Property line dispute: How to handle

OK, the details:

I have a small piece (just a few acres in nowhere land) of undeveloped property that I inherited from my father. I’m more or less an absentee landlord, living a little over an hour away, so I don’t see it often, maybe three or four times a year.

The owner of the adjacent property died a while back, and his property has since been sold to a new owner.

The property line, as I have always understood it, is in the middle (more or less) of a dirt road between the two properties. That was echoed by a) my father, b) the neighbor, and c) a surveyor who looked at the property in the mid 1990s.

Now the dispute:

The new property owner has put up some fencing on the side of the road that, by all indications are my property. Not a lot, but I suspect he intends to put up more.

My understanding is that he has not had a surveyor redraw the property lines, that he was going off ‘an old plat’ (his exact words). This came from two different people who have spoken to him.

Now, the question: Assuming the surveyor still has access to his *records from the previous job, or that I have to get him back out to look at it again, and everything pans out as expected. . . What is the polite way of informing the neighbor that his new fencing, while appreciated (as that ultimately goes into my longterm goals for retirement), is on my property. He also has a section fenced in for a garden. What an unexpected bonus!

Theoretically, he actually has the correct property line, and I know to prepare for that possibly being the case, but I kinda doubt it. It would seem strange that two people who had lived there all their lives, and the surveyor who verified the lines, would all be wrong, and the new guy would get it right without new survey.

*I should have records on this, but when my father died, the family members who were still living in his house got rid of a lot of the “junk” that was left behind, including a lot of his records. My father kept records on EVERYTHING, but they just ain’t there anymore.

If you’re able to speak to the other owner, why don’t you tell him that there seems to be some confusion about where the line is, and offer to split the cost of getting it properly surveyed (this has the advantage that it’s harder for either of you to dispute the survey, if you’ve jointly hired the person).

After everyone agrees where the line actually is, then you can negotiate what to do about the fence (if it turns out to be on your property, and it’s something you wanted anyway, it would be neighborly to pay him something for it)

Spend the money for your own surveyor and that will settle the issue. Do not rely on previous owners nor memories. They will only come back to haunt you without an accurate, up to date survey.

Yeah, you need it surveyed. There’s a line somewhere and you’ll want to know exactly where that is.

It could end up in court… That happened to my family. The neighbors hired a survey, and found out that a 100 year old fence was not in the right place. They sued us to make us move it.

We fought it in court…but lost. (Our arguments were that we’d been paying property taxes on the full acreage, and that the survey that established the fence-line was the official government survey in the 1880s. No good.)

Absolutely prize moment in the trial. Opponent’s attorney asks “How did the fence come to be where it is?” My uncle responded, in a country drawl, “Man made.”

See ‘Adverse Possession’ - if a fence (or other ‘line’) is unchallenged for X period (usually 7 years), the new line is where the undisputed fence says if is (this house picked up about 18" this way).

Do not let this sit - if there is a road, and someone has used it as a road in an ‘open and notorious way’ for 7 years, that person has a Right to use that patch as a road.

This will get nasty real quick - especially if the new neighbor it the one using the ‘road’. If the ‘road’ is public property, the play show the boundary lines, as well as (possibly) a public easement for the road.

Get a surveyor.

Offer to split the cost in exchange for a prior-to-the-fact agreement to accept the result(s) of the survey, but, even if the new neighbor is a prick, GET A SURVEY.
A legally-binding survey - the law will vary as to the circumstances under which a survey is legally binding.

So: see a Surveyor who is also a lawyer. Or get a real lawyer first.

When I was in High School the property next to the ranch where I was born was sold. On of the requirements to get a loan was that the neighbor’s property had to be surveyed. And the results taken to court to be declared the true measurements. We got a letter explaining what was going on and stating that the new lines would be recorded as the correct ones, unless we objected in so many days. It moved the back of the side property line over by about 11 feet in out favor.

The 1893 deed on the ranch gave the measurements in feet and the sightings in degrees and tenths of a degrees. The new surveyed line was in feet, inches, and tenths of an inch. and the sightings as degrees, minutes, seconds, and tnths of a second.

But it took a survey and a court order to set the new line down as the recorded line. Sounds like you may need to get the property surveyed to end this dispute now it is only going to grow.

It would cost little (basically, just some of your time) to go to the Registry of Deeds, get a copy of the deed for each of the adjacent properties, and see if the line in question is described clearly and unambiguously there. Much the most common thing is that the lines are fully and clearly described, they agree with each other, and they are not hard to relate to identifiable features.

And you may well be able to find on file the results of the survey that was done in the mid 1990s.

