Are you in a property dispute with your neighbor? You’re not the only one. It’s not unusual for landowners to get into disputes with adjacent neighbors, even if they have a friendly relationship.
Sometimes a deed description is inaccurate. In other cases, someone may have overestimated the extent of their land and built a fence past their property line. There may even be multiple unrecorded deeds conveying the property to different people.
Regardless of the exact issue, you’re going to need to take action to resolve most serious property disputes. Here is what you need to do.
Understand the Property Dispute
Before you do anything else, make sure you understand the facts regarding the property in question. Nothing can be resolved until all of the facts leading to the current situation are clear.
There may be confusing boundary descriptions in someone’s deed or arrangements between previous owners that weren’t mentioned when you purchased your home. You and your neighbor may both have legitimate reasons for your sides in the dispute.
There’s a small chance that a previous owner granted an easement to their neighbor or even gave the neighbor the deed. This situation would most likely have been brought up if you purchased a title insurance policy covering your property. However, it’s possible that an easement on your property exists without your knowledge.
You’ll need to get analysis from a licensed surveyor or similar expert who can determine whether you or your neighbor is encroaching on the other’s land. The expert will also determine how much land is being encroached on, how long this has been happening, and whether or not permission was given.
You may need to have a survey, appraisal, and full title search completed. In a survey, a licensed surveyor will physically locate the boundary of your land to determine if your boundaries are where you think they are. The title search will find every document related to your property, while the appraisal will tell you the market value of the property.
Some of this may have been done when you purchased the property, in which case you can use the resulting documents. However, if you proceed to trial, you’ll need to have these searches redone.
Talk to Your Neighbor
If the area and value of land are small, you may find it easier to resolve the issue by mutual agreement rather than in court. You don’t want to spend more on litigation than the land is worth. Even if you’re sure the law would find you in the right, it may be better to save the hassle and expense of court.
This works best when you and your neighbor have a good relationship. If you are both friendly or at least civil around each other, you may be able to come to a resolution without going to court. It’s possible you’ll find this was all a simple misunderstanding.
Get an Attorney
Unfortunately, not all property boundary disputes can be resolved without legal action. If private discussions with your neighbor have not produced a resolution both of you can agree on, it’s time to get an attorney.
Anderson Hunter’s attorneys provide professional expertise in local real estate disputes and other legal matters. With over 100 years serving the Everett and Snohomish County area, we are committed to providing members of our community with the best legal representation possible.
Send a Demand Letter
A demand letter from your attorney to your neighbor is the next step toward proceeding to court. This letter will explain the situation, request action, and/or contain an offer to settle, such as a compromise to divide the property at issue.
Your neighbor will most likely send your letter on to his or her attorney. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t willing to negotiate, just that your neighbor wants to know everything they can about the situation and their options.
File a Complaint
If you’re still unable to come to an agreement with your neighbor, file a complaint. Consider a “quiet file,” which means you ask the court to consider all of your evidence and arguments and decide who owns the land.
Preparing for litigation requires a great deal of paperwork. You may also need to do more research, although your attorney will already have most of the information needed at this point. Costs can add up quickly.
If possible, try to keep relationships civil. Most disputes can settle without a trial, so proceed with settlement in mind even as you remain prepared for a possible legal battle.
Consider mediation as a way to reach a settlement. If you find a mediator who is experienced in real estate matters, they will be able to guide the discussion and provide insight into possible outcomes if your case went to trial.
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