Lopsided Fences: Why Property Surveying Can be Important

Imagine, you finally set aside time for a peaceful getaway to your small house in the Poconos, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but when you finally arrive, something has changed.  Instead of calming isolation, you have a lopsided, makeshift fence.  Now, not a little lopsided, but very lopsided, as in, towards the right we had 20 meters of land, but to left, there was barely 7.

That was my family 3 months ago, but even before realizing our yard’s imbalance, we were shook that we even had neighbors at all, neighbors who made a fence without permission.

Instead of interrogating our new-found neighbors, we went to the housing community organization, who confirmed a few things for us: 1. Yes, we have neighbors 2. Said neighbors were granted expressed authorization for a property surveyor to map the boundaries (see lopsided, makeshift fence), and 3. It was all legally done, without us having to be notified, so our neighbors could begin their construction process.

We weren’t pleased by the lack of notification, but the most unbelievable part of the whole ordeal was the lopsided yard, this 1:3 ratio could not be real.  I called the local county office in hopes of getting answers, but their documentation was dated back to the 1950’s for a property that didn’t even exist anymore, great.  My next move, was to go to the county courthouse for their, more substantive, collection of property surveys, but that would require a 2-hour drive with no guarantee of better documentation.  Rather than potentially wasting time, we decided to hire our own property surveyor.

In disputes like these, legal action is not the first step, especially in our case when we did not know where our property began or ended.  The right move is to hire a property surveyor who will physically mark your boundaries (a new makeshift fence) and map it out in a legal document.  Then, if the two surveyors’ diagrams don’t match, you can either hire a third-party surveyor to map the boundaries, or take legal action, which would still require an independent surveyor to compare and reconcile the boundary differences.

Unfortunately for us, both land surveys matched, and our land was in fact, lopsided, heavily favoring the left.  But, at least we finally knew the real boundaries of our land to prevent any future issues, which is actually very relieving, given how many property disputes in America rely on the accuracy of boundary lines.  Suppose a fruit bearing tree is stuck between a boundary line, that a fence (makeshift or proper) is not accurately spread along, who gets to reap the benefits?  Long story short, knowing your rights concerning property lines is important, especially if it is in a potentially conflict-prone area.

However, hiring a surveyor is not always necessary, many homeowners’ deeds already have the property survey included.  If not, the real estate agency or attorney who conducted the closing services of a property might have additional information.  Moreover, local recorder’s office may have copies of plat map that includes property divisions; or tax assessor’s office, they have tax maps very similar to plat maps.  If those both fail, there may be a survey that was submitted as a part of the building permit for a property, either the county’s building inspector or engineering department will have a copy of these legal boundaries.  Obviously, hiring a property surveyor is an option.  Though it can cost $250-$1,000 – For us it was well worth it compared to time and legal costs associated with the absence of a property survey during a property dispute, which was surely the case for us.

Let us know if you had your own unique experience with property surveying!

*Disclaimer this is not legal advice but the experience of a non-attorney member of the Law Decoder community sharing a personal experience for entertain