Ever wonder where the exact line of your property begins or ends? Need to settle a border dispute with your neighbor? It is surprising how many people do not know where the precise edges of their boundaries are. Often, they have been lost in the many times their property has changed hands over the years, or assumed to be consistent with existing fences or landscape boundaries. The confusion over property boundaries is the basis of many neighbor disputes, including encroachments (or perceived encroachments) on one's property. This section contains information to help you determine exact property lines, where property lines should be, and what you can do if your neighbor starts using your property without permission, either knowingly or unknowingly.
Fences and Fence Ordinances
The height, location, appearance, and materials used for fencing are often regulated by local fence ordinances; however, some homeowners' associations may place additional restrictions on fences. Most jurisdictions allow homeowners to get approval ("variances") for certain exceptions, such as a higher fence. But many fence ordinances do not regulate the aesthetics of the fence, which means a fence cannot be ordered removed simply for being ugly.
Most fences are built right on top of property boundary lines, which means the fence is the property of the homeowners on both sides of the fence. Therefore, its upkeep and eventually 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 only 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. But these are not easily understood by the layperson and may require the help of a professional surveyor. A surveyor will access the corresponding documents and then use special instruments to mark the boundaries of your property. If there are several documents on file indicating different property lines, then the job may be more complicated and ultimately cost more.
Changing the Boundaries by Agreement
Property lines are not carved in stone and may be changed through mutual agreement. If, for example, the fence is too far in 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 a "lot line agreement" can remedy this, as long as it complies 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 is still under a mortgage. To avoid triggering an acceleration clause on your loan, seek the approval of your bank prior to altering property boundaries.
When the boundary is changed, it gets recorded in the county office and made available to the public.
An encroachment occurs when your neighbor intrudes on or over land with some kind of a structure, such as a fence or a deck that veers across the boundary line. Even if you personally don't mind about the encroachment, it's important to at least acknowledge its existence for when you sell the home. Sellers are obligated to disclose any known encroachments on the property, which could impact your ability to sell the home. An alternative is to change the boundary through a lot line agreement, which gets recorded in the official records.
Click on a link below to learn more about property boundaries and their legal implications.
Learn About Property Boundaries
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