Real Estate Law and Boundary Disputes

Real Estate Law and Boundary Disputes: Tips for Resolving Conflicts with Neighboring Property Owners

Owning your own home is a major accomplishment, but it’s not always easy. You’ve heard the saying that good fences make good neighbors, and there’s a lot of truth to that. When boundaries are blurred, and ownership is unclear, neighborly relations often fall apart. If you and your neighbor are in disagreement over property boundaries, numerous solutions may be available to you.

Understanding Real Estate Boundaries and Your Property Rights

Before you go all in on protecting your real estate boundaries and asserting your rights, make sure you know exactly where the boundaries of your property are and what your rights are. Consult your property deed to figure out where your property ends and your neighbor’s begins.

You can also call in a surveyor to do a professional survey of your land and plant markers showing the boundaries. In some disputes, both sides get their own survey done to ensure accuracy. There may be easements involved that allow your neighbor access to or use of some of your property, and those should be legally documented somewhere.

You may also have to consider the role of adverse possession. If a piece of land has been continuously possessed and used by someone else for long enough, they may gain legal ownership of it.

Communication and Mediation

Many neighborly disputes can be cleared up with a little bit of clear communication. People often go into these issues a little too aggressively, when a simple sit-down conversation could yield results. You may be able to approach your neighbor in a friendly and non-confrontational manner to discuss the issue and your perspective. Learn more about their perspective, figure out if any misunderstandings can be cleared up, and look for common (figurative) ground to build on.

One step up from informal negotiations is mediation. By working with a mediator, both sides can feel heard and provide possible solutions to the issue. Mediation is a voluntary process that allows both sides to work toward a mutually agreeable solution without destroying the neighborly relationship. If successful, you may be able to work out an agreement without too much in the way of legal costs.

Legal Measures to Handle Disputes

Perhaps your neighbor is completely unwilling to negotiate with you, or they still believe they are entirely in the right. You may even feel threatened by them if they have started retaliating against you.

If your issues have reached this stage, it’s time to talk to a real estate attorney. Your lawyer can issue a cease and desist, ensure that the neighbor does not have legal rights to your land, and explain legal options to you. For example, your lawyer may want to file a quiet title action that clears up uncertainties about your property boundaries and allows you to assert your property rights.

In many cases, just the act of getting a lawyer involved is enough to settle an issue before it ever has to go in front of a court. If your neighbor has been intentionally using your land in an effort to intimidate you, they may back down if they know you have retained an attorney and they are likely to lose in court. However, if they genuinely believe that they are in the right, you may have to move forward with litigation.

When Litigation is Necessary

Litigation is generally the very last resort when it comes to land use issues. Even though your neighborly relationship is already damaged to some degree, you can expect legal action to make this relationship considerably worse. You should expect these frosty relations to continue until you or they move.

Litigation may be the best choice if the other side has completely stonewalled your efforts to negotiate in good faith, pursue a solution through mediation, and otherwise avoid court. The longer you wait to assert your rights to your property, the more likely it is that adverse possession laws will protect your neighbor’s stake in your property.

During litigation, both you and the other side will get a chance to present cases to the judge. The judge will then make a legally binding ruling. While going to court can be stressful and emotionally draining, it may be your only option if you want to protect your property and put a stop to your neighbor’s misuse of your land. Your attorney will explore any other legal options you may have before resorting to litigation.