What are Property Lines, and Why do They Matter?

Property lines are the legal boundaries of a given property, but unfortunately, they’re not always easy to find. Not only is it essential to know where property lines are to keep from planting or building something on a neighbor’s property, but it’s also important to know that most lots come with setbacks that prohibit building within a few feet of a property line. Guessing where the legal boundary is can result in having to tear down a shed or garage that’s too close to the property line.

Homeowners are responsible for maintaining the lawn and yard on their property and most are not willing to let a neighbor use valuable lawn if it doesn’t belong to them.

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How To Find Property Lines

Find your property line by visiting your local county recorder or assessor’s office. You can access public maps of your street and locate your boundaries.

Many counties also let you access property lines online. If your property is on platted land, you may be able to access the plat maps online. (A plat map is that of a town, section, or subdivision that indicates the location and boundaries of individual properties.) These maps show aerial views of your property, as well as detailed measurements of its dimensions.

Visit the Local Zoning Department

The zoning department is the municipal office that records plats: the maps, drawn to scale, that show land division. Unless your home was built more than a hundred years ago, you can probably obtain a copy of your block and lot plat for a minimal fee. This will give you the exact dimensions of your lot—in other words, the property you legally own—in relation to other lot lines on your block.

RELATED: Setback Requirements: 7 Things All Homeowners Should Know

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Visit the county recorder’s office or the assessor’s office. Ask what maps are available for public viewing that include your neighborhood and street. Request a copy of any maps that show clear dimensions of your property lines. Use the maps for reference when measuring your property’s total boundary line on each side.

How To Find Your Property Stake:

It is much more common for the stakes to be several inches underground. Not so deep that they match up with the frost line, but deep enough that some digging is necessary. In that case, your best bet is to buy or rent a metal detector (inexpensive ones cost less than $50). When you’ve found your target, dig down to make sure that it’s really a stake and not just a lost quarter.

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After you have found the iron property stake, replace the dirt and hammer in a small piece of wood as a visible marker.

Note: If locating your property lines precisely—in a legal dispute, for example—we strongly recommend that you hire a professional surveyor.

How to Legally Determine Property Lines

Hire a Licensed Land Surveyor

To get an accurate determination of property lines that will stand up to legal scrutiny, you’ll need to hire a professional surveyor. (Note that most states require licensure of land surveyors; check your state’s requirements.)

While a professional survey may cost a a few to several hundred dollars—or more, depending on property location, size, shape, and terrain—it’s money well spent since property disputes cost a lot more in time, potential hefty legal fees, and neighborly goodwill.

Boundary Line Agreements

Boundary line agreements are written legal contracts between neighbors made to settle disputes over property boundaries. They vary slightly by state, but the point is to have a way where property owners can agree on property line usage outside of going to court.

Boundary line agreements are not the same as boundary line adjustments. Boundary line adjustments are made when property owners want to exchange land, redefining the property line between them, typically done without involving money. Boundary line agreements are specifically used when there is a dispute over land and its use.

One of the most common reasons for a boundary line agreement is when a neighbor has encroached on your property by building a structure on it. Often, this issue is only made known because you did a land survey for another project and discovered your neighbor built on your land.

In order to retain the title to that piece of property, you can create a boundary line agreement with your neighbor. In this agreement, your neighbor acknowledges their mistake in encroaching on your property and you allow the structure to remain standing. This allows you to retain legal ownership, your neighbor to use what they built and for you both to stay out of court. You retain the right to the property and if the structure is torn down or destroyed, the neighbor must rebuild it on their property.

If you wish to cede the property to your neighbor, you can file a boundary line adjustment, though you’ll need to pay review fees, and the process takes longer than an agreement. Regardless of your decision, you need to do something if you ever intend to sell or transfer the property. A neighbor’s structure on your property may make things more complicated the longer it goes unaddressed.

Why is it Important to Find Property Lines?

