Disputes with your neighbor over trees, fences, or boundary lines in general can be very frustrating. These disputes are sometimes called “trespass claims” or “adverse possession claims” because one neighbor believes the other is a trespasser, while the other neighbor believes the property is theirs because they have been caring for it for years, or because it was shown to them when they bought the property. These disputes can be some of the most complex and contentious matters we handle, due to the mixture of factual analysis, application of details in case law, and the close physical proximity of the parties themselves.
There are legal doctrines that allows for previously established boundary lines to change. One example is an agreement between former owners of both properties. Another example is where one party can establish that there has been open, notorious, hostile, continuous, exclusive, and adverse use of land for a time greater than ten years. Boundary disputes are extremely fact specific, and require consideration of things such as the amount of time one party has owned and used the disputed property, placement of fences and shrubs, who performed lawn maintenance, previous conversations or understandings between owners, and whether there was ongoing use of the property.
TIP! Create a timeline of events related to the property in dispute, beginning with the date you purchased the property and ending with the date the dispute began. Then, fill in details regarding who maintained or improved the property, how often, and the nature of the maintenance or improvement. Be sure to save any written correspondence between the parties, whether formal letters or less formal emails or text messages. Pictures are extremely helpful, as are any surveys of the area. Old photographs, such as a yard showing a birthday party, kids playing in the summer sun, or proud pictures of landscaping or a new fence, can help to establish who made use of a disputed area and for how long.