Armed with either of these documents, it’s likely you can set your neighbor straight.
He may possibly be thinking that by putting his fence on your land he can eventually cause the boundary to move by adverse possession. It’s worth noting that you can defeat this simply by giving him formal permission to have a fence on your property - the possession is then no longer adverse.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet is, how about you talk to him? If not in person, figure out if you can get a phone number or e-mail address. Any information you gain might help you determine what additional steps to take. Probably unlikely, but it might be an innocent mistake, or there may be other factors you are unaware of.

I’m no expert, but I’ve often heard that some rural property descriptions and surveys can be somewhat lacking in specificity. And peoples’ longstanding beliefs as to property lines can be innocently mistaken. So a new, more accurate survey might be called for. Of course, be prepared that it might show the neighbor is correct.

I second the recommendation that you hie on down to the county clerk’s office and see what info you can find. Depending on how long the road was there - presumably a long time - it would seem unusual for it to occur entirely on one owner’s property such that he could effectively fence you from accessing it.

At some point it might be worth the couple hundred dollars it would take to have a lawyer draft a letter to be sent via certified mail.

Good luck, and keep us posted.

I would like to meet that man. Surveyor by day Lawyer by night!

"I’ve passed the bar now to get my Surveyor’s license! "

As for a) and b) : this is meaningless.
The fact that 2 people agreed on something is nice, but it doesn’t mean they are correct. They just didn’t care enough to check the facts, and agreed on a boundary line that was convenient for them.

As for c) : you may be wrong.
A professional surveyor doesn’t “look” at the property–he surveys it. He makes precise measurements, and records them, on a map which he signs and stamps with his professional license number.
You may think that the surveyor agreed with your father, but if you don’t have a signed document, you don’t have a surveyor’s approval.
You need to get this problem solved now, before it grows into a mess that needs expensive laywers .
Which means you need a professional surveyor to check the records, calculate the mathematical coordinates of the boundary line and physically mark it on the ground with metal stakes, each stake labelled with his name and license number.

And be prepared for a surprise…you might find that the boundary is not where you expected.

I once worked for a surveyor who, previously, DID do legally-binding surveys - as the County Surveyor.

The conditions under which a survey is ‘legally binding’ vary GREATLY by location - even the place to go - Clerk or Recorder? - may vary.

When you want the law on your side, find a lawyer licensed to practice in your specific jurisdiction,

Also look at prescriptive rights. Does this fence block access to your property?

My wife had an issue AFTER she sold her house. It was on a tiny lot, and the neighbor had been using part of her property to park a car on. It was uncontested and notorious. The new owners of my Wife’s old house wanted to put up a fence that would block this parking area reclaiming the land as their own.

It went to court, and my Wife was called in to testify about that 200 sq. ft. patch of dirt. We where worried that WE may be sued for selling a house without giving full disclosure of this parking situation (which we never even thought of, it’s a very odd subdivision, the modular homes and parking there is about as organized as a train wreck).

On the ILC of my Wife’s property, the area was denoted as ‘parking’ not an easement.

Anyway, the judge split the area between the two property owners.

I must be an evil person. My first thought on reading the topic was “It’s too bad that the bouncing betty is so frowned upon.” After reading the posts, I think the OP needs to either find the results from that 1990 survey (if it was, in fact, a survey) or hire a licensed surveyor to work it out.

My third thought was that claymores work best command detonated and aren’t all that reliable trip wire or pressure switched. And they’re not at all the set and forget sort of mine that a bouncing betty is. Then I thought of that episode of Danger: UXB where Brian Ash got injured.

There’s a saying that good fences make good neighbors. Wouldn’t it stand to reason then that better fences make better neighbors? I’d go with 8’ chain link with concertina or razor along the base (on the far side) and a double or triple roll of the same across the top. Maybe some signage indicating a BioHazard Waste Site or that Trespassers will be Violated?

This, exactly. Offer to split the cost of a survey; pay for it yourself if the neighbor won’t play. It’s the only way to settle the dispute clearly and cleanly. Trust me on this.


See my post here for a similar story

Survey results are in. My father and the neighbor were right. Property line is in the road, just not exactly down the middle. Most of the road is on ‘their’ side of the line, but a small amount (less than a quarter) is on our side.

I haven’t had any direct contact with the neighbor over it, but I understand from the surveyors that as a result of the survey, he has pulled out his fence posts. Unfortunately this might come back to haunt us, since we were hoping to make some more formalized arrangements on allowing them to use the property, since we are probably at least five years away from using it for ourselves, so I hope there aren’t any hard feelings, but that remains to be seen.

Thanks for the update.

Though not now needed, you might Google your county or municipality’s GIS tax map website and look at the lot map line layer, although they usually have a disclaimer stating that it is not official.

So who gets to use the road, if there is going to be a fence down the middle of it?