Working in Real Estate Law in beautiful Greater Minnesota with a proud reputation for simply being nice, I often wondered why a Real Estate attorney would ever be necessary to resolve boundary line disputes. However, I quickly discovered that Greater Minnesota is inundated with confusing property lines, complex legal descriptions, and unclear boundaries. Many times the layout of the land is the true culprit to a property line dispute as opposed to neighbors not getting along.
What is the most prudent course of action when a property line dispute arises with your neighbor? If you are lucky and the circumstances are fitting, you may be able to resolve the dispute without having to hire an attorney. The first recommended action may sound simple but is often disregarded: communicate with your neighbor. For example, perhaps you have been struggling for the past year wondering why your neighbor mows five feet into your lawn. In those circumstances, a simple neighborly conversation may resolve the confusion and encourage the neighbor to not encroach onto your lawn if it is a concern of yours. However, what happens when the friendly conversation turns into a dispute over where exactly the property line is located? Most of the time a survey can resolve such a dispute, but not when the survey reveals overlapping boundaries. The discovery of overlapping boundaries is a situation that can ultimately lead to a bitter property line battle.
If boundary lines overlap, both properties have title issues that must be resolved prior to any attempted sale or transfer of title. If this situation is discovered, you should at least consult with a real estate attorney to learn all of your options in your particular situation. Upon learning that your property line overlaps with your neighbors, you or your attorney should look at the legal description on your warranty deed and confirm with the surveyor that the practical boundary line is the same as the line described in your deed. If it is, then compare the legal description to the one in your title insurance policy. Your title insurance company may have to resolve the issue for you if it insured the line despite the overlap.
If there is a general agreement as to the location of the property line, then you could share costs for a survey company to mark the new boundary and provide a legal description. Then, the neighbor and you could resolve the issue by exchanging quit claim deeds that fix the new boundary line. That is likely the easiest, fastest, and cheapest resolution. There are other options available, but generally speaking, if the neighbor and you cannot agree to exchange deeds, then a lawsuit may be necessary to determine the actual boundary line for your property (legalese: lawsuit causes of action typically involve practical location of a boundary and/or adverse possession).
In the end, communication and treating your neighbor with respect will very likely save you from a devastating and expensive lawsuit as well as years of misery from not getting along with a neighbor.