How Property Lines are Established

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Boundary disputes can be really damaging to relationships between neighbors, when conflict over gray areas quickly turn a positive living situation into a miserable one. Problems arise when neighbors cross a boundary line that has been agreed upon, or make permanent changes on disputed territory. Problems can also arise when neighbors are not sure of there the property line has been set, and unknowingly violate it.

What is the best way to find the property line in cases where neighbors are not certain of where one property stops and the other begins? Obviously, property deeds and conversation with your neighbors are good places to start, but we know that these conversations are not always civil and many times a lawyer can be of great service to clear up these legal questions.

Why we’re asking:

Before boundary disputes turn into potential lawsuits, we deem it best to learn more about property lines. Many homeowners are unaware that they are planting a tree on their neighbor’s property or that their home improvement crosses a property line. We want to understand when it’s appropriate to look into legal counsel, and how to prevent boundary disputes in the first place.

We’re turning to our Legal Network members to learn more:

How are property lines developed?

When is a lawyer needed for boundary disagreements?

What is considered a trespass?

How can neighbors best respect each other’s property lines?

We look forward to learning more about property lines.

Please post your answers in the comment field below!

5 COMMENTS

  1. A recurring problem in boundary disputes is when the boundary does not
    quite match a landmark on the ground – a tree line, a driveway, or (perhaps
    the most common) a fence. If Jones constructed a fence in 1940 a foot or
    two within his parcel so that he was sure that he did not encroach on
    Smith’s parcel, it is often the case that Jones and Smith’s successors
    since then have treated the fence as the real boundary and improved their
    lots accordingly.

    Boundary lines “developed” as the result of carving up larger parcels into
    smaller parcels, either by platting a registered subdivision or by creating
    two or more new parcels from previous unplatted one. This is most often an
    entirely abstract division, although some legal descriptions do use natural
    features as the dividing line.

    Finding the actual boundary line as described in a deed usually requires a
    surveyor. Surveyors place permanent markers into the ground to identify a
    beginning point, from which they can measure, but it often takes them some
    work to find that marker fifty years later.

    The best advice we can give to neighbors who have these issues is to be
    flexible, and understand that some give and take is needed to resolve
    problems of this nature. A common difficulty is that attachment to real
    estate (the home, the family cottage) often has highly emotional overtones.
    Another is that some people just cannot get along with their neighbors,
    thus sometimes leading to hard and entrenched positions.

  2. I’m not a lawyer, just an Architect, but before things get heated enough to require a lawyer, the best way to begin to understand & resolve a boundary dispute/question would be to hire a Surveyor.
    In PA they are licensed & are known as Professional Licensed Surveyor (PLS)..
    A surveyor will research your deed @ the local Courthouse & prepare a Boundary Description along with a Survey Map. In different parts of the country these may have slightly different names. These documents should describe where the exact boundary between neighbors exists. In addition, Surveyors will (for an additional fee) install “pins” or “property corner markers” of wood (cheapest), steel or concrete (more expensive) to mark the corners of a property.
    If, after all of this the neighbors still cannot agree, then let the lawyers fight it out!

  3. 1: The development of property lines dates back to Colonial times. Before
    then, the king of England would distribute land to his friends and family
    and the property lines were then developed by natural landmarks and known
    and respected by all via the name of the estate. It wasn’t until about the
    1900s or so that property lines began to be measured known as meets &
    bounds.

    2: If the two private parties cannot workout the boundary dispute they
    should consult a lawyer. But first, they should look at all factors to
    determine whether the piece of property in question is a). necessary for
    their use or ownership b.) the value of the property c.) the impact of
    owning or not owning the piece of parcel up against litigation cost.
    Basically taking a look at the cost/benefit analysis

    3: Providing by Law.com, the proper definition of trespass is: n. entering
    another person’s property without permission of the owner or his/her agent
    and without lawful authority (like that given to a health inspector) and
    causing any damage, no matter how slight. Any interference with the owner’s
    (or a legal tenant’s) use of the property is a sufficient showing of damage
    and is a civil wrong (tort) sufficient to form the basis for a lawsuit
    against the trespasser by the owner or a tenant using the property.
    Trespass includes erecting a fence on another’s property or a roof which
    overhangs a neighbor’s property, swinging the boom of a crane with loads of
    building materials over another’s property, or dumping debris on another’s
    real estate. In addition to damages, a court may grant an injunction
    prohibiting any further continuing, repeated or permanent trespass.
    Trespass for an illegal purpose is a crime.

    4: You respect your neighbor’s property lines by knowing where your
    property lines end and theirs begin and like you should respect anyone’s
    boundaries, if you have to be on it, you ask. The key word is be
    respectful.

  4. How are property lines developed? In most subdivisions, property lines
    are developed when the developer submits a plat subdividing the property
    to the city/county. The developer has hired a surveyor to create legal
    descriptions for each property. The surveyor starts with a mark at one
    corner of the property and then uses distances and angles to define the
    property.

    When is a lawyer needed for boundary disagreements? An attorney should
    be consulted if the disagreement has been physical, there has been
    destruction of property or a legitimate need to resolve a dispute.

    What is considered a trespass? Trespass is when a person or item
    interferes with the enjoyment of a person’s real property. Is can be
    physical interference, creating a nuisance or allows water or pollution
    to escape one’s property and interfere with another’s use of their real
    property.

    How can neighbors best respect each other’s property lines? Know where
    the property line actually is, visit with your neighbor if there is a
    concern and keep trees, etc. from interfering with your neighbors
    enjoyment of their property.

    We are currently handling a case where there is an accusation that a
    marker was moved which created a dispute. Our client’s believes that
    the defendant moved the marker in order to claim more property and has
    cut down trees and removed a shed which out client believes was on his
    property. We have asked the court to appoint a surveyor as an expert to
    determine the proper property lines and will move forward from that
    point.

  5. Property lines are established based upon surveys of land. The surveyors will leave permanent markers to begin from. Then they can determine and mark off the actual boundaries to your property.

    Boundary disputes arise a number of ways, but are commonly the result of people using a landmark such as a tree or boulder to estimate boundaries. Over time these have a way of shifting in people’s minds. The dispute arises when one neighbor encroaches on another in some form, perhaps by planting a tree or erecting a fence or building that extends over the property line.

    When is a lawyer needed for boundary disagreements? This likely depends on your relationship with your neighbor. If you are able to agree to split the cost of a survey and to work out an amicable resolution based upon the survey results, you may not need an attorney. If you and your neighbor cannot work together in a friendly manner, you may want to utilize an attorney. Also, you should consult an attorney if you have any questions regarding your legal rights and obligations.

    What is considered a trespass? A trespass is an unauthorized intrusion or invasion upon another’s property. A trespass can result both in criminal actions and civil (non-criminal) liability for damages.

    How can neighbors best respect each other’s property lines? Make certain that you know the location of the property line before erecting any permanent structure. Talk to your neighbors before placing anything near the lot line. If you agree that the location of the boundary is correct, great! If not, obtain a survey to be certain before you start a project.

    Also, you should check your municipality’s ordinances. Many have a lot line setback requirement that would prevent you from placing a permanent structure right against the boundary in any event.

    Finally, if you have any questions regarding your rights and obligations, consult with a local attorney.

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