Posted in: Homeowner tips

Ask an Edina Realty Lawyer: My neighbor built a fence on my property. What should I do?

White picket fence on property

Homeownership can be complicated, but we also think it's one of the most rewarding ventures out there. In our new series, Ask an Edina Realty Lawyer, we are hoping to demystify some of the trickier aspects of buying, selling and owning a home.

In this edition, one of our lawyers shares how a homeowner should proceed if they find out that a neighbor has built a fence that extends beyond their property line. Please note: This is not intended to provide legal advice.

Dear Edina Realty Legal,

I've recently discovered that my neighbor's fence was built a few feet onto my property. What should I do?

Edina Realty Legal:

Before getting into the potential legal effects and solutions to this problem, let me ask, do you really know that the fence is encroaching upon your property? The only way to truly know about boundary lines and encroachments is through a professional survey. Information obtained from the internet (like map views of your property, even from government mapping websites) are not necessarily accurate.

If your neighbor is, in fact, encroaching on your property, my primary insights have nothing, or very little, to do with the law. As an attorney who has practiced both in-house at Edina Realty and as a litigator in a law firm, I know that boundary line disputes can be some of the most contentious disagreements out there. It's important to remember you may be living next to these people for many years to come and having a poor relationship with your neighbors can be awful.

There are potential legal effects of a neighbor encroaching on your property line that you should understand:

  1. Just because your neighbor has built on your property does not automatically mean that they own part of your property — particularly if you did not consent to the construction and placement of the fence in the first place.
  2. But under a legal principle called “adverse possession,” your neighbor could acquire some interest in your property if they keep the fence in place for a long enough period of time (usually 15 years).
  3. When it comes time to sell your home, you will need to disclose the encroachment to prospective buyers. The encroachment creates a title issue and buyers may require you to rectify it prior to closing.

Handling the property encroachment issue

I would strongly discourage you from taking matters into your own hands by removing the fence. That is a sure-fire way to find yourself in a lawsuit and at odds with your neighbor. There are other solutions:

  • Talk to your neighbor to see if they'll agree to move the fence.
  • Give permission (also called a license) to your neighbor with the agreement that when the fence needs to be replaced, the new fence will be built within their property lines.
  • Give your neighbor a permanent interest (called an easement) allowing them to use that small part of your property.
  • Enter into a boundary line agreement with the neighbor that resets the property line based on the fence line.
  • If all else fails, you might consider going to court to have a judge address the issue.

These boundary line issues involve significant legal rights. If you have any questions or need legal advice in that regard, you should contact your attorney.

The Edina Realty Legal Department serves as in-house counsel for Edina Realty and does not represent private clients. This insight is not intended to provide legal advice.

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