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What is the Best Way to Deal with Property Line Disputes?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated May 17, 2024
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Perhaps the best way to solve a property line dispute is by mutual agreement with a neighbor. Property owners on both sides of the disputed boundary can decide to use a common marker, such as a fence or tree, to determine where land belonging to each begins and ends. Both neighbors can sign a deed to formalize the agreed-upon perimeters of the land. If the disputes cannot be resolved informally, a survey of the site can define legal boundaries that were determined when the land was subdivided.

As property use changes over time, property line disputes may crop up over the placement of fencing, a building addition or a tree that encroaches onto a neighbor’s land. A dispute can be settled, for example, by one neighbor deeding a small section of land to the other neighbor in lieu of asking that part of a building be torn down or a tree uprooted. Granting an easement to the neighboring property owner is another way to solve a dispute about a property line.

Adverse possession is a provision in property law that exists in some regions to settle property line disputes. It refers to the use of a neighbor's land over a long period of time without complaint. In this type of situation, property that has been utilized might be transferred to the person using it, even if the deed shows it does not belong to him or her. Driveways and roads might fall under this law, for example.

A survey is generally the only true way to determine actual land boundaries. Surveyors embed stakes in the ground at the corners of lots when land is divided or subdivided. The metal stakes can become buried over the years, and sometimes they may be covered by fences, buildings or paving. A metal detector is often helpful to find the survey stakes to resolve property line disputes.

In some areas, the government offers mediators to work with property owners who cannot agree on the location of property lines. Some departments also make maps available that depict the exact dimensions of a lot. There may or may not be a cost for mediation services.

When attempts to settle property line disputes fail at the informal level, a lawsuit might be necessary. A judge will examine evidence and listen to testimony to determine the legal boundaries of disputed land. Once a ruling is rendered, maintenance of any structures or fences becomes the responsibility of the owner of the parcel.

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Discussion Comments
By anon266249 — On May 04, 2012

We bought our house in 2001. On the survey drawing it was clearly indicated that the property line and a fence in the backyard were the same.

Quebec changed its lot numbering, and in order to sell our house we needed a new survey. With this new survey, the property line moved 30 cm vs the fence line. Suddenly, the deck that was built next to the fence is encroaching on the neighbors backyard by 7 cm.

Is there a way to fight this new survey? It's ridiculous that a property can move between two surveys that are 11 years apart.

By qs104 — On Apr 26, 2012

How about if my tenant blocks the access road to my neighbor's lane. What should I do?

By sunnySkys — On Sep 19, 2011

@Monika - Adverse possession sounds kind of sneaky and unfair to me too. But the law is the law I guess!

I actually don't understand how these kind of disputes even get started. If there are markers that show where the property begins and ends, that should be the end of the argument!

By Monika — On Sep 18, 2011

I've never heard of adverse possession before, so I'm glad I stumbled on this article. I can't imagine someone letting their neighbors use part of their land for a few years without complaint and then having the land belong to the neighbors! That makes no sense!

I think everyone should check their local laws on this issue when you buy a home. I know I certainly will. It's always good to have all the information so you can figure out how to proceed.

By Izzy78 — On Sep 18, 2011

@titans62 - You are correct. Say someone builds a fence that cuts into a neighbors property three feet and the property is in a town and 100 feet in length. That is three hundred square feet of property that is taken away if the property were to be appraised. Although it may not seem like much out in rural areas, if it were to happen in the middle of a town, such as where I live, then this can really cut into the value of the property and hurt if the property were to be sold in the future.

By titans62 — On Sep 17, 2011

@jmc88 - I understand your assessment in the land not being of much use, but the fact remains that the property lines were drawn and the owner of the property should not have what is rightfully and legally theirs, taken away from them.

If someone does not stand up and claim what the property line should be they will get short-sided on the size of their property and it may even devalue their property.

By jmc88 — On Sep 16, 2011

@Emilski - You are correct in your statement. Anytime there is a property dispute a mutual understanding must be obtained, if it is only over a small portion of property. It makes little sense for neighbors to be feuding over two feet of land on a large property, so there is no need to pay money to have a surveyor come in to settle a dispute over land that will not be of much more use. Since it does involve ownership people will be unreasonable in such disputes and some will insist on getting what they feel is their own, despite how much trouble it may be for little reward.

By Emilski — On Sep 16, 2011

I have had a property dispute with my neighbor in the past. The property dispute only concerns the fence separating our yards being 2 feet into our property line. Instead of re-building the fence and moving those two feet we have come to a mutual understanding that we will keep the fence where it is as long as we're allowed to walk and move things across an area of the block that curves into our property, but is actually theirs, which they do not use.

We get along with our neighbors but some others in the neighborhood have had property disputes over areas about the size of ours and it sometimes has not been a very pretty sight. My best suggestion is to negotiate and understand exactly how much land is at stake and be reasonable about it.

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