Moving a fence doesn't mean a strip of land is surrendered


October 21, 2001

Dear Mr. Azrael,

My neighbors removed and discarded the original fence between our properties. They then erected a new fence, which was placed approximately 6 to 12 inches into their property.

We have been left with 6 to 12 inches of additional yard space, which we may now have to maintain. This has disrupted planting beds, other improvements we had made to our yard and the slope of our yard. This will cause us to do additional landscaping work.

We need to know what our options are. Do we now legally own this property and if so, should we get this in writing? Or, should we insist that they relocate the fence to the original location?

Philip and Mary Brock Baltimore

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Brock,

Your neighbors are not obligated to erect their fence on the property line. In fact, a fence is often set back slightly from the property line so that the owner can maintain the side of the fence facing your property. Your neighbor still owns the land between the fence and the property line. You are not obligated to mow it or maintain it.

If your neighbor is willing for you to own the additional land, it can be surveyed and conveyed to you by a deed. Otherwise, the only way you can obtain legal ownership is by "adverse possession." You would have to claim this land as your own and use it without interruption for more than 20 years before "adverse possession" could apply - and even then, a court case would be necessary to confirm your legal ownership.

If a formal transfer of ownership is not possible, perhaps your neighbor would agree to plant a landscaping buffer on the side of the fence that faces your property.

If you live in a subdivision that has covenants covering the maintenance of lots, there might be provisions to compel your neighbor to maintain the small strip between the fence and your property line.

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