Frequently Asked Questions About Property Boundaries

Conclusion

As a homeowner, it’s crucial that you’re aware of property lines so that you can respect your neighbor’s property and avoid any legal disputes. If you’re struggling to find your home’s property lines, utilize one of the aforementioned strategies, or go online to check. Remember that before you or your neighbor build a fence on the property line, make sure to consult with each other and a real estate agent about your property’s rules and regulations. For more information about buying real estate, check out our other resources for further reading on properties and mortgages.

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Bring in a Professional Surveyor

Before you drive yourself too crazy with the metes and bounds survey, know that the only legally binding method to determine exact property lines—essential, for example, if you intend to build an addition to your house—is to have a professional survey. Local building codes will determine how close to your property line you can legally build. A professional survey could cost from a few hundred to more than a thousand dollars, depending on the size of your property and the complexity of the survey. Costly, perhaps, but adding to your dream house while keeping in your neighbors’ good graces is priceless.

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RELATED: How Much Does a Land Survey Cost?

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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.

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

Why You Might Need to Know Your Property Lines

You will need to know your property lines if you are planning to build an addition to your home, add a deck to the back, or if you want to do any major landscaping changes. Even if you want to build a fence, you will need to know your property lines. 

Knowing property lines is also important if you are buying or selling real estate. If you are the seller, you will need to let potential buyers know exactly what they are paying for. And if you are buying a property, you want to be sure of the boundaries of the property you make an offer on it. Your mortgage and title companies will likely require your property lines, too, as they prepare your paperwork. 

And lastly, knowing your property lines can help you avoid disputes with your neighbors. Having clearly defined boundaries makes it easier to know who is responsible for tree removal, for example. It will also help you avoid any issues of encroachment: when one neighbor builds something that sits on the other’s property. 

There are many reasons you might want (or need) to know property lines. Once you decide you want to know your property lines, the next step is to figure out how to find property lines.

How Are Property Lines Calculated?

Property lines are almost always calculated using a shared protocol called the RSS or Rectangular Survey System. Professional land surveyors use the RSS to create roughly equal rectangular parcels of land, which can eventually be added and measured to create a total property outline. Through the RSS, all land parcels are divided into sections measuring about 1 mile across. However, the land parcel divisions are usually not perfect because of environmental factors like lakes, tree lines, rivers, and roads. Parcel lines are also separated into meridians and baselines, which run north to south or east to west.

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 Find Property Lines for Free

Homeowner’s Deed

A homeowner’s deed should include a legal description of the plot of land, including its measurements, shape, block and lot number, and other identifiers such as landmarks and geographical features. If the language is tricky, reach out to your real estate lawyer or agent for help in deciphering it.

A Tape Measure

If you want to visually confirm your property lines, you can use a tape measure to determine the boundaries. From a known point detailed in the deed’s description, measure to the property’s edge and place a stake at that point as a marker.

After all the edges have been determined, measure the distance between the stakes. Compare the results to make sure they match the corresponding deed or plat.

Existing Property Survey from Mortgage or Title Company

Most mortgage lenders require prospective homeowners to have a current survey, and your title insurance also depends on it. If you bought your home recently but don’t have the survey, contact either company to see if they have a copy on file.

Existing Property Survey from County or Local Municipality

A property’s history and legalrecords are generally kept in the municipality or county’s tax assessor’s office or in its land records or building department. You can usually begin your search by going online to access the relevant property records. Most municipalities offer this information for free, but some offices may require a small fee or ask that you access the records in person.

Buried Pins

At the corners of your property, you may be able to find steel bars that have been buried, sometimes still visible, with a marked cap on the top end. These were likely placed on your land when a survey was completed. If you can’t readily see the pins (they may have been buried over time), use a metal detector to help you locate them.

While this isn’t a legally binding way to determine your property lines, it will give you a good idea of the boundaries. Warning: Before you start digging, call 811, the national call-before-you-dig hotline, to request the location of buried utilities you don’t want to inadvertently dig into an underground utility line.

Use an App

Download an app like LandGlide that uses GPS to determine a parcel’s property lines. LandGlide is free for the first seven days.

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Check your deed. The deed contains a description of your property’s measurements and boundaries in words. Measure from the landmarks in the description to the property lines. Mark each corner with a stake or other marker. Measure from each stake to the next all the way around your property to ensure the measured lines match the deed. Physically measuring the boundaries will allow you to visually determine where the lines are and avoid encroaching on your neighbor’s land.

How Property Lines Are Marked

How property lines are marked can vary. The demarkWhen the developer of a piece of land constructs homes, they will typically have the property lines marked.

How property lines are marked can vary. The demarkation is usually done in one of a few different ways, including:

  • Wooden stakes
  • Concrete markers
  • Metal markers

Over time these markers tend to disappear, which can cause homeowners to wonder where the property lines are located.

As a homeowner, you can have your property lines marked if this becomes important to you. We will be getting into this momentarily.

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Look at your property survey. The survey is a document with a rendering of the property lines and measurements, and should have been given to you when you bought your home. The distance from your house to the property line and the street should be shown on the survey. Use the measurements and details about surrounding landmarks to visually determine the property lines and avoid land disputes with neighbors.

Why Are Property Lines Important?

Property lines are important because they eliminate gray areas when it comes to property ownership. Because of property lines, you know exactly what you’re getting when you begin the process of buying a house. Property lines help you share information with your mortgage lender and/or title insurance company, who will often need to know the property lines as they’re setting the terms of your agreements with them.

Being aware of your property lines also makes you a good neighbor. By knowing the boundaries of your property, you can avoid disagreements with your surrounding neighbors, especially ones that could lead to legal disputes. The last thing you want is to sink a bunch of money into an addition on your home, only to find out you built part of it on your neighbor’s land.

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.

What Happens With Encroachment of Property Lines?

When buying and selling homes, there are times when the encroachment of lot lines is discovered. What this means is the neighbor has built a structure that violates local zoning laws. One of the more common examples is when a neighbor builds a fence onto the neighbor’s property.

There are a few things to consider when you discover an encroachment. If a neighbor has built something onto your lot and something terrible such as an injury, happens in that structure, you could be partially liable and have a claim against your home insurance. Even if there was never a claim, you might end up paying higher insurance premiums.

It is also vital to think about the property’s resale value when it comes time to sell. You may be fine with the situation now, but what if future buyers don’t feel the same way? Typically, in situations like this, it will cause title insurance to be more expensive.

What Can You Do About Property Line Disputes With Neighbors?

A property line problem with a neighbor is not that unusual. They happen all the time. Property line issues can happen in several different ways. Sometimes incorrect assumptions are made about where a lot line exists. Other times a deed description might not be accurate.

There are also cases where one neighbor has been using a portion of land for a long time and claims ownership by adverse possession. How to resolve property disputes boils down to the situation.

The vast majority of the time, it is better to work out the dispute amicably with your neighbor. Legal battles over minor lot property line issues can become very costly. The easiest way to settle is to prove to your neighbor by a professional survey that their assumptions about the property line location are incorrect.

If this doesn’t work and the neighbor won’t cooperate, your last resort may include offering to divide the property at issue or request some form of monetary compensation.

Going to court over a minor lot line issue could cost far more money than the amount of land it is worth.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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