Survey property line to settle fence question


October 10, 2004

Dear Mr. Azrael:

I bought my house 11 years ago. At that time, there was an existing fence on my back property line, which belongs to my neighbor. Recently, my neighbor built a new fence next to the old one, leaving the broken fence in place.

I always have believed the fence was on my property, and with the new fence up, I want to have my back property line surveyed.

How long do I have to get my property surveyed before the existing fence line is deemed accurate? If the fence is on my side of the boundary line, what would my neighbor and I have to do?

Dear Reader:

I recommend having your back property line surveyed now. If the fence encroaches on your property, you can ask your neighbor to remove the fence. If he refuses, you can sue him to force removal or remove the encroaching fence yourself.

If the encroaching fence has existed for more than 20 years, however, your neighbor may claim that you have lost the right to require its removal and also may claim that he has acquired title to the land between the fence and the rear property line by adverse possession, which means that the neighbor and his predecessors in title have occupied your land openly, exclusively and continuously - as if it were their own - for more than 20 consecutive years.

Only a court can determine whether land has been acquired by adverse possession. It's up to you to protect your property from being lost by adverse possession. Therefore, you need to know whether there really is an encroachment, how long it has existed and whether the neighbors' use of your property has been open, exclusive and without the permission of you or the prior owners of your land.

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