Having good relationships with neighbors is often key to enjoying one’s home. Certainly, adversarial relationships with neighbors detract from the peace of mind one hopes to find at home. Boundary disputes are among the most common sources of conflict between neighbors and can quickly get out of control from both an emotional and a cost perspective, making home a source of anxiety, conflict, and anger.
Land boundaries are often referred to as property lines. They define the location and edges of parcels of real property. A boundary dispute may arise due to confusion or misinformation or due to an outright disagreement. Two of the most common boundary issues are:
- Neighbors disagree on the property line itself. This often happens because people have relied on verbal descriptions of property boundaries. For example, “My property goes right up to that line of shrubbery and your property starts on the other side.” It could also happen because key markers—for instance, iron pins, stream beds, hedges, or trees—get moved or disappear altogether. The person who disputes a property line generally has the burden to show the line is someplace else.
- Neighbors agree on the actual property lines but dispute the use of land within the lines. For example, one neighbor may not want the other to cross the property line when building or installing an improvement, such as a fence or structure. Another example is that one party does not want the other party to install a barrier, like a fence, stand of trees, or building that will disrupt a scenic view or block a path or driveway.
Potential approaches to resolving a boundary dispute depend on the type of disagreement, but a calm, diplomatic conversation is always a good place to start. Most people are receptive to friendly discussion and are just as interested as you are in avoiding conflict and legal action.
When the Dispute Is about Property Lines
A quick examination of the deeds and plats for the two properties may be all that is required to settle a disagreement over the location of property lines. Boundary markers are often noted on the plat or in the property description on the deed. By taking a walk around the area in question with your neighbor, plats and deeds in hand, you may be able to locate markers and gain clarity on the location of the line.
If the documents are unclear or you find it impossible to locate markers, you may need to commission a surveyor to come out, take measurements, and render a professional assessment on the location of the property line. Your neighbor may be willing to split the cost of the survey with you. In any event, having an expert opinion may serve to settle the dispute. Be sure to ask the surveyor to point out key markers, or to install markers like iron pins or blazes on trees if no markers exist.
If neither of these alternatives yields a resolution, you will likely need to hire an attorney to review the situation, offer advice, suggest potential solutions, and possibly initiate legal action. The threat of legal action may be sufficient to catalyze a resolution with your neighbor.
Potential legal actions may include:
- An ejectment or trespass lawsuit asking the court to remove a neighbor who is occupying your property, or a structure such as a fence that is keeping you off your property
- A lawsuit requesting declaratory judgment from the court to determine who is the rightful property owner
Even if you and your neighbor are able to reach agreement on your own, you may need legal assistance to solidify and implement a solution such as preparing a boundary agreement and recording it in county records to clear up the matter for good.
When the Dispute Is about Property Usage
This situation can be trickier to address than a simple disagreement on where to draw the property line because opinions and personal preferences are involved. This is not always the case, however. A neighbor would have a solid case to object and insist on remedy if:
- An improvement clearly crosses a property line
- Building permits for an improvement are not obtained before work or installation is started
- Approval for the improvement is not obtained from a required source such as a city or town planning commission or homeowners’ association
- The improvement violates a state law, a local ordinance such as a zoning restriction, or a covenant of a homeowners’ association
- The improvement violates a restrictive covenant (a clause in a deed limiting property use)
- The improvement interferes with an established property use, such as blocking a path or driveway
Again, it may be possible for neighbors to work through a land use dispute on their own, although legal support is frequently required.
We Can Help
Consulting an attorney when you can’t agree with your neighbor doesn’t mean you’ll wind up filing a lawsuit. Boundary dispute lawsuits can be expensive and difficult to win. An experienced attorney can suggest and help explore other options. We at the Deno Millikan Law Firm have deep experience in this area and stand ready to guide you and ensure your legal rights are protected. Contact us today at 425-259-2222.