Real Estate and Boundary Disputes
Q. What should I do if a neighbor’s structure encroaches my property?
A. As the saying goes, fences make great neighbors. But sometimes fences (or sheds, home additions, driveways, patios, etc.) cause significant disputes when one owner believes the other owner’s structure has encroached onto their own property.
Before you get into a dispute with your neighbor, check your deed, property stakes and any survey to locate descriptions of your property lines. If, indeed, it seems the structure is encroaching your land, try and talk to your neighbor first.
If an actual dispute exists, your next step should be to hire a surveyor to prepare a boundary survey or both properties — at a cost of several hundred dollars or more per lot — to draw up a new survey of the land. It’s not uncommon for deeds that are decades or more old to be less than accurate; a new survey will set the record straight for you both. Whether you pay for the survey or split the cost is an arrangement you have to make with your neighbor.
In some cases, the property lines will be so different from what you thought was yours, you and your neighbor may mutually agree upon where your property begins and his ends. With the help of a real estate lawyer, you can draw up and sign a new deeds which redistribute the property boundaries. This can be problematic, however, if the property is in a subdivision. Also, for those with a mortgage, it’s important that you get the mortgage holder’s approval before the new deed can become official.
As a last resort, if you feel confident that your property is being encroached upon, you can file a claim in court and ask a judge to decide the boundaries—but the more you involve the legal system, the more cost you will incur.
Whatever course you take, however, there are some important points to remember: Don’t remain quiet. If you let the construction go forward and you never speak to your neighbor about the discrepancy, then it’s likely that if you ever do want to fight the boundary lines, a court of law will assume you gave up rights to the land long ago. What’s more, if you go to sell your house, a title company may refuse to issue a title to the home because your neighbor’s structure is on your property
Additionally, if you and your neighbor do agree on new deeds, sign them and get them filed in your county’s land records office. A deed that isn’t signed and/or properly filed really isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.