This summer, a project supervisor employed by a company for whom I provide survey support called and asked for a favor. At this time, I am turning down small lot surveys unless there is an existing business connection, an interesting project, or I feel sorry for the potential client. Generally, I will ask what their survey need is and refer them to surveyors whom I believe will provide the help they require.

John (Lot A) informs me that his need is immediate, but my schedule is beyond full. Because there is a connection through the work I perform for his employer, I decide to take on the job and ask for more information. Apparently his neighbor (Lot B) had an existing blacktop driveway that was over the property line and therefore partly on John’s property. What has pushed the issue is the neighbor repaving the driveway and adding more blacktop than the previous overlap and thus has increased the problem. Also, the lot is now under contract for sale. John wants to have the owner and the prospective owner understand that the driveway is encroaching.

I know several competent land surveyors with many years of experience who express the view that when they hear a client talk about neighbor conflicts and suspect a law suit in the works they decline the job. One said, “I just don’t need that kind of trouble.” The other said, “I don’t want to take on anything that will drag me into court. That’s a big waste of time.” Both of them, like myself, would rather work than wait while lawyers practice law. When we practice surveying on a small lot it may take up to a day and a half, while a lawyer is paid by the hour and they could be charging in five-minute increments at three times our rates.

One of the aforementioned surveyors told me a story of his first and last visit to a certain lawyer. It was for business reasons, and the lawyer welcomed him into the office and sat him down and slapped a big time clock to start the session. It was on the desk facing the surveyor so he could see how his dollars were tick, tick, ticking away. The surveyor immediately got up and said, “You’re not the lawyer for me.” I believe that land surveyor knew he could make more money if he kept doing what he loved and did best. Over the years he did go into court, but he generally exercised his ability to limit his exposure to legal proceedings.

Back to the problem driveway, which is on the left side of John’s lot. There are no existing monuments on that line, but there is a magnetic signal where I believe the pin should exist under the blacktop. At the rear of that line is a tall 2-inch-diameter pipe that may have been driven over the corner, but I cannot pull out that tall pipe to see if a marker exists under it (I tried). I have found the pipes on the right side of John’s property and many pins, pipes and a concrete monument on the lots to the right. The markers for the lots on the right fit well with the deed/plan dimensions.

All the lots on the street are 50 feet wide and were developed back in the 1930s and the deeds written as lots on a plan of subdivision by a surveyor long gone. All of the lots run along the middle of the road, so I am dealing with rear corners and property line markers set on or near the right-of-way line. With all the subsequent utilities installed in the street, the original corner spikes or nails in the road are gone.

A pin exists at the left front corner of the neighbor’s lot and, if I were to measure from that pin 50 feet across his lot, there would be a 0.28-foot overlap. Going another 50 feet further away is a battered and bent pin. In my opinion, the original surveyor used pipes.

On my return trip, the neighbor is cleaning out his belongings in preparation for the sale of the property. My plan to use a drill to dig a hole in the driveway in search of the cause of the magnetic signal has been thwarted. I just could not dig up his new pavement while he was there, even though I knew, by experience, a monument existed and would work well with what I expected. I felt an existing monument would speak for itself and firm up my argument. The owner came out and began a discussion about his other corner. Again, these are actually points on the property lines set near the right-of-way line. The neighbor insisted that his other lot corner be held and he have his full 50 foot width.

During the conversation, he brought up the name of the surveyor who set the corner he insisted be held and we talked more. Then he let me know the fact that the other surveyor was working for the lot on his left and not for him. So, the neighbor sits between the survey I am performing and the one done 13 years ago. This is helpful information because I phone that surveyor and he generously opens his old computer file and looks over the survey. Although it was done by the company he works for, he was not with the firm at that time, but he understands the notes and reasoning for their pins and why they were set where they were. Let’s call my survey lot A, the neighbor lot B and the neighbor’s neighbor (by the other surveyor) lot C.

The surveyor for lot C is happy to email me the computer file for his survey. From the CAD drawing I can deduce that what I found as a bent pin was straight in 2003 and was held for line and the matching rear corner held as the deed corner and they came across 50 feet and called it a day. There was also a location of a pin near the right of way and on the lot line of lot A and B, the location of my magnetic signal. Their survey had detailed a shortage of distance for lot B. The surveyor told me that in 2003 their company probably used nails with ribbon and they most likely do not exist now.

I found their nail with ribbon and several of their old mag nails, and so I could reproduce their work and from their survey, reset a marker where the pin they found at or near the right of way for lots A and B had been documented. I did this by driving a mag nail into the fresh inch and a half of new pavement. After showing the neighbor my work and explaining it was based on the other surveyor’s location of a pin, which his new blacktop had covered, he was unhappy but satisfied that it was correct. I moved my mini mag nails set on the property line onto the line using the reset point from the records of the other surveyor’s field work. It moved the point from where I was going to set it to a location 0.12 feet into my client’s property. The neighbor and owner of lot B was still shorted 0.16 feet in width.

A few days afterward, my client informed me that the neighbor had saw-cut the line I set and asked me for an invoice. The portion of driveway removed was a long wedge and about 8/10 at the right of way and tapering back for about 30 feet. Apparently, they were going to split the cost of my services. Since it was a fixed fee, the more time spent meant the less I was making per hour. On jobs like this, I forget about time and just do the work correctly and try to leave the site in peace.

Try though we may, there will be projects when our lines can fuel issues. At a company I worked for in Missouri, a party chief was called to stake a property line between fighting neighbors. When the chief informed the client that he was ready to mark the line in question, which fell a few feet into the block garage his neighbor was constructing, the client requested a line be painted down the face of the block work. With the local police standing by, the client began to swing a sledgehammer to knock down the blocks, which were on his side of the line. The police told the angry neighbor they could do nothing since the blocks were on our client’s property.

In Delaware I recall setting a monument at the corner of a peanut butter factory, which fell a few feet off the front porch of a house. The chief had to answer the homeowner’s questions when they walked out and asked him what we were doing putting “that thing” in their lawn.

I have had people hire my services in hopes of gaining inches of land and forcing neighbors to move fences. When tempers are hot, we need all the help possible so nobody gets the idea of turning their anger in our direction.

In the case of the driveway dispute, the records and computer files of a company, which might be considered my “competition,” actually served to make my life easier, as well as that of my client and even the neighbor of my client.

Just this last week I had the pleasure of returning the favor.

Surely you have heard the expression, “Don’t burn your bridges.” Even if you are the owner of a surveying business, one day you may be sitting in the office of another firm asking for a job. Then again, you may have another surveyor asking you for a position. If you stay in this profession for the long haul, it’s best to lend another surveyor assistance in firming up the foundation of any bridge you may one day need to cross. Remember, those bridges will help you reach them when you are in need of help, so extend a welcome to others today.

When we work in harmony with other land surveyors sharing information, records and advice, the give and take between companies can benefit all.