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Solving Neighbor Property Disputes

Frank Hammond Sept. 15, 2023

I have handled many disputes between neighbors over property. These disputes seem to always center on two things. First neighbors often get in fights over easements. And second neighbors often argue over property line incursions and adverse possession. I’ll talk about each of these points of conflict below.

Arguments About Easements

An easement is a property right that allows one party (the “Dominant Property”) to use the other party’s property (the “Servient Property”) for a particular purpose (and only that purpose). Because easements run with the land, they pass to successors in interest. So, neither party in a dispute might have been an originator of the easement. And to make matters worse, easements are often poorly drafted and ambiguous — usually an afterthought to the original sale transaction.

Easement disputes usually center on one of three issues. Often, the Dominant Property increases the intensity at which it is using the easement. For example, starting a new business on its property that causes an increase in traffic. Or the Dominant Property might start using the easement for a purpose that is not allowed. For example, if the easement is for egress and ingress, the Dominant Property might start using it to race dirt bikes. Finally, because easement boundaries are so vague the Servient Property could end up arguing that the Dominant Property is straying outside the boundaries of the easement.

The best approach to resolving these disputes is, of course, a civil discussion between the owners of the Dominant and Servient Properties. Good will goes a long way toward reaching compromises and understandings that result in resolution. That is not, however, always possible. Often neighbor relations become acrimonious, and a non-party is necessary to resolve the dispute. This non-party is often a lawyer for one side or the other.

As a lawyer with some experience with these disputes, my goal when confronted with a new case is often to find a way to get a civil discussion started. This usually means creating a circumstance where the other party gets a lawyer with whom I can negotiate. Sometimes this means sending a demand letter, and sometimes it means filing a lawsuit. Usually, though, once a lawyer is on the other side who is willing to negotiate in good faith, it is possible to settle the dispute.

When settlement proves difficult, both parties must recognize that litigating the case to a conclusion would be very expensive. Instead of litigation, the use of some form of court-sponsored negotiation or private mediation makes sense. Third-party neutrals are usually able to bring a matter to settlement. The most important element of such a settlement is to persuade both parties that the other is not an enemy, and that peaceful resolution is possible.

Arguments About Property Lines

Neighbors often end up in disputes about where a property line is. These disputes really are not so much legal, as practical, although they too can become acrimonious. The best course of action is to work with the other side to hire a surveyor to settle the dispute by marking off the property line.

Sometimes, though, a neighbor will not accept the line set out by the surveyor. In that event, a quiet title action may be necessary. Often, however, the refusal to accept the property line designated by the surveyor is evidence of a deeper emotional grievance. Again, mediation might allow that grievance to be addressed and the dispute settled. Throughout the lawyer must be sensitive to the fraught neighbor relationship and get to the parties to a point of conclusion. This can require intervention of a court. People will usually respect the decision of a judge.

A related problem can arise when one neighbor has used the others for an extended time. The first neighbor then might contend they hold the property by adverse possession. Adverse possession arises when someone openly and adversely possesses the land of another. Title then passes to the adverse possessor. Mistaken fence lines often lead to these disputes. In any event, if the parties cannot resolve the dispute through negotiation, a quiet title action becomes necessary. Again, people will usually respect a judge’s decision.

If you have questions about a neighbor dispute, please give me a call. I have solved many similar disputes and should be able to help you with your problem. With over 35 years of experience in the legal field, my experience can help you solve your problem. Make sure to schedule a consultation with us or through email to make sure an expert can help you out today. Make sure to follow us on Linkedin and message us if you have any questions.