R. L. Galloway Surveying, Licensed Virginia Land Surveyors
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Boundary Issues

What to do about Conflicting Property Boundaries?

Why do land boundaries sometimes conflict? Most often, boundary disputes arise after confusing legal descriptions cause two landowners to lay claim to the same tract of land. The deeds in question may actually describe the same area of land, or a confusing description may simply cause two landowners without an adequate background in reading such descriptions to believe that the land is theirs. Faulty legal descriptions may have been written and recorded by people lacking proper qualifications, such as laypeople without surveying experience.

Many such cases arose in the history of the United States, particularly when land was granted by European government officials who had not actually visited North America and were relying on inaccurate maps. In addition, historical methods of land surveying, such as the metes and bounds system, relied on monuments likely to change over time, such as trees. Such descriptions of the land may be difficult or impossible to decipher based on today's geographical realities.

In some cases, boundary disputes arise simply because the legal boundaries were not checked prior to construction. This is why a land survey is crucial before construction begins on any structure, particularly if its placement is believed to approach the legal property boundary. Knowing where your property boundaries are will reduce the potential for future conflicts. Difficult neighbors may ignore surveys to suit their own purposes, of course, but a land survey conducted by a professional land surveyor is critical evidence of the legal boundary. If a boundary is called into question for any reason, a survey can be an important bargaining or mediation tool to set an agreed-upon boundary between two parcels of land.

When a boundary survey is conducted, a surveyor locates the boundaries of the property on the ground, as described in your deed. This step should always be taken before constructing anything, such as a fence, that you believe will approach the property line. If conflicts exist between your surveyor's interpretation of the boundary and your neighbor's interpretation of the boundary, the surveyor should attempt to determine why and advise you on proper remedies. While a survey is crucial for bargaining or mediation, a legal determination of property ownership in the case of a dispute can only be settled by the courts. Qualified land surveyors can act as expert witnesses during a court case to settle such disputes. If you think that it may come to this, be sure to ask your land surveyor whether they are willing and able to testify as an expert witness before you hire them for your boundary survey.

Once an encroaching structure has been built, it is imperative that the legal owner of the land brings this into question as soon as possible. In some instances, long established occupation of an area, such as a long-ago built fence, will actually take precedence over the legal title to the land. This is known as “adverse possession.” In order to lay claim to an area of land in this manner, a court proceeding is required. In order to take control over the land through adverse possession, one must show that occupation of the land was open and known by the true owner. If the true owner contests this occupation of the land in a timely manner, the land cannot be taken from them through adverse possession.

Please, contact us today if you believe there may be a boundary issue or if you unsure of your property line location.


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