In an ideal world, you’ll always get along with your neighbors. They’ll never create a boundary dispute by building a shed that infringes on your property. They’ll never make a spite fence that blocks your view of the neighborhood. They’ll never be provided inaccurate deed descriptions that can skew real estate rights or have unrecorded deeds that can convey the same property to different people.
Unfortunately, disputes occur every day. Land disputes can even happen between landlords and tenants, a homeowners association, government agencies, property visitors, or trespassers. If a difference can’t be easily rectified or avoided, you need to know how to act. Let’s learn about some of the common land disputes and the best ways to protect yourself and your property.
What are Property and Boundary Lines?
Property and Boundary lines are defined by a county’s tax map to determine ownership of different parcels of land. Often these lines are physical landmarks like a creek or road, while other times, the lines are arbitrarily drawn through an open space. For this reason, it can be challenging to determine exactly where a property line begins or ends, especially if the landscape has changed over the years. When a neighbor or other entity is claiming real estate beyond their boundary lines, or claim that you’re doing the same, a property line dispute can emerge.
How to Resolve a Property Line Dispute
Starting a Dialogue
As we’ve been told since childhood, talking it out is always the best first course of action. When it comes to a small area of land being disputed, this is often correct. For instance, if your neighbor built a small storage shed slightly onto your property, asking him or her to move it (or helping them rebuild a portion of it) is much cheaper than litigation costs. When a minimal amount of land is at stake, do your best to be civil and come to a mutually beneficial agreement. If you have a stable relationship with your neighbor, that may be all it takes to clear up a small misunderstanding.
Bringing legal documentation with you to your discussion can help provide evidence that clears a dispute. Deeds, plat maps, title work, appraisals, and property surveys can all be useful in getting to the truth of the matter.
Hiring a Surveyor
If you need documented proof of boundary and property lines, a surveyor can help determine the exact locations based on the legal description contained in your deed.
Reaching an Agreement or Using a Mediator
If you feel comfortable tackling the issue head-on and you come to a mutually beneficial agreement with your neighbor, you can come together to sign a deed that sets the new perimeters of land. This may involve a financial exchange or property purchase. Working with an attorney to sign the deed and file it with the country recorder should be done promptly to put the issue to rest. If you are close, but can’t quite come to an agreement, you can involve a mediator. They can often find a mutually beneficial conclusion to the ongoing dispute at an agreeable fee.
Send a Letter Through an Attorney
If an in-person conversation or a letter doesn’t suffice, or the value or area of the land in question is relatively high, consulting with an attorney experienced in land disputes is advisable. At HML, our attorneys can provide detailed answers to your questions and concerns. A letter from one of our attorneys can help jump-start stalled negotiations by going into detail about the property line dispute with reliable facts on your side.
Taking the Issue to Court
If all other avenues fall short and you are comfortable that your evidence and arguments are substantial, court is your final destination. Your attorney will prepare for the court’s legal briefs and continue research. Early in the process, settlement is often a secure option.
A settlement minimizes the expenses incurred by both parties and keeps neighborly relationships from turning sour. If you haven’t already met with a mediator, now would be the time. Your attorney will continue to guide you through the process and make sure you’re receiving a fair settlement.
Does Title Insurance Cover the Property Line Dispute?
The title insurance policy typically purchased ensures that the insurance company will not be responsible for the costs incurred during a boundary line dispute. However, this doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to bring it to the attention of your title insurer. There is always a chance that they may agree to provide you with an attorney after reviewing your policy and case.