Property lines often feel personal. If two parties both believe a piece of land is theirs to do what they please with, disputes can quickly rise to the surface. These disagreements are not uncommon.
One report estimated property owners file more than 3,000 boundary dispute claims with the California Superior Courts every year. For the parties involved, there are a few potential ways to address the issue.
Records and documents
Historical records and documents can go a long way toward resolving boundary line disputes. It could include old land descriptions, determinations from previous surveys, a study of immovable land markers or the deed description. A property owner could also choose to have a new survey done.
Having this type of concrete evidence can be quite valuable if the dispute ultimately goes to court. However, previous records may be inconsistent, unclear, or in conflict with one another.
Quieting the title
If historical records do not resolve the boundary dispute, one party may choose to file a quiet title action in court. This is a legal action intended to settle the dispute and determine who owns the contested piece of property. This means both sides will present their evidence, and a judge or jury will ultimately have the final say.
The plaintiff in the case will have to prove their case convincingly.
An agreed-upon boundary
In a court case, one party might argue they own the property under the agreed-boundary doctrine. This can allow someone to take legal control of a piece of property that was not initially their own if:
- It cannot definitively be determined where the property line actually is
- Both property owners agreed to the arrangement
- The property owners have been operating with that boundary for five years or more
If an owner can’t prove there was an agreement, or if historical records clearly show the property boundary, then this may not hold much weight with the courts.
Adverse possession is another potential strategy. Under adverse possession laws, if a trespasser uses, cares for and pays taxes on property as if it were their own – and the actual property owner does not say anything about it for more than five years, the courts may find the trespasser now owns that land.
California’s real estate and property laws are vast and complex. If you are in a boundary dispute with another party, it can be helpful to reach out to an attorney. They can help ensure you are protected each step of the way, from the initial dispute through to any necessary court actions.