How to Handle a Property Line Dispute with Your Neighbor
Updated: Jan 3
To determine who is the owner of an area of land:
Check the legal description of your land
Hire a surveyor to see if your land is within the area defined by the legal description
Make sure you have good title
See if there are any easements on the property
See if you or anyone else has acquired title by adverse possession, or has acquired a prescriptive easement.
If you don’t know what some of the above terms mean, you are not alone. I’ll explain these terms in more detail, below.
The Bible says, “You must not move your neighbor’s boundary marker, set up by former generations, on the property that will be allotted to you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.” (Deuteronomy 19:14) The fact that this verse exists in the Old Testament (written over 3,000 years ago) shows that property line disputes have existed since ancient times. These disputes are still with us today. But how do you handle a property dispute? We’ll explore how various Oklahoma laws affect your property line disagreements with your neighbor.
Determining property boundaries
When you purchased your property, you likely received a deed. On this deed is the legal description of your property. For an example of what a legal description looks like, here is the legal description of the property where my office sits:
LOTS 2 AND 3, IN BLOCK 49, IN THE ORIGINAL TOWN OF BARTLESVILLE, WASHINGTON COUNTY, OKLAHOMA.
Notice how this legal description is very precise. You can hire a surveyor, and the surveyor can visit your property, and take measurements. The surveyor will also examine the legal description, and determine if the area that you think is your property, is actually within the boundaries listed on the legal description.
Is the deed valid?
Even if you can establish that all of the area that you believe to be your property is within the area specified in the legal description on the deed (or even if you cannot establish this) that doesn’t end the inquiry. Your deed (or your neighbor’s deed) might be invalid. For example, the person who conveyed the property to you (or to your neighbor), might not have actually owned the property he conveyed. If a person signed a deed, and conveyed property that he did not own, the deed is called a wild deed.
To see whether you have a wild deed, you will have to check the abstract of your property. An abstract is a collection of documents that record all transactions that relate to your property, from the time the property was first conveyed by the government, up to the present time. So, if someone conveyed property that he did not actually own, an abstract will show this.
To see the abstract of your property, contact your local abstract company. If there has not been an abstract of your property completed, the abstract company will have to build an abstract. If there has been an abstract completed on your property, but the abstract has not been updated to the present day, the abstract company will have to update the abstract.
To find out more about abstracts, click on my earlier post here; You can also visit these websites of the two abstract companies in Washington County: Musselman Abstract and Southern Abstract.
After the abstract company has updated the abstract, take the abstract to a real estate attorney to issue a title opinion. The attorney will look at the abstract, and see if you have good title to the property. Good title means that you actually own all the property that you believe you own, and that the person(s) who conveyed the property to you, actually had the authority to convey the property. If there was a wild deed, you may not have good title. For more information about the writing of title opinions, click here.
An abstract will also tell if there are any easements on your property. An easement is an authorization for other persons to travel across your property for a certain purpose. For example, your neighbor may have an easement that allows him to travel across your property to get to his property. Or, you may have an easement that allows you to travel across your neighbor’s property to get to your property.
In a property line dispute, the law of adverse possession may also come into play. Under the law of adverse possession, if you possess another person’s land for a certain number of years (15 years, in Oklahoma) and the record owner takes no legal action to stop the possessor from possessing the land, then, you become the owner of the land.
To acquire title by adverse possession, the possession must be:
Open and notorious. The possession must be sufficiently visible to put the owner on notice, that you are possessing the land.
Actual. You must actually possess the land.
Exclusive. You must not share the land with the owner of the land – you must possess the land exclusively, without the owner possessing the land also. (If two or more persons possess the land exclusive of the owner for 15 years, the two or more persons may become owners of the land as tenants in common. To find out more about tenancy in common, click here.)
Continuous. You must possess the land continuously, not intermittently, for 15 years.
Hostile. You must possess the land without the owner’s permission. Hostile does not necessarily mean anger or malice.
If the owner of the land was a minor, or in prison, or mentally incompetent when the period of adverse possession began, then, the period of adverse possession does not begin to run until the owner becomes an adult, is released from prison, or gains mental competence.
If possession meets all of the elements of adverse possession, then, you become the legal owner of the land after the end of the statutory period. You may go to court, and ask a judge to declare you the legal owner of the property.
A prescriptive easement is an easement acquired by adverse possession. That is, if you have traveled across another person’s property for at least 15 years, and your travel across the property was open, notorious, actual, exclusive, continuous, and hostile, and the owner was not under any incompetence or imprisonment at the beginning of the 15 years, then, you have acquired a prescriptive easement. A court may declare that you are the holder of a prescriptive easement.
Do you have a property dispute with your neighbor?
The law of property is very complicated, as you can see from this post. We’ve only scratched the surface of the issues that can come up in property disputes. If you have a property dispute with your neighbor, and you are puzzled over certain issues, it may be helpful to hire legal counsel to help you.
The Persaud Law Office is available to assist you if you have a property dispute. If you hire us, we will attempt to settle the issue out of court, without going to trial. We may take the case to mediation. Settling a case is often preferable to going to court. If your property case is settled out of court, the parties may sign a memorandum, and file the memorandum with the county clerk’s office. The memorandum on file with the county clerk’s office, will be a legal record as to who owns what property, and will ensure that you have legal title to the property.
Studies show that the majority of civil cases are settled out of court. The Persaud Law Office will go to court only if it is absolutely necessary. If we do go to court, a judge will rule as to who is the rightful owner of what property. To find out what a contested court case is like, click here.
If you need help in your property dispute, give us a call today.
Photo credit Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 Generic