Property lines are important since they clear up any confusion or arguments regarding where someone’s property begins and where another person’s property ends. Imagine, for example, that you want to plant a new row of hedges in your backyard to increase privacy and to change the aesthetic of your backyard space. However, you don’t have any fences between your property and your neighbor’s. How can you know where you should plant your hedges without technically invading your neighbor’s space? The answer, of course, is property lines. By finding the property lines, you can plant the hedges in a specific spot or row and avoid any legal trouble later down the road.

There are plenty of other examples besides this, as well. For example, if you know the property lines for a given piece of property, you’ll know exactly what land you purchase when you buy a house. Knowing property lines lets you share the information with your mortgage lender or title insurance company. These can help you get faster and even more attractive mortgage or insurance terms. As you can see, it’s important to find property lines for more reasons than just one. Luckily, there are multiple ways in which you can do so!

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Is There an App That Shows Property Lines?

Yes. In fact, there are many! Our first recommendation is LandGlide: an app that’s free for the first seven days. This mobile application uses GPS technology to determine your parcel’s unique property lines and to access over 150 million parcel records in over 3000 counties. Since this covers 95% of the US population, odds are it’ll also cover your property. You can use the app on either a smartphone or tablet. Once you have taken your property measurements, you can add notes and make plans for future improvements or landscape changes. After the free trial, you’ll need to subscribe either at a monthly rate of $9.99 or a yearly rate of $99.99. Still, if you only need to identify your property lines once, it’s relatively trivial to download this app for free, use it for a few days, then unsubscribe and never have to pay a penny.

If you review property lines on a more frequent basis, consider reviewing the Regrid App. With Regrid you can pull up property lines almost anywhere and bookmark properties. The app usage automatically syncs with your account so you can look up saved properties on a bigger screen when needed. There are even additional features available on the paid plan, which starts at $10 a month. This app is great for real estate developers or investors who are scouting new projects.

Property Survey GPS is another great recommendation for inspecting property lines. This easy-to-use app allows you to drop pins to measure and survey plots of land. The interface is fairly intuitive to navigate and use for the first time, even if you aren’t very tech-savvy. Final measurements can be stored in the app, and users get one month free when signing up. It’s more of a free form experience than the above apps, but it can be a great fit for those interested in dividing parcels of land, getting a quote for a portion of a property, and other investment needs.

Can You See Property Lines On Google Maps?

You can see some property lines on google maps if you type in an exact address. Review the map by zooming into the property and lines should appear surrounding the lot. Unfortunately, this method is not always available. While Google Maps has extensive imaging, property lines are not visible in every area. In these cases, try searching your county records or even downloading one of the apps mentioned above.

Can My Neighbor Build A Fence On The Property Line?

If your neighbor is thinking about building a fence on the property line between your two homes, it’s important that they are aware of all necessary laws and regulations. Where a neighbor can build a fence on the property is dependent on jurisdiction laws, as well as any deed restrictions on either of your homes. As a general rule, laws typically state that a fence must be built at least 2 – 8 inches from a neighbor’s property line. A fence built directly on a property line may result in a joint responsibility of the fence between the neighbors, including maintenance and costs. Just as a precaution, if you or a neighbor are thinking of building a fence on or near one of your home’s property lines, make sure to consult your real estate agent on any rules and regulations.

Why you might want to locate property lines before you purchase a house

As a homebuyer, exercise caution regarding property lines as you move through the purchase process. The previous owners may have failed to account for property lines before they started various home improvements and could have encroached on a neighbor’s property. Ask your lender for a copy of the completed survey – you may learn that the property is smaller than you expected. Or, an encroachment issue could prompt you to renegotiate the deal or walk away altogether. 

If you love the home, a suitable compromise could involve a boundary line agreement after the purchase. A boundary line agreement is a legal contract to settle disputes between neighbors over property boundaries and provides an agreement on property line usage without going to court.

There are fast, easy, precise, and cost-effective ways to find property lines, whether it’s for a property you own or one you plan to purchase. Make sure to gather accurate information when buying a home or starting any construction or landscaping project.

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