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Property Boundaries, Lines, and Neighbors FAQ

Property Boundaries, Lines and Neighbors FAQ

If you recently purchased a new home or are planning to build a fence or building on your property, it's vital that you know where your property boundaries lie exactly. People often struggle to find property lines. Sometimes, they will need to visit an assessor's office. There, they will need to solicit the help of the assessor's office in determining the property lines.

If a current property survey doesn't exist, it will be necessary to have one done. An assessor can assist with this. Otherwise, you can find the property lines in a geographical information system (GIS), which is often publicly available through the assessor's office. Legal boundaries will be in the surveys available in such a system. These maps are known as PLAT maps.

Continue reading to learn more. This article answers some of the most commonly asked questions about property boundaries.

Frequently Asked Questions About Property Boundaries

Review any of the following material for more information, including legal descriptions of important and fundamental concepts related to property boundaries:

Where can I find information that will tell me my exact property boundaries?

You may be able to find the property markers or boundary monuments yourself. They'll be located at the corners of your property. Often, these are metal pins or stakes buried 6"-10" below the surface at each corner. The markers should be shown on the land survey. You can use a shovel and a metal detector to find them. You can also reference the description in your deed and walk the boundaries of your property.

You may find information about how to find markers on properties like yours by visiting the section of your city's website dealing with construction and permits.

If you are experienced enough to read and understand a land survey, you can request a copy of the land survey or subdivision plot from your county clerk's office. These documents are required to have detailed information about your property boundaries, but they are complex and written for professional surveyors.

How do I accurately mark my property boundaries?

If you want to know exactly where your property boundaries are, hire a licensed land surveyor. They'll come out to your land and place markers on your property's boundary lines. You can find licensed land surveyors in your area by searching the internet. Or you can visit your town hall and ask city staff who do surveys in your area. (In rural communities, there may be only one surveyor who handles a large area.)

In most situations, the cost of a land survey is dictated by the size of the land to be surveyed, whether an accurate subdivision map already exists, the geographic location, and the last time the land was surveyed.

The cost of a survey typically starts at $500 and goes into the thousands of dollars. If your land has not been surveyed for a long time, or if there are multiple existing survey maps that conflict, you can expect to pay more.

Can my neighbor and I simply agree on where the boundary should be?

If you and your neighbor have agreed on the new property boundaries, then you can make a "lot line agreement," also called a "lot line adjustment agreement." These agreements are official and binding. They do so by making and signing deeds that describe in detail the agreed upon property line.

Before proceeding, check your local zoning and subdivision ordinances to make sure your new lot will be in compliance. Some communities require lots of a certain size before they allow animals or extra buildings. Even a small loss of property could create an unanticipated problem. You may need to appear before your town's planning commission or governing board to get your lot line adjustment approved.

If you or your neighbor are still both paying off mortgages on your properties, you may need to consult with an attorney before making a lot line agreement. Your mortgage is signed with a description of the property. If you execute a deed without the bank's approval, you are in breach of your mortgage. You'll need a loan modification. You will be responsible for any costs associated with the modification.

After signing the deed, file it with the county land records office. This office, which is sometimes called the County Recorder's Office or the Land Registry Office, will file the deed and make it available for public viewing upon request. This gives notice to any future purchaser of the land of the new, agreed-upon property boundaries.

What remedies do I have if my neighbor starts to use my property?

If you think your neighbor is starting to use your land, even if it's just a minor thing like building a fence in the wrong location or installing a drainage pipe that crosses the property line, you need to act immediately.

Property boundaries are very important when it comes to the use of land. Even a small encroachment by your neighbor onto your land may result in consequences that you cannot foresee. 

For instance, if your neighbor builds a fence or a new driveway that comes onto your property by a few inches, this may be enough for a title company to refuse to issue insurance when you sell your house.

Many states have laws that allow a person who uses another's land for a long enough time to gain a legal right to use the land.

As with most situations, the best option is to start talking with your neighbor as soon as you notice the encroachment. The neighbor may have made a simple mistake and will correct the error.

If your neighbor does not want to cooperate, your best option is to point out the deed showing the property boundaries or to hire a surveyor to come out and place new property line markers. If the neighbor does not stop building on your land, hire a lawyer and bring a trespass lawsuit. A judge can issue an order to force your neighbor to stop building on your land.

What is adverse possession of land?

Adverse possession gives someone else legal ownership of your land after they use it for a long time. Typically, the non-owner's possession must be open, notorious, and under a claim of right. In some states, the non-owner must also pay the property taxes on the occupied land.

Adverse possession applies to long-term trespassing.  Using the property with permission eliminates the ability to claim adverse possession.

This area of real estate law can be a particularly confusing one. You'll need to review the laws of your state to verify how to protect your property boundaries.

What is a quiet title lawsuit?

A quiet title lawsuit might occur when a survey will not resolve a boundary dispute. A request may be needed and placed before a judge to determine the boundary lines of the property. This procedure is generally more expensive than a survey due to the legal filing fees. These often involve title searches and can be hard to conduct on your own. It's important to consult with an attorney if you need more help.

Have More Questions About Property Boundaries? Ask a Lawyer

Property disputes can get heated quickly. The best way to keep a dispute from getting out of hand is to understand your property rights.

Contact a skilled real estate lawyer near you to discuss your situation and learn how they can help resolve your matter decisively. Homeowners should thoroughly understand laws related to property boundary lines.

Whether concerning easements, property surveys, property deeds, or home improvements, property owners should be aware of relevant laws. If you need more help, speaking with a licensed real estate attorney could be best. It's often best not to use a DIY approach. It's best to contact a lawyer to resolve these legal disputes.

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