Property disputes are fairly common in the United States. When different people claim to own the same property, can’t agree on the boundaries between two properties, or have another property-related disagreement, the situation can quickly turn into a difficult legal battle.
The best way to deal with property disputes is often to try to keep them from happening in the first place. Below, we will discuss common types of property disputes, how you can avoid them, and what to do if you are already in a property dispute.
What is a property dispute?
A property dispute is a type of legal dispute that involves real estate. Property disputes often arise from disagreements over property lines, responsibility for repairs on construction, blocked views, rightful ownership, zoning issues, or who is at fault for property damage.
A property dispute can involve any type of real estate, from homes and apartments to empty lots and roads. Many different people can be involved in a property dispute, including:
- Property visitors and trespassers
- Family members
- Homeowners’ associations
- Government agencies
Common types of property disputes
Breach of contract property disputes
Whenever real estate is purchased, sold, or leased, there is a contract involved. Landlords agree to provide repairs and allow the tenant to use the property; tenants agree to pay their rent on time and follow the rules outlined in the lease; homebuyers agree to pay a specific price to the seller in exchange for rights to the property. If someone does not live up to their obligation, they may be found in breach of contract, and the other party can pursue damages for their losses.
Real estate fraud property disputes
Fraud can happen in any industry, including real estate. When a party to a negotiation falsely represents their property and causes another party injury, such as by withholding information about the state of the property, this is considered real estate fraud.
Disputes often arise between neighbors when there is a disagreement about where the property line lies. Often, the property boundaries were never clearly registered, or a practical property line supersedes the legal line.
Some property is owned by more than one person. If co-tenants, joint tenants, or partners disagree on a property issue, a co-owner dispute may arise. For example, a co-owner who pays more than their share of the property expenses may be entitled to assert a lien against the other co-owner’s interest after the property is sold.
Specific performance property disputes
Specific performance property disputes can arise when a party to a real estate contract does not perform a material action outlined in the agreement. Unlike other types of breach of contract disputes, specific performance forces the party in breach to do what they promised rather than merely attempting to resolve the issue with money. Courts usually grant specific performance when the subject of the contract is unique or when the true amount of damage is unclear.
How to avoid property disputes and keep the neighborhood peace
When you’re in the processing of buying or developing a property, there are several actions you can take to avoid future disputes. Here are a few steps we recommend to conscientious property buyers and owners:
Conduct a title search before purchasing property
It’s always a good idea to conduct a thorough title search before purchasing a property to make sure it’s legally clear. Ideally, you should verify and peruse any title documents for the property from the past 30 years. You can also check to see if the property has been approved by leading banks, which usually means the title is clear. Most title searches are conducted by title investigators or advocates.
Double-check the sale deed
Sale deeds are vital documents and should not contain errors. Make sure the dates on the stamp papers and transfer of title documents are correct and match each other.
Get all the required municipal approvals and licenses
If you plan to build on your new property, make sure your plan has all the required approvals from your municipality before moving forward. You may need to obtain licenses for construction work and other aspects of your project from the appropriate government department.
Make sure the sanctioned plan is the same as the built area
This is another crucial step you should take when building on your property. Check to ensure the sanctioned plan is the same as the actual built-up area. If the sanctioned plan does not match the built area, your construction could be illegal.
Be extra careful with inheritances
Many property disputes arise over inheritances. Before you invest in an inherited property, make sure the beneficiary’s name is on the relevant government or revenue records. Ideally, the property will have been transferred with proof of inheritance such as a will, probate, letter of administration, or succession certificate. In situations where there is no will, you should make sure the property was distributed according to succession laws.
Create a contract or written agreement between any other co-owners
Disputes often arise between co-owners when they cannot agree on how to manage their property or when one co-owner pays more of the expenses than the other. To avoid a future legal battle, it’s a good idea to create a contract that spells out how to resolve future disputes, as well as each party’s rights and obligations.
What to do if you’re in a property dispute
If you are in a complicated legal situation that relates to your property, there are several steps you can take. We suggest you begin by doing your best to understand the problem and talk with the other party; if you can’t easily resolve the issue, you may wish to hire an attorney.
Property disputes over small, less expensive areas of land can often be resolved outside of court. Ideally, both parties can be civil around each other and come to a resolution without a costly legal battle. Many would-be legal disputes turn out to be simple misunderstandings.
It’s a good idea to hire an attorney if your property dispute cannot be resolved without legal action. A real estate attorney can help you send an appropriate demand letter to request action from the other party, file a complaint, and prepare for litigation if necessary. You can resolve your case through either a “quiet file,” in which you ask the court to consider all your evidence and arguments to decide who owns the land, or through litigation or mediation.
For more information about dealing with property disputes, check out our recent posts on when to hire a real estate lawyer, buying and selling a home, and real estate litigation.