Stop an Encroaching Neighbor: Why You Need a Site Plan
Let’s say that you’ve purchased a plot of land and built a house from the ground up. Maybe you’ve carefully landscaped the area surrounding that house to create the perfect environment for you and your family. How could anything possibly go wrong?
Well, now let’s say that a new neighbor buys the empty lot next to you and begins building their own home. Everything’s going fine until their landscaping efforts encroach on your property. You try talking to them and politely explaining that they’re crossing over onto your land, but they refuse to listen and claim they’re well within their boundaries.
Before you let this argument devolve into a Hatfields and McCoys-like feud, you need to consider how you can professionally handle this issue. Filing a complaint with the city is the best way to do this, and to offer concrete proof of encroachment, you may need to produce a site plan. Here’s why.
Your Word Is Subjective
You and your neighbor may both believe you know where your property line is. Maybe there was already a fence when you moved in, and you assumed that was an accurate boundary marker.
However, things like fences can easily be shifted, and the best way to determine the proper boundaries is to have someone do an objective survey of your land and produce a site plan.
Old Site Plans and Descriptions Can Be Confusing
If you and your neighbor are trying to figure out whose property ends by looking at outdated site plans, you may both get confused. A professional surveyor can look at the land that was deeded to you and your neighbor and draw up an accurate, up-to-date site plan.
Site Plans Can Include Landscape Features
Landscape features may make a difference in your case. For example, let’s say that the issue is that a neighbor’s tree has grown so that several large branches are now hanging over into your yard and creating an unsightly obstacle. If your site plan shows where that tree is located, you’ll have an easier time proving that your neighbor is encroaching.
A Site Plan Can Help You Avoid a Court Case
Taking your neighbor to court can be costly, time-consuming, and can pretty effectively poison the well of your relationship (remember, you may be living next to them for a while).
If you can show your neighbor a professional site plan with property boundaries clearly marked, you may be able to convince them of their error and avoid taking legal action.
How Do You Resolve Property Boundary Disputes?
No one likes having someone encroaching on their property. Although you may have tried settling it out of court, sometimes it may be the only way to resolve the issue as peacefully as possible.
These issues can show their head in many different ways, which are typically broken down into four categories:
Lot Line Misunderstandings
As we’ve stated above, having a site plan for your property will typically help resolve any disputes you may have with your neighbor. But if you don’t, it will make dealing with issues like lot lines a lot more complex.
Lot line misunderstandings are one of the most frequent problems you’ll face if you’re building on your property. It usually comes about when two neighbors disagree on the lot lines of their properties.
To resolve this issue, obtain the original property details from a records office and then have a surveyor update the current site plan. That way, you’ll both know the lot line, and you can continue with your construction project accordingly.
Adverse possession is a tricky subject because there’s a lot of nuance around it. Essentially adverse possession arises if you and your neighbor have been using a piece of property openly, but suddenly one party is claiming the property belongs to them.
The key with adverse possession cases is consent. For example, if you’ve been using your part of your neighbor’s land without their permission, but they choose not to do anything about it, there can be no claim for adverse possession.
However, if they have an updated site plan and claim that you’ve been illegally using their property, there are grounds for a case.
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Another common dispute that neighbors face during building projects is boundaries. It’s like lot line disputes, but it also entails dealing with the existing obstruction, like a fence, on the property. So how can you deal with this? There are three different solutions.
First, you can try and have the obstruction removed from your property and put on your neighbor’s. However, depending on what it is, it may not be practical to remove it from your property. But all isn’t lost.
The next option is the property owner granting an easement or license to the owner of the hindrance. An easement permits the owner of the obstruction to use the other person’s property for a specific purpose. They can be paid for continuously or with a one-time fee.
Your third option is selling that area of land where the violation is to your neighbor. However, some areas may not allow this, so double-check your local laws before using this option.
Access issues are another type of boundary issue that involves a property owner crossing a neighboring property to enter theirs. The easiest way to deal with this dispute is by viewing the site plan and seeing where the property lines lay.
You could also see if there were any easements already in play to avoid the matter escalating. However, if nothing is in place, try to reach a reasonable solution with your neighbor to solve the issue peacefully.
Related: Essential Features of All Plot Plans
- Juliana Weiss-Roessler