That old adage, "Good fences make good neighbors" isn't always true. In fact, there are times when a fence could make enemies out of neighbors who were once on good or on fair terms. And not surprisingly, a poorly placed fence could ratchet up ill will between neighbors who were already feuding and on bad terms. The problem is often with the placement of the fence -- a few inches or a foot or two in the wrong direction, and one neighbor could end up encroaching on the other's property. Disputes can sometimes get so bad that the parties have to seek legal help to remedy the situation. So how can you ensure that your future fence won't create problems with your neighbors or potentially cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in legal fees or modifications? And what should you do if you expect that a fence your neighbor has put up may be on your property?
Get a Land Survey
You might believe that you know the boundaries of your property, especially if you've owned it for many years. But there is always a chance that your assumptions may be wrong. So if you didn't get your property surveyed at the time you purchased it, you may need to hire a professional surveyor before you begin work on a fence. Getting a survey is also important if you have an issue with a fence that a neighbor of yours has raised. A professional land surveyor will:
- Research the land records to determine the actual boundaries of your property. The records they may look at include title certificates and deeds.
- Take the measurements of your property. This can be done several ways, including by tape measure, or with an electronic distance measurement (EDM) instrument or, in some cases, by GPS.
- Mark your property boundaries. The surveyor will place stakes or other markers on your property so that you can clearly see where your boundaries are.
Not hiring a land surveyor could be very costly as you might be forced to tear down and rebuild a fence if it is discovered that you have placed it even a few inches over your neighbor's property line.
Adverse Possession and Prescriptive Easements
Getting a survey is also very important if you believe that your neighbor has placed his fence onto your property. If you don't dispute its placement and it turns out the fence is on your land, your neighbor could claim certain rights over the enclosed portion of your property through either adverse possession or prescriptive easement after a statutory period of time. The statutory period varies from state to state. For example, according to Nolo.com, the time period is 20 years in Maine, but only 7 years in Florida if the person seeking the adverse possession meets certain conditions -- one of which is enclosing the area within a fence. In some states, the person pursuing an adverse possession will also be required to pay the taxes on the portion of land they are claiming.
A prescriptive easement is similar to an adverse possession except that instead of your neighbor taking ownership over your land, they would just claim the right to use the portion of your property they have fenced in. Your neighbors will still have to meet a statutory period of time before making their claim. So if, for example, you suddenly realize that a neighbor has fenced in a portion of your land and has cultivated a garden on it, your neighbor could possibly seek a prescriptive remedy if you demand that they remove their fence and garden.
Don't Risk Future Problems
While it may not be true that a good fence makes good neighbors, it is true that a good survey could help you fight an encroachment on your land or prevent you from having to deal with a future property line dispute about your fence. Contact a company like Community Sciences Corporation to have a land survey done.