Boundary disputes with an adjacent neighbor are not uncommon for new buyers or long time property owners. Sometimes buyers encounter an inaccurate deed description and face a neighbor’s unwanted use of their property.
Boundary disputes with an adjacent neighbor are not uncommon for new buyers or long time property owners. Sometimes buyers encounter an inaccurate deed description and face a neighbor’s unwanted use of their property. Sometimes property owners encounter nuisances, interference and encroachments of shared property lines and even “adverse possession” by another neighbor. Whatever the issue might be, a full understanding of one’s boundary line, legal remedies, and full and complete disclosure during a sale are essential to ward off boundary disputes.
Boundaries and Property Lines
Property lines are invisible. They are lines that are defined and described on a county’s tax map, and sometimes they can be very complex as they can shift and change overtime by encroaching fences, physical structures, and agreements. To understand the boundaries of a property, it is important to have a survey, appraisal and full title search done because the existing boundaries do not necessarily conform to the legal boundary of the property. A new homeowner should always consider ordering a survey, because the deed could sometimes be inaccurate, especially if the buyer intends to use or development the land for a specific purpose.
Encroachment and Adverse Possession
An encroachment occurs when someone illegally intrudes or uses land of a neighboring property. For example, a fence built on the neighboring lot or a structure that hangs over the boundary line is an encroachment. Occasionally, one may gain ownership of the encroaching land through the doctrine of adverse possession, which means claiming ownership through open, notorious, hostile and continuous use of the land for a period of 5 years. In California, the encroacher must also have paid all taxes assessed against the land during the period in order to take title. In cases where adverse possession is not available for the taking of another’s property (generally because of the property tax payment requirement), the encroacher may still be able to win a prescriptive easement to use the neighbor’s property because of the prior use. Hence, it is important to know and detect encroachment to protect ones’ interest in their land. Also note that if a seller knows of any encroachments on her property, then the seller is obligated to disclose that to potential buyers.
Quiet title actions may be brought by a plaintiff to establish title to his or her property against parties who have adverse claims against the same. A plaintiff seeking to quiet title will have the burden of proving title by clear and convincing proof, rather than by the preponderance of evidence usually used in civil cases. Therefore, it is an equitable claim and the parties will not be entitled to a jury trial. An owner suffering an encroachment needs to be mindful of the time she allows to pass before addressing the issue, and she should consider available alternatives to litigation while acting diligently to resolve the matter.