Do you know where your property ends and your neighbor’s begins?

The old saying that “good fences make good neighbors” still applies today. Fences delineate the boundaries of your property, which you might not consider an issue until you think about selling your property. At that time, that structure that your neighbor either inadvertently or purposely put on your property could become an issue.

What is encroachment?

The law defines encroachment as the act of erecting a structure that intrudes on your land. You might not consider this an issue as long as it doesn’t keep you from enjoying your property, but when it comes time to sell, a potential buyer needs to know about it, and the encroachment could affect a buyer’s decision to purchase your property. Not saying anything might preserve any goodwill you have with your neighbor, but it could cost you in the end.

The structure is already there. What can I do about it?

If you and your neighbor failed to recognize that the structure ended up on your land until later, it could create an uncomfortable situation, but the longer you wait, the worse the situation could get. Before you approach your neighbor, be sure of where your property ends and his or hers begins.

  • Talk to your neighbor. Perhaps moving the structure would work. If that isn’t possible, consider allowing your neighbor to use that portion of your land. Putting this in writing prevents your neighbor from making a claim of adverse possession in the future. Each of you acknowledges that the land belongs to you.
  • If moving the structure isn’t possible or your neighbor won’t work with you regarding an agreement, you could offer to sell that piece of land to him or her. Be sure to check with your mortgage lender first, however. Transferring title to that portion of your property changes the legal description of your property and affects the lender’s security interest.
  • Unfortunately, your neighbor might not willingly resolve the issue with you. You might need to file a “quiet title action” to prove the property belongs to you and to remove any interest in it your neighbor might claim. Second, you might also file an “ejectment action” to force your neighbor to remove the structure and to get off your property. Granted, this course of action will not do much for your relationship with your neighbor, but if you intend to sell your property, it might be necessary.

Obviously, if you intend to sell the property to your neighbor or end up needing to file a court action, it would benefit you to involve an attorney to handle all legal issues appropriately. However, even if you and your neighbor work out the issue amicably, any agreement you make needs to be legally binding on both of you. In order to protect your interests adequately, you might consider having an attorney handle the paperwork. In addition, an attorney can help ensure that you legally own the property in question.

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