In a Property Dispute, Land Owners Need to Ask the Right Questions
Nextdoor is a neighborhood social media tool that is great for getting a recommendation for a plumber from your neighbors, selling your unwanted patio furniture, or reporting a lost dog. It also features a discussion forum that can often get heated. That was the case recently on the subject of an easement. It demonstrated (again) how little people understand property rights and the value of the services of a licensed surveyor.
Accusations were flying about the mayor of a neighboring community and the actions (or inaction) of the city council on a matter involving an easement and a private road and bridge. Residents had lost access when the bridge was closed for safety reasons. The argument then ensued about who was responsible for maintenance of the the bridge and repairs to the road. The city had “opened an ‘access easement’” to allow residents access to their property, according to the discussion. The city then determined the cost to affected residents to repair the bridge and proposed what was likely an assessment but was described by the individual posting as an increase in property taxes over a 20-year period.
Being a curious observer, I read through the posts. What caught my attention was the statement that the road had been recognized as a private road for over 60 years and then the comment that each person who had purchased a home in the landlocked area was granted an easement.
I went to the county archive and looked up the property records for the parcel owned by the person who started the discussion. The legal description began at the “southeasterly corner” of a parcel conveyed in a deed dated 1959. The description then follows a line that runs northerly along an easterly line for 120 feet. The description continues, and seems pretty easy to follow. I dug a little deeper and found the deed from 1941 which references specific locations for “iron pins” and lays out the boundaries in metes and bounds descriptions. That description also refers to an 1874 deed. This legal description appears to refer to a larger piece of real property. This is getting closer to the place where the real inquiries should start.
The argument is moving backwards. It is starting with “What I believe” and “What I think I know” instead of going back to the original documents and following the footsteps forward to the present. The one thing I know from working at POB is that, if this were my issue, I would need a knowledgeable professional. Before I start a fight with the city, I’d want to know what I was fighting for (and what I was fighting over). What do I own, and to what am I entitled? And, before I pay a tax or assessment, what are my responsibilities and what can I expect?
POB’s goal is to help professional land surveyors increase their knowledge and skills. The reason we have Jeff Lucas and Kris Kline and a number of guest columnists is because the value this profession delivers is not just placing an accurate line on the earth, it is in protecting property rights. The line is just a product of that process. Now, how do I tell an angry property owner to focus on the right questions?
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