Property Line Disputes

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Property Line Dispute

I am hoping someone will be able to pass along a hint or two on how to deal with this. We are getting ready to sell our house. It's on the market and will be ready to show this weekend. The next door neighbor is a realtor and wanted to see the house. She is not our agent. We have a bad history with her. The house isn't ready so we refused. Now all of a sudden, she is saying our fence is 18 inches inside her property. The fence was put up over three years ago without a peep out of her. I know she had it surveyed after we installed it because we saw the orange markers on her property. I don't have the $400 to $600 to get it surveyed. I have asked my agent to tell her to send me the proof by registered mail. Is there anything else that I should do? Help! Please.

Realtor's Advice

As a Realtor, I am so sorry that your neighbor is acting in a most unprofessional manner. Contact your local county/city courthouse or deed of record office and request a plat of your property, and possibly of hers. You may also have survey records from when you bought the house. These should establish where the property line is. If it turns out that she is correct, you may have a case that she knowingly allowed you an easement on the property. Ask your own Realtor or the county/city records office for more information on your particular locale.

Tips: Affordable Privacy Fences

Use a Metal Detector

Most developers (now or even 50 years ago) will have driven steel pins into the ground at the corners of the lot. Rent a metal detector from a rental store and scan it over the edges/corners of the lot. The pins may be 4 to 5 feet underground, but they should be there. That should help you clearly define your property lines.

Know Your State's Laws

Each state has its own laws regarding property disputes. You will need to know the law governing your state. When you saw the orange markers from her survey, were they inside your fence? If not, most likely, your fence is fine.

It sounds as if this neighbor had the survey for the purpose of marking boundary lines. If this is so, you would have heard of the discrepancy before now, if there was one. If your house sells, the finance company of the purchaser will probably require a survey at closing. The buyer can pay this expense.

If it does not sell and you are forced to stay there and your neighbor wishes to pursue the matter, she will have to hire a lawyer to file it with the court and serve you notice. If you receive notice, immediately go to your attorney! Property disputes can be very distressing and very expensive. You will need professional help.

It would have been a good idea to have had a survey done before you put your fence up. However, that may not have satisfied her either. We had a survey done and put our fence up. Our neighbors claimed that they have used that land for over ten years and have filed for a "Quiet Title." We are now in a dispute. Even though the law in our state does not enforce their claims, we will be spending a large amount in attorney fees to be able to keep what is ours. It is very disheartening, but there is not much to be done about it. You could give her the property, but then you would have to pay to move the fence. Good luck to you.

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Don't Worry!

Orange markers don't necessarily mean she had it surveyed. It could have been a plat drawing, gas, telephone or electric. Did this woman tell you the fence is on her line? How did she communicate with you? Given the fact that this has not been a discussion point for three years she needs to provide some kind of documentation before you get too worried.

Who put up the fence? If the fence was installed professionally, they should have checked for the property lines. Contact the professional to ensure they checked and that may solve the problem.

Next, if the home is for sale, most states will require a survey or plat drawing prior to closing. This is generally a closing cost paid for by the borrower. If in fact the fence is on the neighbor's property, a decision will have to be made regarding whether or not the fence comes down or is moved.

There are plenty of things to worry about when selling a home. My guess is this is just an inconvenience that will be easily rectified and you'll be on your way.

Surveyor's Advice

My husband is a surveyor and he wants to give some advice. Unfortunately, your property should have been surveyed before the fence went up. You are right to ask for the proof of property line from her surveyor. The property line issue won't "technically" keep you from selling your house, but the buyer will probably give the stipulation of having the matter taken care of by you before closing the deal. When selling your house, you'll have to sign that there are no "encumbrances" regarding the property. The neighbor should send you a certified letter requesting that the fence be moved.

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3 Steps to Peace of Mind

We had this exact same problem with our new neighbors when they moved in. My dad is a home designer and gave me a simple method to discover the property line on your own. It's the same process most surveyors use as well.

Step 1: Borrow or rent a metal detector, making sure it's professional grade. Then, go out to where you think the property line is located, where you generally remember the orange flags.

Step 2: Visit the assessor's office or look at the abstract for your house. It should tell you what plat you are on and how many "rods" (rural) or feet (urban) you are from such and such a permanent fixture, usually a corner or plat marker.

Step 3: Take your metal detector and a tape measure (long one) and go to the corners of your property and beep around until you find the property stake. It should be a long piece of rod pounded into the ground, maybe about 6-8 inches under the soil. Once you find it, dig down a little (don't dig on your neighbors side please) until you hit the rod and mark the four corners. This is the legal property boundary between you and your neighbor.

File a Complaint

Since an agent already represented you, it was unethical for your neighbor to contact you. She should have contacted your agent instead. If that neighbor is a Realtor (member of National Association of Realtors), she has violated the NAR code of ethics. Your realtor should contact her local Realtor association to file a complaint

Search Through Past Paperwork

You probably had a survey done prior to purchasing your home. Look through that mountain of papers you received at closing. Or make a trip to the title company that did your closing and they should have a copy on file, plus a legal description of your property including exact size of lot.
Dee of Viola, ID

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  • Check for an existing survey of their property to determine property lines.
  • Borrow a metal detector to find the property boundary stakes.
  • Talk with their neighbor to resolve the dispute amiably.

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