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.

RELATED: Whose Responsibility Is it: Homeowner, Town, or Utility Company?

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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.

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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.

Consider the Metes and Bounds Survey

If your deed features a metes and bounds survey—a survey that describes the exact distances and directions from one established point on your property line to the next—you’ll have all the information you need to find property lines. Unfortunately, this type of legal description is notoriously difficult to comprehend unless you’re a surveyor.

The metes and bounds survey cites a starting point, located at one of corners of your property. From there, the survey will give you detailed directions and distances to help you locate the rest of the corners and boundary lines of your property. It’s similar to a connect-the-dots game, except you do it on foot, not on paper. You’ll need a long measuring tape as well as a good-quality directional compass so you can move systematically from point to point.

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But egad! You’ll find that a metes and bounds survey reads like a Shakespearean play. A typical survey may tell you to “commence” from the point of beginning (POB), “running thence westerly 100 feet, thence southerly at an interior angle of 55 degrees to a point,” and so on until it brings you back to the original starting point.

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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.

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.

Where Can I Find Information That Will Tell Me My Exact Property Boundaries?

You may be able to find the property markers or boundary monuments yourself. They will be located at the corners of your property. Often these are metal pins or stakes buried 6"-10" below the surface at each corner. The markers should be shown on the land survey. You can use a shovel and a metal detector to find them. You can also reference the description in your deed and walk the boundaries of your property

You may find information about how to find markers on properties like yours by visiting the section of your city’s website that deals with construction and permits.

If you are experienced enough to read and understand a land survey, you can request a copy of the land survey or subdivision plot from your county clerk’s office. These documents are required to have detailed information regarding where your property boundaries are, but they are complex and are written for professional surveyors.

If you want to know exactly where your property boundaries are, hire a licensed land surveyor. he or she will come out to your land and place markers on the boundary lines of your property. You can find licensed land surveyors in your area by searching the internet or visiting your town hall and asking city staff who does surveys in your area. (In rural communities there may be only one surveyor who handles a large area.)

In most situations, the cost of a land survey is dictated by the size of the land that is to be surveyed, whether there is an accurate subdivision map already existing, geographic location, and the last time the land was surveyed.

The cost of a survey typically starts at $500 and goes upwards into the thousands of dollars. If your land has not been surveyed for a long time, or if there are multiple existing survey maps that conflict with each other, you can expect to pay more.

Have More Questions About Property Boundaries? Ask a Lawyer

Property disputes can get heated quickly. The best way to keep a dispute from getting out of hand is to understand your property rights. Contact a skilled real estate lawyer near you to discuss your situation and learn how they can help resolve your matter decisively.

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. 

Important Things to Remember about Your Property Line:

It is always important to know your rights as a homeowner, especially when it comes to property lines. These disputes are the cause of many neighborhood arguments and can be easily stopped with some knowledge. Below are a few reminders:

  • Leaves, pods, acorns, etc. falling onto your property are considered a natural occurrence and are the property owner’s responsibility to clear away.
  • If branches fall and cause damage on your property for any reason other than a storm, your neighbor is responsible for the cleanup and damage.
  • If you and your neighbor compare deeds and the property lines do not match up, you will need to agree to pay for a survey. You have to agree to split the survey, one person cannot bully the other into paying for the survey.

Always check with your local laws before getting into a dispute. Property laws change drastically from state to state.

Get up to speed on your new home with these 12 tips.

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