Thursday, August 8, 2013

"That is a boundary fence!!" - why surveying your property is a good idea

When I purchase agricultural land, I've found it useful to have it surveyed to determine where the property boundaries are.  With a survey in hand you can then have a discussion with your neighbors about boundaries and can properly place fences and talk about access.  
the "boundary fence" - the old railroad tie with the sign on it. 
 The western boundary for my new farm is a good example of that.  I had the corners of the property surveyed and marked, and the survey itself was registered with the county.  I did that because if you're putting up good fence, and paying good money for it, you want that fence to be in the right place, and more importantly, you want to know where your property lines are. 

If I put a fence up in the wrong place, the neighbors will tend to start thinking that the land outside of my fence is theirs; this happens more often than you'd think, and it's actually possible to lose your title to the land through adverse possession or related claims.   So when I'm building permanent perimeter fences, I want to get it right.  So survey it is. 

It takes a few years... or decades... for a T post to rust this way. 
 Survey in hand, I approached my neighbor to the west, and let her know that I was going to fence along that edge.  My western boundary has a county right-of-way easement, so my intention was the fence the property line, and then use gates to the easement to access my land -- that way I could plant to my property line, but be able to move equipment or supplies or animals in and out. 

My neighbor informed me that I was NOT to do that, and I was NOT to fence there, and that she would consider it trespass, and a couple of days later posted no trespassing signs and told me that she'd call the sheriff on me if I did trespass.  And in fact she did call the sheriff one day.  And she hired an attorney.  So much for friendly relations with the neighbor!

Her attorney got a copy of my registered survey, and looked at it, and apparently explained it to her that the land that she'd posted the no trespassing signs was actually owned by me, or by my other neighbor to the west, and that she was crossing that land via permit issued from the county; the "trail" permit, issued in the 1970s, allowed her to use the county right-of-way easement over my land to get to her property.  I say my land because although the county has an easement over it, they never built a road, and I own the land to the center of the right-of-way.  She has the right to cross it, but does not have the right to fence it, restrict my access to it, or post signs of any sort. 

He also informed her that the survey, my survey, showed that this fence that she had been pointing to, the boundary fence between her property and mine, didn't actually follow the property lines.  In fact, over the 1000' or so of fenceline it traveled northwest, ending up about 50' onto her property.

Now she's been pounding on this "boundary fence" idea for a while, and had actually found the guy who built it in 1968; said so in a letter her attorney sent me.  County records, photographs mostly, show that fence in its current position since at least 1975 -- that's as far back as I checked.  In fact, the age and condition of the posts confirm that this has been the longstanding fence between these two properties. 
Probably 40 years of rust. 
Her attorney noticed this, and sent me a letter stating that his client would "move the fence to the property line". 

Nope.  That fence stays right where it is.  What will move is the legal property line.  When I purchased the property and walked the ground, I understood that to be the fence and boundary between our properties.  And my neighbor understood that too, and repeatedly stated that to me and my workers, and helpfully found the people who built the fence decades ago.   Adding that strip of land to my property will give me another acre or so of ground. 

Lesson?  Fences can become your property line.  Be careful where you put them.   And surveys are good.  If she had her land surveyed when she purchased it in 2009 we would not be having this argument today -- she could have probably moved the fenceline and been done with it. 


Unknown said...

So - Ok, call me stupid, but I read this post three times and I still don't get it. If her fence - is it her fence? - is not on the boundary line, and she's stirred up this can of worms, and now she can't move the fence - does this mean that you're essentially acquiring an acre of 'her' land because of adverse possession on your part? And - does that mean you don't have to put up a new fence now, or is that on a different side of the property? Sorry; I'm just trying to get my head wrapped around the whole thing. Thanks.

Bruce King said...

The neighbor objected to my putting a fence down my surveyed property line and then using the county right-of-way easement and gates to access that land. She made such a big stink that she went and found the people who built the fence 40 years ago, and made a huge deal about how that fence was the boundary fence between her property and mine; called the police on me for working on my fence, and just generally made a huge fuss.

So after looking at my survey carefully, and at the county photos for the last 40 years, I'm going to agree with her. That fence is GOING to be the boundary between our properties. The attorney I'd like to handle the case has been out of town for a couple of weeks, but I'll probably be retaining him and pursuing making that fence the legal boundary, probably either through a boundary line adjustment (where we reach some sort of agreement) or pursuing a claim of adverse possession where she's forced to surrender title to the land.

Fences, if they're placed incorrectly, can become property lines. This is one good example of that. that's why I survey as part of the purchase of any property.

I'd like to clear this up now, so that there's no issue pending in the event that I sell, refinance or do something else with the land. Better to get this over with sooner and at a time of my choosing then have it pop up later -- say when she dies and her heirs go to do something with her property.

ST said...


you both seem like the douchey types of neighbors we all hope to avoid in real life.