You probably know the extent of the real estate you own —the dimensions of your lot, your boundaries and where your neighbors’ land begins. But when the lines are not clear, problems can arise between adjoining landowners. If an encroachment exists, such as a fence or garage built over the lot line, your neighbor may be able to either take title to a piece of your land or claim an easement over your property.
Adverse possession is a statutory legal concept that can take ownership of land from one person and give it to another. To enforce a claim of adverse possession, the claimant must have openly occupied the land to the exclusion of others for a period of at least 10 years. Continued use of your land by someone else can divest you of ownership.
It is important to note, however, that permissive use can never become a claim of adverse possession. If a neighbor plants flowers or trims bushes on your land with your knowledge and consent, the neighbor will not be able to take your land for his or her own.
There is a distinction between title and an easement. Title is ownership. An easement is a right of somebody else to come onto the land. The person with the right of access doesn’t own the land; he or she just has permission to be on it under certain circumstances. A neighbor may be able to enforce an easement over part of your property under essentially the same conditions as a claim of adverse possession.
If you think that a neighbor is encroaching on your land, you should determine the boundaries of your property. Find the stakes, pins or caps that indicate the dimensions of your lot. They should be in the corners, but may be buried. If you still have questions, hire a qualified engineer to prepare a survey. The drawing will show the dimensions of the lot, along with buildings and driveways. The engineer will also locate or place the corner pins.
If you note an encroachment, calculate how long the problem has existed. Remember that your neighbors have certain rights after a period of time has elapsed. Determine whether the encroachment is permissive. You may have to check with prior owners of your land. Identifying and dealing with boundary line issues can prevent future problems.
Information provided by Ross Barnett, attorney for Abendroth and Russell Law Firm, 2560 73rd St., Urbandale, 278-0623, www.ARPCLaw.com.