Neighborly Disputes: How to Handle Property Line Issues
Encroachment describes any situation where one person is using or building on another person’s property. Generally, such disputes occur over neighboring properties where exact property lines may not be clearly defined or easily visible.
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On its face, encroachment isn’t a particularly tough concept for smart investors to grasp. The basic legal definition is fairly straightforward.
Now that said, encroachment in reality is far more complex than this basic definition. Here’s what you, the savvy BiggerPockets-reading real estate investor, need to know.
What Does Encroachment Look Like in Real Life?
Encroachment disputes in reality are almost as old as human civilization. For as long as we’ve had concepts of “my land” and “your land” (or even “public land” vs. “private land”), we’ve had disputes around such distinctions.
Fortunately, you don’t have to defend your private property by brute force with a small army. But it’s helpful to understand that encroachment can manifest itself in a few ways.
Here are some common examples of encroachment issues you may encounter:
- Someone building directly on your property.
- Someone building a structure that extends onto your property.
- Someone routinely trespassing on property, whether for a particular purpose or not.
- Someone abusing a valid easement. Easements are legal means of allowing another person access to your land, assuming they are progressing to another structure. Homeowners with, for example, public beachfront property may have easements that allow neighbors or even the general public the specific right to use a certain area for traveling to and from the beach. The point is there’s a reason the person is on the property, and it is generally for a short period.
It shouldn’t take much imagination to see how a person abusing their simple access to an easement can make a homeowner’s life difficult. Encroachments and easements are not the same. By definition, the former isn’t agreed upon. And yes, an easement may even be a solution to a potential encroachment, if appropriate.
What Can I Do About Encroachment on My Property?
You have options for handling encroachment situations. They need not all end in bitter litigation.
While there are certainly cases where it may be wise to avail oneself of legal remedies, de-escalating the conflict is often a more direct means of solving the underlying problem.
Below are potential solutions to encroachment. Please note that these are just some possible actions you can take. Which are best for you is a subject to discuss with an attorney you trust.
Ways to handle encroachment:
- Define your property line with a formal survey. This course of action allows you to establish that you are making a good faith effort to ensure you really are dealing with encroachment.
- Negotiate, if you feel the other party is amicable. People can be much more reasonable than we give them credit for. It may be helpful to actually look at the situation from the other party’s perspective and determine if there’s a compromise you can live with. If, for instance, your property is between a popular destination and a neighbor’s property, you may have the legal right to work it out between yourselves and even make a profit off of your desirable location. But before you do anything like that…
- Get at least one professional opinion. A proper expert can not only help you negotiate this situation but also assist with any blind spots you may have missed. If you can bounce your plan off of a fellow investor and an attorney, you’ll be in a better position than the investor who did neither.
Bottom Line: Get a Real Estate Lawyer’s Help
Now, I certainly hope you’re reading this for purely educational purposes as a continued part of your personal enrichment as an investor. But if this subject is a little closer to home for you, don’t shy away from getting some help.
Whether you’re being accused of encroachment or believe your property has been encroached on, neither of these positions is a time to try to play the part of your own counsel. Major real estate disputes (and especially threats of legal action) are compelling reasons to get a qualified real estate attorney’s opinion of your circumstances and what to do next.
There is no substitute for legal counsel, particularly not this article. But if you’re free of this worry, that’s great.
Do you have any other questions about encroachment? Are you currently dealing with an encroachment-related situation?
Let me know in the comment section below.