No one likes property disputes. Most real estate owners and tenants just want to be left in peace to continue what they were doing, whether that was living on a property or constructing a new building. Unfortunately, disagreements often arise about who owns a piece of land, whether a landlord or tenant was holding to their end of the lease, or who should pay for damage.
If you think you may be in a property dispute, you should be prepared for a lot of research, paperwork, and some time with a lawyer. Fortunately, you can often avoid a costly battle in court.
Read on to learn what to do about your situation and what you can expect to happen in the coming weeks and months.
What Is a Property Dispute?
A property dispute is a legal dispute involving real estate. It can involve any type of property, including a home, empty lot, road, commercial building, or even a pond.
Most property disputes arise from disagreements over rightful ownership, responsibility for repairs, zoning issues, or situations where events on one property impact another. For example, a dispute may arise when a new home blocks the view on another property or when there is a disagreement about the property line.
Common Types of Property Disputes
There are many different types of property disputes. Most fall under one of the following categories:
Breach Of Contract
When someone does not live up to their obligation in a contract related to a property, the other party can pursue damages for their losses. For example, if a tenant fails to follow the rules outlined on a lease or a homebuyer does not pay the agreed price to the seller, they may be found in breach of contract under the law.
Real Estate Fraud
Real estate fraud happens when a party intentionally misleads another party in order to get more money or another desired resource out of a negotiation. Common types of real estate fraud include straw buyer schemes, illegal property flipping, and predatory lending.
Boundary disputes can arise between neighbors when they disagree on where the property line lies. These disputes are more likely to occur if the property boundaries were never clearly registered or a practical property line supersedes the legal line.
When more than one person owns a property and they disagree on a property issue, a co-owner dispute arises. For example, there may be a property dispute if the co-owners cannot agree on whether to sell the property, hold it for investment, or improve it.
A specific performance property dispute can arise in some situations when one of the parties to a real estate contract does not perform an agreed-upon material action. The court may grant specific performance to force the party in breach to do what they promised rather than simply attempting to resolve the issue with money, as with other types of breach of contract disputes.
What to Do When You’re In a Property Dispute
When you are in a property dispute, you need to take steps to resolve the problem. Ideally, you will be able to talk through the problem with the other party so you can come to an agreement without a legal battle. Sometimes property disputes turn out to be simple misunderstandings.
Unfortunately, many legal disputes are too complicated to be resolved outside of court. If you are unable to resolve the property issue on your own easily, we recommend the following steps:
Gather Information For Your Case
To effectively argue your case, you will need to gather the facts about the property in question. That means finding any relevant documents and potentially taking photographs of property damage.
To find the right documents, you may need to complete a full title search on your property. A title search will find every document related to your property. In some cases, you may also need an appraiser to determine the property’s market value and prepare a report that can be used in legal settings. Some of these steps may have been taken when you purchased the property, but you will need to have these searches redone if you go to trial.
In case of a boundary dispute, you will need to get an analysis from a licensed surveyor or another expert who can determine whether you or your neighbor is encroaching on the other’s land. A surveyor can determine how much land is being encroached on, how long this has been happening, and whether permission was given.
Many property disputes arise from confusing boundary descriptions in someone’s deeds or an arrangement between previous owners that wasn’t mentioned during a sale. Both parties may have legitimate reasons for their sides in the dispute, which is why it’s essential to find all the information you can to support your side and prepare your case.
Find a Property Dispute Attorney
The right property dispute attorney can make a massive difference in helping you win your case. Rather than hiring the first lawyer you find on Google, you should find a few different property dispute attorneys who appear to have the expertise you need. You can start your lawyer search by asking friends and family members for recommendations, getting a referral from a trusted business associate or another lawyer you trust, or searching in an online service like Nolo.
Once you have found a few lawyers who appear to be a good match for your situation, you can interview them to narrow down your list. Be sure to ask questions about their experience, such as:
- How long have you been practicing property law here? You want to make sure your lawyer knows the ins and outs of your particular type of property dispute.
- Who else would be working on my case? If anyone else will be involved, you may want to meet them and make sure you are comfortable with everyone involved before you decide to hire the team.
- What would be your plan of action? Even before the lawyer has agreed to take on your case, they should have a general plan for how they would handle your case, not just a vague assurance that they will take care of your situation.
- What is your fee structure? You need to know what you are signing up for and when you will need to pay so you can prepare for any future expenses.
- Can you provide references? Any property dispute attorney who is confident in their reputation will be willing to provide you with contacts. From there, you can speak with past clients to learn about their experiences with the lawyer and whether they would recommend them for your case.
How to Settle a Property Dispute
There’s no single way to settle a property dispute. Sometimes, the parties in a dispute can negotiate to come to an agreement without a battle in court. In other cases, you may need to fire a complaint.
If you wish to avoid litigation, consider mediation. A mediator experienced in real estate matters can guide the discussion and provide insight into possible outcomes if your case goes to trial. Most disputes can settle without a trial, but not all, so you would be wise to proceed with settlement in mind while also preparing for litigation.
Does Title Insurance Cover Property Disputes?
Title insurance does not always cover property disputes. However, purchasing title insurance when you buy a piece of property can help you ensure your title is free and clear and reduce the risk of a costly title dispute. In some cases, title insurance companies can help defend you in a boundary dispute.
How to Prevent Future Property Disputes
As with many other issues you may encounter, the best approach to property disputes is often prevention. We recommend that every future property buyer take the following steps to avoid future legal issues:
- Conduct a title search before a purchase. You should always make sure a property is legally clear before you buy it. That generally means asking a title investigator or advocate to conduct a title search for you. We recommend verifying and perusing any title documents for the property from at least the past 30 years.
- Check the sale deed. Sale deeds are vital, and they should not contain errors. Double-check that the dates on the stamp papers and transfer of title documents are correct and match each other to avoid future issues.
- Get proof of inheritance if the property was inherited. Ideally, the property will have been transferred with proof of inheritance such as a will, probate, letter of administration, or succession certificate. If there was no will, check that the property was distributed according to succession laws.
- If there are any co-owners, create a contract. 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. You can avoid these problems by creating a written agreement that spells out each party’s rights, obligations, and how to resolve future disputes.
- Find out if you need municipal approvals or licenses. You may need to obtain a license for construction work and other aspects of your project if you plan to modify your property.
- If you are building on your property, check that the sanctioned plan matches the built area. If these do not match, your construction may be illegal.
With careful precautions and a little luck, you can avoid many potential legal hassles. Everyone involved will appreciate the time you save by putting in the effort to stay on good legal footing from the beginning.
Looking For a Property Dispute Attorney in Western Washington?
The Anderson Hunter Law Firm has been helping clients in the Puget Sound region for over 100 years. We provide full service in real estate matters throughout Snohomish, Skagit, Island, King, and San Juan Counties. If you are looking for an experienced property dispute lawyer to help with your case, reach out to us today.