by Daniel Peters, Everett Real Estate Attorney
Pitting neighbor against neighbor, boundary disputes can be an incredibly emotional ordeal. Typically these fights arise over a small area of land, oftentimes a strip of land only a few feet wide, but can have a lasting impact on relationships between neighbors. The culprit might be a fence that was not built on the actual boundary line, or the passage of time causing the parties to forget the location of the boundary line. Underlying these disputes is usually the doctrine of adverse possession, which has the potential to grant ownership of land to someone who trespasses on that land for a long enough period of time if they meet certain conditions.
Prosecuting or defending a boundary dispute through the court systems can easily take over a year, and cost tens of thousands of dollars. However, dignity, greed, pride and even vengeance can cause these disputes to go through this process that is almost by definition irrational process – legal fees and other costs can sometimes exponentially exceed the value of the land involved.
Usually the highest toll of these disputes is not on the wallet, but on the relationship between neighbors. When adverse possession rears its head, friendly neighbors can turn into hated enemies – and worse – hated enemies who see each other every day as they come and go from their homes for years to come.
Because boundary disputes can have such a high emotional and financial toll, it is generally best to deal with them early and as cooperatively as possible. Creative solutions can create win-win situations for both neighbors and restore a positive relationship between them. Often parties may be able to consent to an easement or other agreement that will give both parties what they need from the disputed property. Involving an appraiser, mediator or other third party may help the parties arrive at a solution that will work for everyone.
If you are unable to negotiate with your neighbor productively without one or both of you becoming heated, it may make sense to hire a lawyer who will help resolve the situation with considerations to the emotions and the money involved, including the legal costs and fees.