What Are Property Lines?

Put simply, a property line is a legal boundary for a piece of land that distinguishes it from other pieces. In legal terms, property lines very distinctly denote who owns which pieces of land by dividing land cleanly into parcels or plots. In some cases, property lines follow very obvious boundaries, including fences, roads, ditches, streams and rivers. But in other cases, property lines can be totally invisible. In these situations, certified legal records of property lines may be the only proof that the property lines are legitimate. For these reasons, you must understand where your property begins and ends if you are a homeowner. In doing so, you can determine exactly what kinds of home improvement projects you can undertake without encroaching on your neighbor’s property and avoid unpleasant legal disputes. In addition, you may need to have official records of your property lines if you want or need title insurance.

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.

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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.

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 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.

Can I Find My Property Line Online?

Yes, you can find your property lines online. Your county may have online maps for all of the real estate in your area, accessible through the official county or assessor’s website. Property lines can also be found through any online search engine on Geographical Information System (GIS) maps. Another way to view property lines online is on interactive online maps.

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.

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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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Dig Out Your Deed for Additional Info

In older neighborhoods, property owners may have purchased or sold off portions of their yards. Locating a survey pin won’t give you this information, but the most recent legal description recorded on your deed will list any such changes. If you don’t have a copy of your deed filed with your homeowner records, get one at the register of deeds office, often located within your county courthouse.

Why is it important to know the location of your property lines? 

Property lines are in place to keep one property owner from encroaching on another owner’s land or compromising their privacy by building too close to their house. A typical encroachment might be tree limbs that grow past your property and overhang into a neighbor’s yard or a driveway poured to extend onto a neighbor’s property. When you know exactly where your property lines fall, you’ll avoid accidentally encroaching on your neighbor’s land.

If you plan to build a permanent structure, you’ll want to be as accurate as possible, and ordering your own land survey is the best option. In most states, you are required to call a diggers hotline 811 to request buried utility information before you build a fence, plant a tree, or extend your driveway. This call ensures you know the location of any buried wires or irrigation systems to avoid causing damage. Within a few days’ notice, someone from your local utility company should be able to mark county wires or pipes with spray paint or flags.

Since property line information can be valuable to someone you may sell your house to, you will want to keep all records. Keep a copy of a new survey you’ve completed, a plat map, or any information from the city or county offices in digital or hard copy format. If you do a new survey, you may also need to register it with your county assessor or recorder. During the sale of a property, the title company will search for encroachment of one property into another. They may refuse title insurance to the seller if they find a property line dispute.

When you know how to find your property lines, you’ll gain peace of mind for any project that could come close to the edge of the property. Showing respect for your neighbor and their property rights can help you avoid a lawsuit. 

Why Finding Survey Markers Can Be Challenging

Although surveyors usually set property pins so that the top is at the ground surface, they can be hard to find. Over time, property pins may accidentally be buried or removed. It’s common for such mishaps to occur during utility work, landscaping, property grading, or construction projects. 

Summary

In the end, knowing how to find property lines on your land is supremely important as a homeowner, particularly if you have lots of neighbors close by and you like to do projects on your property that stand the risk of accidentally encroaching on another person’s land. By the same token, knowing how to find property lines will let you prevent your property from being encroached upon over and over. Fortunately, you can use the above six techniques to find the legal property lines for your land in no time.

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