As a landowner, knowing the location of your property lines is one of the best ways to avoid disputes with your neighbors.
Property lines, or boundary lines, are the defined points where an owner’s land ends and adjacent property begins. A property owner uses boundary lines to determine where they can legally place items such as fences, driveways, outbuildings such as pole sheds, or anything else. Erecting a structure on or partly on someone else’s land can lead to lawsuits and unpleasant situations with neighbors.
1. Check your deed. The deed contains the legal description of your property, which is basically the dimensions and boundaries of the property in words. For most people, the property description can be difficult to interpret, so you may not find it helpful. However, sometimes the legal description uses landmarks and measurements that you can interpret. If so, measure from the landmarks in the description to the property lines. Mark each corner with a post or other marker. Measure from each post to the next all the way around your property to ensure the measured lines match the deed. By physically measuring the boundaries, you can visually determine where the lines are and avoid entering your neighbors’ land. Be warned: an old description may be based on the location of a tree that no longer exists or a creek that has dried up.
2. Check the official website of the valuation agency in your municipality. Some appraisers have online mapping tools available for all real estate in the area. You can use the maps to find the boundary lines for your property and to determine where nearby landmarks are, such as the eastern line of your street. You can use these landmarks as fixed points to measure from. Use a tape measure or measuring wheel to measure the distance from each of the landmarks to your property line, as shown on the maps.
3. If you don’t have a copy and nothing is available online, go to the county recorder’s office or the appraiser’s office. When you bought your property, you may have received a floor plan showing the property lines and dimensions. If it is not included with your paperwork, please contact your local clerk or surveyor’s office. Ask if maps are available to the public showing your neighborhood and street. Some of these maps may be available online, while others are hardcopy or microfiche copies. Even maps of adjacent properties can be valuable if they show shared property lines.
4. Last but not least, hire a surveyor. The most surefire way to determine legal lines of ownership is to hire a professional. The surveyor can measure and map the property and will generally also mark the corners of the property with stakes. It is always a good recommendation to be present when the surveyor comes to measure your property so that they can review the property lines with you. The cost of a survey depends on your location, lot size and other variables. The surveyor must be licensed by your state and must have professional liability insurance, which can cover you if the surveyor makes a mistake in the survey.