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Boundary Line Disputes In Real Estate

In this article, I’m going to talk about one of the more common ways we see people address boundary line disputes or encroachment issues. If somebody has, say, a garage or a shed or even a house that’s encroaching from one property onto another, and how they can deal with those issues in a way that’s often a heck of a lot less expensive than getting the court system involved and having potentially a multi-year litigation for thousands of dollars.

What I’m talking about specifically is a boundary line adjustment. Some people might call it a boundary line agreement or boundary agreement, but the basic idea is that people can agree between themselves to move a boundary between properties from one location to another and then have two properties with different, new legal descriptions. In effect, creating two new parcels, but not really. You still have two parcels at the beginning, two parcels at the end, but it’s a way that people can deal with property disputes and bypass what can otherwise be a really headache-filled, heartache-filled and expensive process.

What’s the concept here? Think about two properties, you have a boundary between them. And then often, for whatever reason, things get built. Structures, sheds, roads, drainage facilities. The list can go on and on, of improvements that people make to real property. And those improvements, if people haven’t had survey work done beforehand, or if they are relying on old survey work that might not have been as precise as the standards are nowadays, then they can end up with is a situation where the neighbor wants to build on their property. Or maybe they want to sell or refinance their property, they get a survey done. And then lo-and-behold, it turns out that there’s some kind of encroachment or encroachments on their property. Then there’s suddenly an issue. And that’s where people tend to start calling the lawyers and getting the legal system involved. And, you know, the bills for that type of thing can start to rack up pretty quickly, unless people are able to work out some kind of mutually agreeable solution to a property line dispute.

Depending on the circumstances, the boundary line adjustment can be a great way to do that. Because, at least in Idaho, it’s very simple, straightforward process for the most part. And you know, it costs some money to get survey work done and legal work done. But that would often represent a major savings over what people would otherwise spend, if they want to dispute where the boundary line’s located, and hire expert witnesses, and pay attorneys to go through trial and motions and everything involved with the judicial system.

So how does a boundary line adjustment work in practice? Well, at least here in Kootenai County, we have what’s called a two deed process. And the reason for that is that the Kootenai County code sets forth various exemptions from the requirement to have a plat map done for subdivisions of property, or creation of different developments. In a way, a boundary line adjustment between two or more parcels is like creating a plat map in the sense that you’re outlining parcels and creating new boundaries for properties within the County. Ordinarily, that type of project would require going through an application process with the County, a hearing before the planning and zoning board, maybe even a hearing before the Board of County Commissioners, and a lot of surveying and engineering work to be done that can obviously be expensive in-and-of itself, on top of whatever legal fees are involved.

The Kootenai County code has created an exemption to that process if you’re just adjusting boundaries between a certain number of properties, and if you’re not adding any new properties. In other words, if you have two parcels at the beginning and two parcels at the end, or three parcels at the beginning and three at the end. Then the code will say, at least if you’re not doing any kind of subdivision work that is subject to the requirements to file an application, to get the map done, get the engineering and the surveying, and, and all of that.

How do you do it? Well, to adjust the boundaries between multiple parcels, the first step is going to be to get a licensed surveyor involved to have his or her crew go onto the property or go onto the property themselves, and figure out the legal descriptions of the parcels as they are today if those descriptions aren’t already known. Then figure out how much the boundary needs to be adjusted in order to cure whatever the issue is. In other words, if you’ve got a shed that’s encroaching five feet over a boundary, then you’re going to need to adjust the boundary at least five feet. And probably more than that, if you want to make sure that the shed is in compliance with setback requirements per whatever county or city code is in force, and then create legal descriptions for the parcels as they will be following the boundary line adjustment. Then you can say, we’re doing Deed Number One that’s transferring this portion of the property from one parcel to another. And then Deed Number Two, that is saying, here are the new legal descriptions of the parcels following the boundary line adjustment.

