Like most homeowners, you probably have a general idea of where your property ends and another begins.
You may even have a fence or other barrier to use as a reference.
But are these really the edge of your property? And what if you need to know exactly where the property lines are for a permit or legal suit?
The Importance of Property Lines
Property lines are not always represented by physical barriers, and a fence, shrub, or similar object may be on one property or another. There are numerous legal burdens which are affected by your property line.
For example, if a pedestrian slips on an icy sidewalk by your home, the property line will help determine whether they fell on your property or a neighbor’s. In addition, there are several considerations when dealing with construction projects and neighbor disputes.
Before requesting a permit for a fence, house extension, or other construction project, it is vital to know where your property lines are. This will ensure your project doesn’t cross the line, leading to legal ramifications. Property lines can become more ambiguous when the line is against municipal property, such as a main street or alley.
Finally, knowing the property lines will help when a sewer lateral or other underground structure is damaged and requires professional intervention, as it informs the contractor or agency whether they must contact multiple parties before beginning work.
One of the most common problems caused by ambiguous property lines is neighbor disputes. A fence or other structure which crosses the property line without mutual consent can lead to costly legal feuds.
In addition, you will need to know where the property line is if a neighbor’s plants are crossing over into your yard. Attempting to prune these plants may lead to a dispute unless you are able to prove that the plant has crossed the property line.
Locating Your Property Lines
There are a wide variety of options available to locate your property lines. Most will require you to hand-measure the borders, either to initially locate them or to verify they are the correct size.
Many local assessment offices now offer online mapping tools on their official websites. These maps show where property lines lie, as well as showing landmarks which you may use as a reference point and the distance between the two. Using a tape measure, you can then measure from the landmarks to where your property lines are.
Your deed contains a written description of the property’s borders. You will need to measure from the listed landmarks to the property line. Drive a stake in at each corner, then check the distances to ensure you have the correct measurements.
Using a deed to find the property lines may be one of the most traditional DIY methods but it also has several key drawbacks. For example, your home might be listed as a parcel in a larger development, or given a lot extension number. In other cases, it may have originally been part of a larger property’s boundaries and later made into a separate plot. In these cases, you will likely need to reference your property’s plat.
Another common drawback to deeds is that they provide a written description that relies upon landmarks. Over time, trees are cut down, the beds of waterways can change shape, course, or dry up completely. Flooding and other natural disasters may shift, bury, or uproot other landmarks. For these reasons, your deed is a good starting point but is not the best option for mapping out your property’s borders.
Hiring a Surveyor
The most accurate and costly method of determining your property lines is to hire a surveyor. These professionals will map out the property, mark the property’s corners, and show you where the property line is. This may be a necessary step following a natural disaster where there is extensive damage or an altered landscape.
When hiring a surveyor, make sure they are licensed within your state and have professional liability insurance. This insurance will protect you in the event the surveyor makes a mistake in identifying your property line.
Modern surveyors make use of GPS and CAD technology to make more precise measurements than their predecessors.
As the cost of a professional survey varies, it is best to shop around for one which best fits your needs and has a good reputation.
If you purchased your home, you may have been given a map of the property, called a plat, in the paperwork. The plat provides property lines and measurements, making it easier to follow than your deed’s description. In cases where the deed is vague or you do not have the plat, you will be able to view the master plat at the local public records office.
This document is especially useful if your home was built as part of a larger development. In such cases, the developer sometimes makes one plat for the entire development and maps out the individual property lines within.
Some municipalities and development firms mark the corners of a property using property pins. These are two to three foot pieces of rebar which are embedded into the ground and then capped. Once installed, further landscaping may be placed over them. If you suspect your home has property pins in place, you can locate them by using a simple metal detector.
The process of locating plot pins becomes easier if you obtain a copy of the engineer’s survey (also known as a plot plan). Referencing this document should bring you within a few feet of the pin.
Note that you should always consult with a surveyor if it appears the property pin has been damaged or shifted.
The county recorder’s office can be a valuable resource in your search. These offices have maps which you may be allowed to reference or even copy, showing the property lines. This data is similar to that provided to the assessor, although the recorder’s office may also have copies of deeds and plot plans publicly available.