For a variety of reasons, on occasion two neighboring land owners may come into a dispute about conflicting property boundaries. Why do land boundaries sometimes conflict? Most often, boundary disputes arise after confusing legal descriptions prompt two landowners to lay claim to the same tract of land. The deeds in question may actually describe the same area of land, or perhaps the confusing wording in the description leads each landowner to believe the land is his/hers. Faulty legal descriptions may have been written and recorded by people lacking proper qualifications, such as laypeople without surveying experience.
Many such cases arose in the early days of the United States, particularly when land was granted by European government officials who had not actually visited North America and were relying on inaccurate maps. In addition, historical methods of land surveying, such as the metes and bounds system, relied on markers that were likely to change over time, such as trees. Such descriptions of the land can be difficult or impossible to decipher based on today’s geographical realities.
In some cases, boundary disputes arise simply because the legal boundaries were not checked prior to construction. This is why a land survey is crucial before construction begins on any structure, particularly if its placement is believed to approach the legal property boundary. Knowing where your property boundaries are will reduce the potential for future conflicts. Difficult neighbors may ignore surveys to suit their own purposes, of course, but a land survey conducted by a professional land surveyor is critical evidence of the legal boundary. If a boundary is called into question for any reason, a survey can be an important bargaining or mediation tool to set an agreed-upon boundary between two parcels of land and resolve the conflict.
When a boundary survey is conducted, a surveyor locates the boundaries of the property on the ground, as described in your deed. This step should always be taken before constructing anything, such as a fence, that is likely to approach the property line. If conflicts exist between your surveyor’s interpretation of the boundary and your neighbor’s interpretation of the boundary, the surveyor should attempt to determine the reason for the discrepancy and advise you on proper remedies.
Once an encroaching structure has been built, it is imperative that the legal owner of the land brings this into question as soon as possible. In some instances, long established occupation of an area, such as a long-ago built fence, will actually take precedence over the legal title to the land. This is known as “adverse possession.” If the true owner contests this occupation of the land in a timely manner, the claim of adverse possession can often be averted.
While a survey is crucial for bargaining or mediation, a legal determination of property ownership in the case of a dispute can only be settled by the courts. Qualified land surveyors can act as expert witnesses during a court case to settle such disputes. If you think that it may come to this, be sure to ask your land surveyor whether he/she is willing and able to testify as an expert witness before you hire him or her for your boundary survey. For more information about resolving conflicting property boundaries contact Point to Point at (866) 716-9114.