Boundary Disputes: 9 Things (2024) You Need to Know

Do you have a boundary dispute on hand?

Have you just gotten your land survey back and it doesn’t align with the defined boundaries you received in the property paperwork when closing?

Now what?

Most landowners in this position feel a bit panicked.

They know they should be doing something, but what’s the first step?

If you come across a boundary dispute, you should promptly and proactively address it.

In this blog, we’ll talk you through all the details surrounding boundary disputes, seeking professional advice, finding resolutions, and preventing further escalation.

1. What are boundary disputes?

A boundary dispute is a disagreement or conflict between neighborhood landowners.

This conflict is often regarding the location, extent, or ownership of the respective property boundaries.

When there is a dispute, landowners feel there is uncertainty or disagreement about where one property ends and the other begins.

You may wonder how boundary disputes occur.

After all, when you purchase a house, aren’t you told where your property starts?

Most often, boundary disputes arise for reasons like inaccurate surveys, unclear property descriptions, changes in land use, or encroachments by one party onto the land of another.

While some boundary disputes are just minor disagreements, others can become major legal conflicts you’ll need to resolve in court.

Most landowners like to avoid getting to this point because it can cause significant stress and financial burden as well as strained relationships between neighbors.

2. How can I determine my property boundaries to avoid disputes?

If you want to determine your property boundaries and mitigate issues here are the steps you should take.

bulletReview property documents

Before you do anything else, examine the documents you have related to your property.

When you closed on your home, you were likely given a deed, surveys, and plats with information about your home.

These documents provide detailed descriptions of your property boundaries as well as reference points, distances, landmarks, etc.

bulletConduct a professional survey

If you haven’t already, hire a professional land surveyor to determine your property boundaries.

They’ll use specialized equipment to measure and map your property accurately.

Your survey will locate existing boundary markets and establish new markets if needed.

From this, you’ll have a boundary survey report that you can use in any future conversations with neighbors or even in court.

bulletLocate boundary markers

Some properties will have existing boundary markers if a surveyor has already been there.

Before you hire a surveyor of your own, it may be helpful to inspect your property.

Look for metal stakes, concrete monuments, or fences.

These markers are often installed during previous surveys or property transactions.

Even if these markers are in place you should align with the information in your property documents.

If they don’t (or you have questions for other reasons), it’s always a good idea to hire another surveyor for a second opinion.

bulletResearch historical documents

Look for additional documentation regarding your property.

Local government offices, historical societies, and libraries are incredible resources for these documents.

You can expand beyond deeds, surveys, and plats and use everything from old surveys, maps, and aerial photographs as well.

bulletCommunicate with neighbors

Open communication with your neighbors is one of the best ways to avoid any issues.

You should share information with them and compare documents, so you can clarify any discrepancies.

bulletConsider local regulations

Do research when it comes to your local zoning regulations, subdivision regulations, and building codes.

Your municipality may have regulations and requirements regarding everything from boundaries to setbacks to easements.

Understanding these policies will help the determination of your boundaries.

bulletVerify with professionals

Consulting with professionals in your local area can be an ideal way to approach issues when it comes to inconsistencies or uncertainties regarding boundary determination.

We recommend reaching out to land surveyors, real estate attorneys, or title companies to help you review documents, conduct additional research, or provide expert guidance on how to establish accurate boundaries.

3. How much does it cost to hire a land surveyor?

The cost to hire a land surveyor depends on a couple of different factors including the size of your property and how much time it takes to compile the data recorded.

However, the good news is that boundary surveys are among the most basic surveys, which means they’re the least expensive to conduct.

You should budget anywhere from $100 to $600 for a boundary survey if you have an average-sized property.

We recommend reaching out to an experienced land surveyor to get a quote for your property.

4. What steps should I take to prevent boundary disputes?

If you’re worried about potential boundary disputes for the land you’re purchasing, there are some steps you can take:

bulletConduct due diligence when purchasing the property

bulletGet a survey done to ensure you have accurate boundary information

bulletEncourage open communication with neighboring landowners in case there is a dispute in the future

bulletMaintain proper maintenance of boundary markers and fences

bulletPurchase title insurance that includes boundary disputes

5. What should I do if a boundary dispute arises?

The first step is to stay calm.

Boundary disputes can become heated, but as one of the parties involved, you must keep a cool head.

We recommend engaging in open dialogue with your neighbor to understand their perspective.

This insight will be useful as your move forward, and it can help you get the information you need to resolve the dispute.

Additionally, you should document the disputed area with photographs, written records, and videos.

This physical evidence will help you as work toward resolution – either in mediation, arbitration, or legal action.

In those next steps, we advise you to consider professional legal advice to navigate the dispute effectively.

6. How are boundary disputes settled?

To resolve boundary disputes, you’ll need to carefully examine documentation related to your land such as property records, historical documents, surveys, and legal expertise.

