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Crossing the Line -There’s Nothing Neighborly About Boundary Disputes

What your neighbors do can easily impact your quality of life; good neighbors invite you to barbecues, provide an extra set of hands to help when repairs are needed, and let you enjoy your own home in peace and quiet. However, living next to problematic neighbors can make your life complicated and stressful. From dogs barking, to late-night parties, to overgrown bushes, neighborhood problems will quickly convert you to a believer in the old aphorism, “Good fences make good neighbors.” In fact, of all the disputes between neighbors, disagreements over boundary lines may be the most complicated and require the most legal work to solve.

Boundary-line disputes are less common than other neighbor-related problems, in part because of modern surveying techniques. Boundary lines may be set forth in the property description in your deed. However, if the property description was created decades or even centuries ago, the description in the deed may be a bit difficult to trace on the ground.

So what should you do if you think your neighbor’s new fence crosses onto your property? As soon as construction starts on land you believe is yours, notify your neighbor immediately. If you wait to complain and allow the construction to continue, you could be giving up your right to that land. After years of uncontested use, courts sometimes grant the party that has used the land the right to continue using the land.

If the structure has already been completed, mere are a number of steps you can take to confirm boundary lines and determine if they are being followed. First, you can spend a couple hundred dollars and hire a professional surveyor to confirm your suspicions. Your lawyer or real estate agent should be able to help you find a reputable surveying service in your community. You may also talk to your lawyer about filing a quiet title lawsuit; such a court action asks a judge to determine the location of a boundary line. This can be more expensive than simply hiring a surveyor, but it will give you legal peace of mind.

Of course, you could always try to work out an agreement with your neighbor informally. Consider talking to your neighbor to see if you can agree that a certain imaginary line or physical object, such as a fence or tree, will serve as the boundary between your properties. Then, have your lawyer draw up quitclaim deeds for both you and your neighbor to sign, each of you granting ownership to the other of any land on the other’s side of the line. Be sure to record the deed by filing it in the county records office. Be aware that your mortgage holder may need to approve a quitclaim deed before you can sign it; talk to your lawyer to determine how to go about getting the proper approval if necessary.

What if you are the one planning on building? Before you erect a fence or other structure on your land, make sure that the land is indeed yours. If you innocently, but mistakenly, erect a fence on your neighbor’s property, you may be liable for trespassing. Your neighbor could ask a court for an injunction to make you tear down the fence and could seek to recover for any damage you may have caused to his or her property.

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