Muddled Residential Property Lines And Avoiding Litigation

Sometimes you’re not sure where the edge of your property is. Maybe there’s an improvement that stretches across both of your properties, or there’s a hedge and a wall but they’re offset, or there’s a garden you’ve been using for ten years and thought was part of your property but now your neighbor is saying it’s theirs.

One thing is clear: it’s important to have an answer. An unclear property line or the risk of a lawsuit can keep your property from selling for a year or reduce the sale price by a hundred thousand dollars, because almost nobody wants to get involved in a lawsuit that they can avoid.

This is why I recommend a pro-active approach to property line questions. While they can cost money to resolve up-front, it’s much better to get your papers together and discuss the problem amicably today than it is to be prevented from selling your home.

If there is any question about your property line, you should seek an initial consultation with an attorney and discuss the facts with him or her. This way you will understand some of the legal issues that might be involved in resolving the uncertainty. Make sure the attorney understands your goals: they may be to maximize the size of your property, to minimize the cost or time it takes to resolve the dispute, or to preserve a neighborly relationship if possible.

An attorney may reach out to your neighbor through a letter that preserves your right to litigation, but depending on your goal that letter may be softened from a usual “demand letter” to emphasize your desire to keep up neighborly relations. A normal follow-up would be a meeting with your neighbor where you and your attorney discuss your concerns and listens to the neighbor’s point-of-view. Hopefully this leads to a reasonable agreement. Your attorney can then help you draw up the appropriate paperwork.

If your neighbor is unreasonable, or if you are dead set on getting your way out of principle, sometimes you really do need to go to court and your relationship with your neighbor can’t be preserved. While I am happy to fight for clients in this situation through all of their court battles, the reality is that clients are frequently better served by a faster, simpler solution.

But that solution may cost a few inches of grass. Sometimes it’s a very important few inches, but sometimes having a clear definition of the property line that is quick and inexpensive is much more useful than spending tens of thousands of dollars fighting over a strip of land. As the client and the homeowner, the choice is yours.

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