REAL ESTATE LAW
Disputes Over Real Property and Boundary Lines
A quarrel over real estate property and boundary line disputes can raise questions of perplexity or uncertainty. Maybe neither you or your immediate neighbor have examined each of your individual deeds, and you both have dissimilar expectations regarding the property and boundary lines of each your respective properties. Another common element of boundary disputes are technical causes. Technical property line disputes can result in your neighbor’s deed indicating actual possession of the same piece of land that your deed allegedly gives you possession. This article will guide you on how to deal with disputes over real property and boundary lines.
There are various types of boundary line and property disputes, and each requires a separate method in solving them. While collaboration and mediation are usually the ideal solution, it is not always possible to work together with your neighbor peacefully.
Outlining Property and Boundary Lines
So, what exactly is outlining property and boundary lines? Basically, property and boundary lines are created on the county’s tax map and creates a framework of various land parcels in the county. The simplest boundary and property lines to identify are for condo units.
The complexity of determining boundary lines becomes greater when we deal with single family residential homes in either rural or suburban areas. Property lines are frequently an arbitrary border running through either a field or a lawn. Sometimes a natural border such as a road, pond or a lake may be used in establishing a property or boundary line. The problem with natural borders is that over time they can be altered by mother nature, such as the pond or lake drying up, or a road that was once visible is now covered in grass and weeds. In the aforementioned circumstances, boundary lines are impossible to spot visually.
What to do When a Dispute Arises?
When a dispute over the boundary line arises between you and your neighbor, deal with it immediately. If an amicable resolution is your objective, your first step in resolving this issue is to meet with your neighbor and bring all of the supporting documents that you have that can help clear up your dispute. The documents will likely include, deeds, property surveys, plat maps, title insurance paperwork, and any other legally relevant materials.
The reason you might want to proceed in this manner first by the exchange of information is due to the fact that often times, the boundary disputes are a simple case of misunderstanding, and this approach may help prevent future conflict or even litigation.
Should the review of the existing surveys and/or deeds does not resolve the boundary dispute, your neighbor and you should agree to get a professional report and hire a land surveyor. Alternatively, a mediator can also be retained if the surveyor’s report doesn’t solve the boundary dispute. The mediator will be able to give you a realistic picture of what may occur if you decide to go to court, so be open minded to different options before deciding to litigate the matter.
Does Title Insurance Cover the Cost of the Dispute?
So now you’re probably wondering whether title insurance covers the cost of your boundary dispute? Regrettably, ordinary title insurance policies contain provisions which specifically exclude their involvement in property and boundary line disputes.
Nevertheless, it is helpful to check your title insurance policy and let your agent know that you currently have a dispute. There are times when the insurance company might provide some legal assistance if your dispute can be quickly litigated and resolved.
Getting an Attorney to Assist You With Your Property Line and Boundary Dispute
Although there are cases where you can resolve a property or boundary line dispute without any help, or at least with minimal help from the service of either a mediator or land surveyor, some situations will require the help of an attorney. Getting an attorney to assist you with your property line and boundary dispute is especially important if the real property dispute is over a substantial piece of land.
Before you decide to hire an attorney and commence a lawsuit against your neighbor be aware that whether you win or lose, you may have to live next to this person for some years to come and tensions may arise that will make this experience awkward. Furthermore, make sure you have exhausted all collaborative negotiations because a lawsuit will take time and money. Nonetheless, sometimes litigation is really the only option left in some real property and boundary disputes.
For resolving boundary disputes, there are commonly two kinds of lawsuits that may help. The first cause of action is for ejectment or continuing trespass. An ejectment or a continuing trespass action, you are asking the court to find that your neighbor has trespassed on your land and order the neighbor to cease trespassing immediately and remove any possessions or structures of your land. If you are able to show the court that the value of your real property has diminished in value as a result of your neighbors continuing trespass of your land, the court may award you with money damages as part of your remedy.
The second type of lawsuit available in a property and boundary dispute is suing for a declaratory judgment. The function of a declaratory judgment in a boundary dispute involves the judge making a legal determination of who owns the land. This type of legal action is less litigious than trespass since money damages are not part of a declaratory judgment.
Most Common Boundary Disputes – Property Improvements
An interesting fact is that boundary disputes are rarely the catalyst for fighting between neighbors. The actual culprit to boundary disputes is when a property owner makes improvements on his or her property, including but limited to putting up an outside wall, fence, or swimming pool. Soon after the improvement is made a property line dispute ensues if the neighbor: (1) builds an improvement that encroaches the real property line; (2) neglects to get the proper permits to begin construction of the improvements; (3) fails to acquire approval from the city, planning board, or homeowners’ association; (4) erects an improvement that is violation of a local ordinance, zoning law, state law, or restrictive covenants, conditions and restrictions of the communities HOA; (5) restricts a recognized property use and blocks a driveway or path.
This is why a good rule of thumb prior to commencing any improvement on one’s property is to talk with your neighbor about what your planning on doing as well as the homeowners’ association.
Possible Defenses Raised by Your Neighbor
It is best to think about what possible defenses might be raised by your neighbor before you commence litigation. The defenses you neighbor could use for a boundary dispute may include: (1) incorrect or misread facts, such as the deed being read wrong, (2) the property has been acquired and is owned by adverse possession (we will cover this in more detail later), (3) the property in question has an established easement giving your neighbor a right to use it, (4) you consented to your neighbors use of the property, (5) statute of limitations has run out.
As you can see there is a lot of facts and legal issues that must be addressed in order to resolve a property and boundary line dispute.
Basic Questions to Ask Your Attorney
Is there a possibility that the current boundary dispute that you have with your neighbor could be covered by your title insurance policy?
Is your case clearly about the location of the boundary line, or is the issue about usage and control of the property based on a claim for adverse possession?
What is the likelihood that you could prevail if your neighbor claims adverse possession?
What you should do while your dispute is pending in court, that is how to deal with your neighbor’s encroachment on your property?
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