The basic idea is to create a record through the two deeds of what the properties originally were, and then what they are following the boundary line adjustment, and exactly what land is being transferred from one parcel to the other. As part of that adjustment, then both of those deeds need to be signed by all parties involved in the adjustment. In other words, the parcel that’s giving land, the parcel that’s receiving land, and then those signatures need to be notarized, as with any other deed. Then they have to be taken to the county recorder’s office to be filed for public record. So then the public property records will show that these parcels have been adjusted, there are new boundaries for each parcel. And property taxes can eventually be assessed accordingly to the new parcel boundaries that have been created

At TimelyContract.com, we have templates for those boundary line adjustment deeds that we can usually just plug-in the legal descriptions that we get from the professional surveyor, and most of the pertinent deed language is already in our template. So we can handle those projects quickly and efficiently. For the most part, as long as it’s, you know, within the realm of an ordinary boundary line adjustment, we would have the documents to handle that very quickly based on most of those transactions being structured in a similar way.

So I mentioned before that boundary line adjustments can often save people a lot of money over what they would otherwise have to spend in the court system. An example of that is, a few years back, I had a client who was getting survey work done on their property. I forget exactly what the reason was in that instance. But what the surveyor found is that their property bordered one of the larger subdivisions here in the area, and that when that subdivision had been initially surveyed and plotted out and legally described for the purposes of creating the plat of that subdivision for the county records, the surveyor had inadvertently left out this strip of land that was supposed to be included in the subdivision, but due to the way the legal description was written of the real property, it was not.

So there was essentially this gap parcel, this small sliver of land that we called the gap parcel, between my clients’ property and this subdivision. It had a well on it. And so there was some value to it and some value in establishing the ownership of it. And so we conferred with one of the local title companies, found out the successor company to the developer had initially done that subdivision, got their sign-off on a quitclaim deed to my clients’ for this gap parcel, and got the title insurer to sign-off on that. So, then my clients became the owners legally of that gap parcel. They didn’t have to do any quiet title action in court to establish who owned the property. We were able to track down the successor owner and get their sign-off, which was great! And then my clients had two parcels, their original property and the gap parcel with the well on it that they just acquired from the successor to the developer Corporation.

We were able to then do a boundary line adjustment between those two properties to create two new properties, both of which were owned by my clients. Then my clients were able to sell off one of those properties and have the well on that and be usable for both properties in that arrangement, and so they were able to extract a lot of value out of the land, and end up with two properties. Not by doing a subdivision, but by just doing a boundary line adjustment between this sliver of land they had acquired and their original property.

So, there are other ways, depending on what county you’re in, that people can bypass the ordinary subdivision process. I know up in Bonner County, Idaho, at least they have a family exemption, where if there’s a property that’s just housing a family and you’re subdividing it out, subject to certain other requirements, you can, bypass the ordinary requirements, or some of them at least, to file the full application and get approval from the Board of Commissioners. So that can save people money as well. But whenever there’s a property line dispute, or if somebody has a property that they’d like to develop, but maybe it’s not large enough, or maybe they think it’s too large, for whatever reason, and if they own a different property at the same time, then the boundary line adjustment documents can be a really good way for people to solve those issues in a practical way that doesn’t break the bank. At least not compared to what going through a court case might be like, or going through a normal county subdivision application process.

And so if you have a property line dispute, or if you’re thinking about developing or adjusting any properties that you own, then bringing up the possibility of a boundary line adjustment is going to be a smart thing to do, at least be asking about it because, that can really simplify a lot of those issues and make things easier for people.

So I hope that was helpful. I would certainly look forward to talking with anybody who has questions regarding boundary line adjustments, and how they might be abused to them. Thanks.

This episode is sponsored by Timely Contract. Buying real estate is the most complex and important financial transaction in most people’s lives. It’s estimated that over 60% of American wealth resides in the family home. For small- to medium-sized businesses, commercial buildings may be the biggest asset on the company’s balance sheet. When there’s so much on the line, don’t make a mistake on the buy. Know what you’re buying before you sign. And, if you’ve signed, find out exactly what you’ve signed.

At Timely Contract, our primary legal services include: real estate contract review, real estate contract drafting, legal opinions for title insurance exceptions, and research, due diligence, and legal opinions for properties.

At Timely Contract we have local real estate attorneys who have experience throughout Idaho, including: Boise, Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene, Lewiston, Moscow, and Sandpoint.

We also have local real estate attorneys who have experience throughout Montana, including: Missoula, Billings, Bozeman, and Kalispell.

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