Property Line Disputes: Peaceful Ways to Settle Boundary Issues

Property line disputes needn’t become Hatfield-McCoy feuds. Your property plat should settle the argument. If not, mediators and lawyers can help.

When facing a property line dispute, take a deep breath before jumping to conclusions. At the end of negotiations, you still have to live next to these people. But don’t let property line encroachments go unanswered. Inaction could haunt you when it’s time to sell; it could also cost you part of your land.

So gather your paperwork, bake a peace-keeping strudel, and try to work things out with neighbors who claim your elm is in their yard, or you suspect have built their fence on your property.

Know Your Line

Before you march across your lawn, find your settlement papers and search for a drawing that indicates your property line. You can find this information on the plat, a representation of the property survey, which you should have received at settlement. 

No luck finding your plat? Go online. State or county government sites often have record plats you can download for free.

Take a Meeting

When talking to neighbors about property line encroachment, bring the following:

  • A friendly attitude: Assume they “crossed a line” innocently. It sets a better tone.
  • Written proof: Whip out your plat and show the neighbors how they have accidentally taken your land.

No More Mr. Nice Neighbor

Sometimes reason and baked goods don’t do the trick. Here are next steps, in escalating order.

1. Write a letter: A letter puts your neighbor on notice, documents their property line trespass, describes the violation, includes a copy of your plat and requests an action to remedy the situation. File it with your county clerk or land records office to put any subsequent purchasers or lienholders on notice. If your attorney sends the letter, it carries more weight: Your neighbor knows you mean business and might act promptly. 

2. Suggest mediation: Many communities have free or low-cost mediation services that help neighbors reach a non-binding agreement. Professional mediators can cost $350 per hour. 

3. Lawsuit: Rare, expensive and usually not necessary. File in civil court and ask for the removal of the encroachment, and damages to pay for restoring your property. Expect to pay at least $3,000 to the-sky-is-the-limit in legal feels. Resolution will take at least months and maybe years. 

4. Police action: If concrete is about to be poured on part of your land, or in any urgent situation, call the police and report trespassing. 

Additional options for the encroached-upon:

  • License agreement: This documents your willingness to allow the neighbor to keep, for example, their fence on your property. This prevents adverse possession.
  • Land sale: Sell the land to your neighbors. Let a real estate attorney make it legal.

Related: Fence Etiquette: Tips to Avoid Neighbor Disputes

Ann Cochran
Ann Cochran

Ann Cochran has written about home improvement and design trends for Washingtonian, Home Improvement, and Bethesda Magazine.