Resolving property line disputes

You know where your yard ends and your neighbor's begins, right? Well, maybe not. The problem many homeowners run into is that they (and their neighbors) assume they know where the boundary lines are between their two properties, but they have incorrect information.

Sometimes neighbors will go along for years without a misunderstanding about the property lines becoming evident. Then, one of them may decide to erect a fence or build a patio that the other neighbor thinks is over the property line. Suddenly, everybody is in an uproar and nobody knows what to do.

Here are some solutions for a property line dispute:

1. Get a survey done.

Your city has a record of previous surveys done on your property, but those can be difficult to read and subject to misunderstanding. It's generally smarter to hire a surveyor to place boundary markers on the property after doing an evaluation. Because a licensed surveyor can be costly, you and your neighbor may agree to split the expense in order to resolve your difficulties.

2. Agree to new boundaries.

If you and your neighbor are willing to agree to the boundaries, you can seal the deal through a "lot line adjustment agreement." As long as you're not in violation of any local laws, you can make a binding deed that will resolve the issue. If the issue is over just a foot or two of space, your neighbor might be willing to make the agreement for reasonable compensation. Just don't expect to get the extra footage for nothing. You also shouldn't give up any of your own footage without fair compensation.

3. Consider a trespass lawsuit.

If your neighbor is using your property, you need to take action to prevent a future problem. If your neighbor uses the property long enough, he or she can gain legal entitlement through an easement or other means. Talk to your neighbor and ask them to stay over the property line. If direct communication fails, talk to a real estate attorney who has experience handling disputes over property lines.