Overstepped lines: A legal overview of California boundary disputes

In northern California, land is a precious resource. For homeowners, developers, business owners and anyone else with involvement in real estate, it is very important to get full use of duly purchased land.

Yet, sometimes neighbors overstep their bounds onto your land, or believe that you are encroaching on theirs. Boundary disputes are more common than you might think in Northern California, and when they arise, the right legal assistance could be the only way to achieve your desired result.

Why might a boundary dispute occur?

One of the most common reasons for a boundary dispute is the misinterpretation of barrier-type features like fences, hedgerows or power lines. Physical divisions are often taken as an apparent boundary, even though they may not match surveyed property lines. Even when a survey has been performed and everyone involved is acting in good faith, neighbors can act under an erroneous assumption as to the location of the property line.

Of course, sometimes property owners deliberately cross the line into their neighbors' territory. Whether done in hostility or pursuant to an implicit agreement, this situation can be legally problematic.

Courts may look at fairness, legal documents, agreed-upon boundaries

Boundary disputes are among the most frequently litigated issues involving California property law. Even so, there is no easy formula for resolving them, and California courts may take a number of approaches.

For many years, California courts favored a "fairness and common sense" standard in boundary dispute cases that weighed the relative hardships that would be suffered by each party depending on the outcome. Under this standard, even if a neighbor was clearly over the property line, if that neighbor would be seriously harmed economically by enforcement of the boundary (for instance, by having to tear down a building) while the property owner would suffer only minimal damages, courts often ignored the "true" property line.

These days, many California courts are moving away from the "fairness and common sense" doctrine and relying more heavily on land surveys and legal descriptions of the land, at least when these types of records are accurate and available. There are still exceptions however; for example, even if an accurate survey exists, if the parties have expressly or implicitly agreed to establish some other boundary line, like a fence that has been in place undisputed for many years, the court may be more likely to enforce that as the boundary line.

Boundary disputes are a complex issue: Contact a California real estate litigation lawyer

If you are facing a boundary dispute with a neighbor, the best option is to get in touch with an experienced California real estate litigation lawyer. Your lawyer may be able to help you resolve the situation through negotiation before resorting to the courts. If litigation becomes necessary, your lawyer will argue persuasively on your behalf and give you the best shot at the outcome you desire. Talk to a California real estate litigation attorney today to learn more about boundary disputes and to explore your legal options.