What to do if a Boundary Line is in Dispute?

Most property owners, we would guess, have at some point probably wondered about the exact location of their property’s boundary line. It’s an important thing to be aware of. The boundary line of your property–obviously–determines your property’s full size; the size of your property in turn affects its value.

Legally speaking, there’s another important reason to be aware of your property boundary. Property laws in this country are built on the notion that
use of a property is an important factor in determining ownership of property. If you don’t use it, you could lose it.

Even if a property’s recorded boundary is clear as day, legal ownership of a piece of land could change hands based on whether one party used the property in a sufficiently obvious fashion, where the original owner did not. (This is far more common in rural, agricultural areas; though, it arises commonly in any situation where one owner wants to erect a fence but the property line is unclear.)

So let’s imagine a scenario where Owner Omar and Neighbor Nelly own adjoining pieces of land in a semi-rural area. They each own about 3 acres, and they share a boundary line. The boundary between their two properties is rough: it’s got weeds and bushes growing along it, but no fenceline.

Omar has decided he wants to have horses on his property, so he will need to erect a fence to keep them in. He goes to the boundary area with Nelly’s property and starts putting in markers where he thinks the fence should go. Nelly sees this, and comes over. “That’s on my property!” she says. Omar disagrees, saying that he’s putting the markers on the boundary line.

Obviously, there’s a disagreement about where the parties’ two properties meet, but there’s no fenceline or other obvious marker to show where the line is. Let’s even go a step further and imagine that each party hires a surveyor to determine the property line, but the two surveyors come up with different answers! (It happens.)

So how does Omar go about getting a legal determination about where his property line is?

Omar can sue Nelly for a Declaratory Judgment or Declaratory Relief. In Utah, judges are empowered to make declaratory rulings “determining rights, status, and other legal relations within [their] respective jurisdiction.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-401. This means that, unlike other lawsuits where parties tend to sue each other for money, Omar can sue Nelly to have the court determine where the property line is.

(Note: Declaratory actions can be over a number of different issues, not just property rights.)

Just like other cases, declaratory actions rely on the submission of evidence to help the court make its decision. Omar would want to provide plenty of evidence to the court to help it rule that the boundary line is where he says it is. In this case, Omar would want to provide information like historical records, the survey he had conducted, and any evidence showing that he used the land up to his alleged property line.

In a case like Omar’s, it’s a fairly safe bet that Nelly would countersue, asking the judge to rule that the fenceline is where she says it is.

A court may encourage the parties to consider a settlement in effect “splitting the baby,” or just agreeing that the property line is somewhere between each party’s argued position. Depending on the properties at issue, this could be a good solution, or a dangerous one. It’s no secret that property values are astronomically high–and only getting higher. Conceding any amount of your property in a legal settlement could be costly.

These kinds of cases require fast action in order to best protect your property. They also require experienced trial lawyers who know how to gather the necessary evidence to prove your case. If you have a boundary, or other property dispute, contact Hepworth & Associates today.

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