Doing so will allow you and your neighbor to determine the accurate boundaries and find a fair and acceptable resolution.

Following this, there are generally three steps you can take toward resolution.

bulletMediation

Mediation is the process of using a neutral third party to facilitate communication and allow both parties to come to a mutually agreeable solution.

If you have a boundary dispute with a neighbor, it can be easy for the situation to become contentious.

However, you don’t necessarily need the situation to escalate to a situation in court.

In many cases, simply having a mediator present can help parties find common ground and work on a way to move forward.

bulletArbitration

Arbitration is similar to meditation in the sense that two parties recognize that they won’t be able to reach a verdict on their own.

However, in the case of meditation, the two conflicting parties will still reach an agreement without going to court.

They will simply work with the mediator to do so.

When you use an arbitrator, they will ultimately be the ones making the decision after analyzing the case details.

And keep in mind, the verdict they reach is final!

bulletLegal Action

There are situations that you won’t be able to resolve unless you file a lawsuit and go to court.

This isn’t the optimal route in nearly all cases.

It’s expensive and time-consuming.

It’s also the least friendly of all three routes, which means you likely won’t have a very warm relationship with your neighbors moving forward.

7. What factors will influence the outcome of a boundary dispute?

The top factors that influence the outcome of a boundary dispute include:

bulletAdverse possession

Adverse possession is a legal doctrine that allows a person to gain ownership of another person’s property by openly, continuously, and exclusively occupying and using the property without permission over a certain period.

If all the elements of adverse possession are satisfied (open and notorious possession, continuous possession, exclusion possession, hostile claim, and statutory period), then the adverse possessor may be able to claim legal ownership.

This can sound scary.

How can someone who isn’t supposed to have a proper legal claim to your land able to acquire it by simply staking their claim over time?

The good thing to know is that adverse possession varies significantly between jurisdictions.

Generally speaking, adverse possession is intended to resolve longstanding disputes and promote the productive use of land.

Nonetheless, this doctrine is subject to specific requirements and limitations.

bulletBoundary agreements

Reach out to the neighboring landowners and explore the possibility of establishing new boundary lines altogether.

This may be more amenable as you could split the debated land in half or come up with another creative solution.

Some examples of solutions include making a deal to purchase the disputed property and obtaining permanent easements.

If you’d like to own the land property that is under dispute, you can get a new survey to determine the official boundaries and then obtain an appraisal to determine the market value of the piece of land.

Just be sure you have a title search conducted to determine if any easements or deeds are listed in the public record.

You’ll want to know if these are present and granting possession or use of the disputed land to others before purchasing it!

Furthermore, depending on how you use the land, you may also be able to get a prescriptive easement from the court.

While this won’t transfer any title rights to the land, it will legally protect your right to use it.

These are just a couple of examples of agreements you can propose depending on how you want to use the land in question.

bulletLocal laws and regulations

The resolution of boundary disputes will not look the same in all states.

You should make sure you understand how your specific municipality handles these types of situations as they will have a great influence on how you’re able to work with other landowners.

8. How can I protect my property rights in a boundary dispute?

Boundary disputes can be nerve-wracking for landowners, especially if it’s looking like you’re in the wrong and the land you thought belonged to actually belongs to your neighbor.

But don’t fret yet.

Before you head to mediation, arbitration, or litigation, you should know how to protect your property.

bulletGather all relevant documents including surveys, deeds, and historical records

bulletOrganize everything so you know where it is

bulletConsult a qualified attorney experienced in real estate and boundary disputes

bulletConsider title insurance to protect against loss that results from boundary issues

You’ll need to purchase this ahead of any issues, so keep it in mind before you buy land.

9. How can I maintain positive relations with neighboring landowners?

No one wants to have a conflict with their neighbors, and boundary disputes often put a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

Here are some ways you can foster friendly neighbor relations.

bulletCommunication

Having respectful and open communication with your neighbors is the first step to a healthy relationship.

When you have this foundation, it is a lot easier to resolve disputes and find ways to move forward.

bulletMaintenance

Your approach to the maintenance of any shared boundaries or joint surveys should always feel collaborative.

One neighbor shouldn’t feel like they’re doing all the work or picking up the check.

bulletCooperation

You want to build long-term relationships with any neighbors you have.

Any requests you may have should come from a cooperative angle.

Encouraging friendly neighborhood cooperation and letting them know that you want a resolution can go a long way.

Final Thoughts

Boundary disputes are challenging to navigate as a landowner.

First and foremost, we recommend taking preventive measures when you’re buying a property.

Get a survey done to confirm the boundaries that are already documented and get title insurance that includes boundary disputes.

If you still have an issue down the line, don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance and maintain open communication with neighbors.

Boundary disputes can be contentious, but you want to find a resolution that is mutually agreeable for the benefit of your entire community!

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Erika Gokce Capital

Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.

Erika

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