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Sight Lines: Out of Bounds

September 2, 2009
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It is the surveyor’s job to find boundary discrepancies. But there is a human side of the equation that has to be considered along with all of the maps and monuments. Is it right to “follow the footsteps of the original surveyor” if it means disturbing subsequent surveys that have long been held as correct? What if doing so negatively affects an entire community?



I received a letter a few weeks ago from a homeowner who had a bone to pick with a surveyor. The homeowner-we’ll call him Bill-had recently settled a six-year-old lawsuit with his neighbor over his property boundary lines and right-of-way.

Bill was not the only person involved. The neighbor-whom we’ll call Julie-had moved into the subdivision and tried to build a fence around her property. Another of Julie’s neighbors claimed she was encroaching on his lot lines, so Julie hired a surveyor. Based on that surveyor’s findings, Julie sued two of her neighbors, including Bill, claiming that their boundary lines and rights-of-way were wrong and that they were trespassing on her property. The original subdivision map dated back to the 1920s.

The court decided against Julie in one case after an expert witness testified that the method used by the defendant’s surveyor of occupying interior monuments placed by other surveyors in the 1960s and harmonizing them with other surveys in the area was a proper method of survey and the one he would have used under the circumstances. Julie’s surveyor disagreed. Going back to the original map, the surveyor had documented what he believed were errors in the more recent surveys and had established new boundaries based on proration.

Bill said that the surveyor’s solution “had a domino effect” in the subdivision, with several property line battles continuing even after the first case was decided. In the end, however, no lot lines were moved.

“What an ordeal!” he says. “Six years of time and money spent. Six years of arguing with my neighbor. Nothing on the ground changed. What a big waste.”

I can see his point. I have seen neighbors fighting with neighbors over property lines, and it is never pleasant. In my own small subdivision several years ago, three homeowners moved after a bitter dispute in which one homeowner’s survey revealed that she actually had far more property than what she was claiming. She built her new fence accordingly, and the three other homeowners lost most of their backyards. I don’t know whether any of the homeowners took their case to court. Regardless, it is the surveyor’s job to find such discrepancies.

But there is a human side of the equation that has to be considered along with all of the maps and monuments. Is it right to “follow the footsteps of the original surveyor” if it means disturbing subsequent surveys that have long been held as correct? What if doing so negatively affects an entire community?

In Bill’s case, he notes that “the current location of my boundary and peace of my community can be easily traced back 60-plus years to nearby monuments and development. Ironically, the surveyor rejected, ignored and/or minimized all of this evidence of establishment.” By going back to the original map, the surveyor was just doing his job, and there are many who believe that his methodology was correct. Others, including Bill, disagree.

Nevertheless, Bill’s point in writing the letter is worth considering. “To the readers of your magazine, let this be a reminder of how important existing boundary lines are to owners,” Bill admonishes. “Tread carefully before you disturb them, and be a problem solver not a problem maker.”


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