Solving Boundary Line Issues
Some of these disputes involve the interpretation and location of easements. These kinds of disputes can be minimized by careful drafting of the easement in the first place. Better to hire a lawyer to craft the easement now, than to get involved in a lawsuit later when your neighbor sells to someone else, who has a different interpretation of easement than what you had thought it said. If you have a disagreement over a boundary line talk to a lawyer sooner rather than later, so you don’t lose any rights simply by the passing of time.
Other times, disputes arise because prior surveys were not quite accurate, or even because roads have been straightened or otherwise modified. For example, if you had 10 houses on a slight “S” curve of a roadway, with each house having 100 feet of frontage, and then the town came through and straightened the road, you may now have a shorter total of 990 feet of road frontage for these ten houses: In such a case, who loses the ten feet of frontage? In cases like this, sometimes “Boundary Line Agreements” make sense, where everyone recognizes the reality of the circumstances, and agrees to adjust the boundary lines accordingly, by voluntary and reasoned agreement, involving a surveyor and attorney, in order to avoid contentious and expensive litigation. This Agreement is filed at the County Clerk’s Office, where it becomes part of the chain of title, and resets the description contained in the Deed.
Neighbors neither like nor love one another if they become embroiled in a boundary line dispute that quickly escalates into something akin to open warfare. While boundary lines are normally going to be those set forth in the description of property contained in your deed, there are times when the boundary may end up being different than the one reflected by a survey.
In New York, there is a legal principle known as the "doctrine of practical location." The so-called "practical location" of a boundary results from a long acquiescence by neighbors in a clearly demarcated line understood by them-for over 10 years-as being the actual dividing line of their land. If this acquiescence continues for over 10 years, then regardless of what the deeds says or what a survey ends up determining, this demarcated line can end up being the actual boundary line.
In Jakubowicz v. Solomon, a New York case decided in 2013, the plaintiffs sued the defendant asserting that the defendant's driveway encroached upon their property. It was demanded that the driveway be removed. In support of their position that the driveway was located on their property, the plaintiffs relied upon the description of the property lines set forth in the parties' deeds. The defendant argued that, notwithstanding what the deeds said, a hedgerow and chain-link fence demarcated the true boundary line under the "practical location" doctrine.
A motion for a summary judgment was made by the plaintiffs who argued that, based upon the deeds, they were entitled to a decision in their favor without the necessity of a trial. The trial court found that a trial was warranted. A New York appellate court reviewed the decision and concluded that the trial court was correct. The Appellate Court found that the evidence suggested that the parties' predecessors in interest may well have acquiesced in making the location of the hedgerow and chain-link fence the boundary line.
Accordingly, the appellate court sent the matter back to the lower court for a trial. The Jakubowicz case demonstrates that there are times when neighbors' acquiescence may supersede boundary lines established by a survey.
Importantly, always stay calm and polite when discussing a boundary line issue with a neighbor.
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