Neighbor Law: Fence Matters Indicate Wrong Property Line

Q: We found out that the property line between my home and my neighbors’ home is different from what the builder said when he sold us our home.

Our neighbor had a survey done to put up a fence. During the survey, they came over and informed us that according to what was registered with the county, our “zig zag” property line is off by three feet and goes over to the middle of our back yard. Oh, and my septic tank appears to be on my neighbor’s lot.

How in the world did the county sign off on permits and zoning that allowed my house to be three feet from the property line and my septic tank being on my neighbors’ property? How do we go about getting this issue fixed? Can we simply have a surveyor draw a new line, have both parties sign some document, and register the new document with the county? Can we get the county to help us fix this problem?

A: Before you run out and start signing documents, you need to figure out what you own and what your neighbor owns. When you purchased your home, you should have received the deed that transferred title to the home to you along with a title insurance policy and survey.

The deed to your home would contain basic information to convey title from the builder to you: the name of the seller, your name, the address of your home, the property tax parcel number and a legal description. That legal description describes the legal boundaries for your property.

Sometimes these descriptions are brief and would describe that the buyer is buying lot one in a particular subdivision with an additional paragraph or two. In other cases, the legal description takes you from a starting point with certain coordinates and those coordinates take you step by step around your land until you get to the point of beginning.

In either case, the legal description on your deed must match exactly with the legal description that is listed on your title insurance policy and the survey you received when you purchased your home.

The title insurance policy is the document issued by the closing agent or title company that guarantees your ownership to the land subject to certain matters listed on that policy. The survey is the document that depicts the land you purchased. It’s a document that shows the boundaries of your land, where your home is located on the land and where other improvements are located on the land.

If you have the survey, your deed and the title insurance policy from your purchase, review these documents and make sure that the legal descriptions in all of the documents match each other.

If the legal descriptions match and you find that the survey seems to accurately depict where your house is located on your lot, your neighbor’s surveyor may have made a mistake in preparing the newer survey. If the surveyor made a mistake, the surveyor can review your documents to determine what description he or she should use for the survey of the fence that he intends on placing between your properties.

If you don’t have a survey from the time you purchased your home and you were able to double check and confirm that the legal description used by the surveyor for your neighbor’s land is correct, you have a bigger problem than you imagine.

To answer your first question, the county may not have a responsibility to fix any issues relating to the construction of your home or its location on the lot. But the county can still come after you if your home does not comply with the applicable building laws and zoning requirements, in some cases even if the county signed off on original building plans and zoning changes.

If you and your neighbor are in complete agreement as to how you would want your property line to be drawn, you would have to start with a surveyor to draw that line exactly. Then, you’d have to have a land swap between the two of you.

You’d have to convey some of your land to your neighbor and your neighbor would do the same for you. However, frequently a land swap of that type may need added approvals by your municipality and other agencies. And, in some cases, you might be required to go before certain municipal boards to get their approval for the swap.


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