should try speaking to them about the issue, and see if it can be resolved easily. However, if the neighbor is resistant, and you still disagree on the location of the property line, you may have no other option but to take legal action.

Example of the types of actions you might file include:

  • Continuing Trespass: This type of claim involves suing your neighbor to keep them from trespassing on your land either with their person or with some part of their home/property.
  • Declaratory Judgment: This is where you ask a judge to rule in your favor regarding the property dispute.

What Other Legal Issues Can Impact Your Title and Boundary?

There are a number of issues that can come up when you are the owner of a property. For example, an easement, as mentioned above, can cause a dispute between adjoining property owners. There are different types of easements, including easement by prescription, and conservation easements.

Easements that go unchallenged for a number of years may not be possible to challenge now. This can present a problem when a new owner acquires a property but does not wish to observe the easement. There may also be other issues with your title insurance, or you may have a property survey dispute.

Should I Hire an Attorney If I Am Facing a Title or Boundary Line Issue?

If you are unable to resolve your title or boundary dispute easily by talking to your neighbor, you may want to contact a real estate attorney to assist with resolving the matter. The attorney will understand the complexities of title ownership and boundary disputes, and can help you take the legal action necessary.