It can be rather common for two neighboring property owners to have a dispute over the precise location of the boundary line between their two parcels of land. A boundary line, or property line, is like an invisible line that defines your property on where it begins and where it ends. When neighbors have a property line dispute, it usually means that one neighbor has crossed this invisible line.
There are two main types of property line disputes:
Encroaching: This is when a neighbor builds a structure that crosses over the property line. The most common form is a fence.
Trespassing: This is when a neighbor knowingly occupies a neighbor’s property. Trespassing is a deliberate crossing of the line without having rights to the property.
Generally, the physical invasion of the property of another individual is considered to be a trespass because it involves the intrusion of a physical object onto another individual’s property.
The key is to deal with the situation immediately. The first step is to talk with your neighbor and explain the situation. If you and your neighbor are on good terms, talk to them calmly and respectfully. Ask to compare deed copies if the neighbor doesn’t agree with your assessment. The exact wording on the deeds should tell you where the property lines are. If the two of you come to an agreement, you should get that agreement in writing to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding that may arise in the future.
Note: Throughout every step of the process, it is critical to document everything from the beginning with responses your neighbor makes. It is also important to have witnesses that will be willing to back up what was said during these meetings.
Consult a Property Surveyor
If the deeds do not pinpoint the exact property line, and you and your neighbor cannot reach an agreement, then you should agree to pay for a licensed property (or land) surveyor to come out to your property so the exact boundary can be pinpointed. You can ask the neighbor to help pay for this service but they are not obligated to do so. The surveyor will use specialized equipment to create an accurate map of your property. This should be able to determine how much property your neighbor is encroaching on. A licensed surveyor can act as a legal arbiter for a potential court case.
Review Local Property Laws
In Florida, there are no statutory rules to define and regulate boundary fences at the state level. Instead, the local ordinances (city, county, and town) have specific rules to govern boundary fences. For instance, local fence ordinances usually regulate height, location, material used, and appearance. In addition, other zoning laws might have been broken by your neighbor, depending on where you live. An attorney may help you to discover property laws that your neighbor has violated, which will strengthen your case.
Attempt Mediation or Negotiation
Some boundary disputes can be resolved with minimal help, but others require legal assistance. An attorney can help you with negotiations before you take the neighbor to court. Negotiation is the least costly of all methods of resolving a dispute, but it is not always successful. If one or more parties refuse to budge on their stance, negotiations will eventually break down.
Mediation is the next level of negotiation where a third party works with the parties on an agreement and resolution. This neutral third party will talk to each side privately and attempt to find areas of agreement that can lead to a settlement. This works well in some cases because the parties are able to manage the negotiation process in a less volatile, more proactive manner, alongside the neutral mediator whose goal is to reach a suitable outcome for all.
File a Civil Lawsuit
If negotiation and mediation fail to reach a satisfactory outcome, then your next step is to file a civil lawsuit against the party that interfered with your property. This is where your documentation throughout this process becomes extremely important.
There are two main types of lawsuits when it comes to resolving boundary disputes:
Ejectment (aka Continuing Trespass Action): In this lawsuit, you are asking the court to find that your neighbor trespassed on your land and they must be ordered to stop immediately. Your neighbor must remove the structures or possessions from your land. If you can show the court that your property has diminished due to the trespass, you may be awarded damages.
Declaratory Judgment: In this type of lawsuit, the judge makes a legal determination as to whom the land belongs. This type of suit is much less litigious because there are no monetary damages involved.
Seek an Injunction from the Court
The litigation process in property disputes can frequently take some time to get resolved. What can you do in the meantime? Uncertainty can sometimes cause escalated temperaments between the parties, which can easily get out of hand. Because there is always the threat of harassment or violence from unresolved issues, the law empowers courts to temporarily determine the parties’ rights so that peace can be kept. An injunction is an order by a court to a party to do, or not do, something. Violation of an injunction can result in sanctions against the violator or even criminal liability for contempt of court. In most cases, an injunction is utilized to maintain the status quo so that the protected party does not suffer irreparable harm.
It is important to note that an injunction is not a final determination of the merits of the case, and parties should treat it as such.
You Have Legal Recourse
No one wants to find themselves in a property line dispute with their neighbor, but it is a rather common occurrence. Boundary disputes can be contentious and may involve complex legal maneuvering in order to be effectively resolved. It is essential that you know your options if you find yourself in this situation and hire a knowledgeable attorney as soon as you realize there’s a problem.
I’m Rob Robinson, and my number one priority is to understand your property line dispute and proficiently guide you to success. There are a lot of facts and legal considerations that need to be addressed to resolve boundary disputes in Florida, and I will help you explore your options and ensure that your property is protected. As a solo practitioner, I can provide assurance that your legal matters are handled with individualized care and attention.
Please contact my office as soon as possible so we can discuss your property line dispute in detail.