Ever wonder the exact line where your property begins or ends? Ready to begin a new home improvement project but have contractors asking for the legal description of your property? Need to settle a border dispute with your neighbor?
It's surprising how many people do not know where the precise edges of their land fall. Often, they have been lost when it comes to questions of where these boundaries lie. After all, most property has changed hands over the years. On top of that, property lines are often assumed to be consistent with existing fences or landscape boundaries.
The confusion over property boundaries and the borders of real estate is the basis of many disputes between neighbors. These disagreements over boundaries often include encroachments — real or perceived — on a person's property.
Ahead you'll find information to help you determine exact property lines and where those boundaries should lie. This article can also help you figure out what to do if your neighbor starts using your property without permission.
Fences and Fence Ordinances
The height, location, appearance, and materials used for fencing are often regulated by local fence ordinances. Some homeowners associations (HOAs) may place additional restrictions on fences. Most jurisdictions allow homeowners to get approval ("variances") for certain exceptions, such as higher fences. Yet many fence ordinances do not regulate the aesthetics of fences. This means a fence cannot be ordered removed simply because someone finds it ugly.
Fences are often built right on top of property boundary lines. You can verify this by reviewing your plat map. A plat is publicly available information that you may be able to find through many government sites. The map indicates the boundaries of the property and your parcel number. Land assessors and land surveyors compile the information.
You may also check your geographical information system (GIS) map, which is a similar map and is available on government sites as well. It also delineates the legal boundaries of your property. This information should also be located on your property deed.
The location of a fence can have important consequences. Because fences are often built on property lines, they are the responsibility of homeowners on both sides of the boundary. Therefore, a fence's upkeep and eventual replacement is the responsibility of both homeowners. If tree limbs hang over the fence and into your property, you may legally cut those limbs. But you may only do so if it doesn't damage the health of the tree.
What Are My Property Boundaries?
Ideally, the land survey or subdivision plot on file at your city or county clerk's office will provide detailed information about the precise boundaries of your property. You can also check your plat map or GIS map, as well as your property deed. If you cannot locate any of those, whoever issued your title insurance should have this information, too. You may want to check with the title company that handles your property insurance.
But information about property borders is not always easy to understand to a layperson. You may require a professional surveyor's help. A surveyor can access the corresponding documents and use special instruments to mark the boundaries of your property. If there are several documents on file indicating different property lines, the job may be more complicated and ultimately cost more. However, first-time homebuyers may want to invest in a new survey.
You might also need to consult with the county recorder, who will likely have records reflecting your property boundaries. Your mortgage lender likely has this information as well.
Changing the Boundaries by Agreement
Property lines are not carved in stone and may be changed through mutual agreement. If, for example, a fence is too far into your land from your actual boundary — meaning a small piece of your property is actually on your neighbor's side of the fence — it could cause problems when you try to sell your house.
Getting the property line officially changed through what's called a "lot line agreement" can remedy this. You should ensure that any changes comply with local zoning and neighborhood laws.
But keep in mind that your bank (or your neighbor's bank) may not approve of a boundary change if one or both of the homes are still under a mortgage. To avoid triggering an acceleration clause on your loan, seek your bank's approval prior to altering property boundaries.
When a boundary is changed, it gets recorded in the county office and made available to the public. If you need to change your borders, it may cause an issue with your neighbor. If you would like to lay claim to your neighbor's property, you will likely also need to consider purchasing the land at issue.
An encroachment occurs when your neighbor intrudes on or over land with some kind of structure. Examples of such structures include fences or decks that veer across the boundary line. Even if you personally don't mind the encroachment, it's important to at least acknowledge its existence so you can tell potential future homebuyers. Sellers are obligated to disclose any known encroachments on the property, so they could affect your ability to sell the home.
An alternative is to change the boundary through a lot line agreement, which is recorded in the official records. Lot line agreements are also known as boundary line agreements.
If an encroachment becomes an issue, you'll need to determine where the property begins and ends. You might be able to find the boundaries through property line markers or survey pins. These should also be reflected in property records or a property survey.
The county assessor's office or local assessor's office typically holds these public records. Every municipality should have an assessor who is responsible for keeping track of land-related issues. If you're struggling to understand or access this information, you might want to speak with a real estate agent or a land surveyor.
Click on a link below to learn more about property boundaries and their legal implications.
Learn About Property Boundaries
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