Disputes Between Adjacent Landowners

Adjacent property landowners (e.g. landowners for pieces of land next to one another) face a specific area of law dealing with the connected land. Such landowners face legal disputes often involving boundary disputes, trespass, nuisance, and suits for the maintenance of common property such as a common fence. Since anyone who owns property, likely has a neighbor, this area of law applies to almost all landowners. Adjacent property landowners include both residential property owners and commercial property owners. If you have a conflict with an adjacent property owner, please contact us today for a consultation to discuss your real property dispute.

Landowners of adjacent properties have certain obligations and duties to one another. For example, one may have an easement over another person's property. An easement is a right to use another person's property for a specific purpose. For example, a landowner may have a right to cross an adjacent property to access a road. In this case, the owner who has the right to use the easement also shares in the duty to maintain the easement.

Based on local ordinances, property owners may also be limited in how high they can make their fences and structures. Under California state law, fences and structures cannot be higher than ten feet without a specific purpose. Adjacent landowners may file a complaint if there is a higher building on a neighboring property. However, local zoning ordinances will affect this property right, since more commercial neighborhoods can have higher rising structures.

Adjoining landowners also have a mutual and equal responsibility to maintain common boundaries and fences, also known as division fences, which mark the property line. However, to constitute a division fence, the fence must be on the dividing property line. Otherwise, if a fence is entirely on the property of one landowner, that fence is not a division fence. In this case, there is no mutual responsibility between the owners to maintain the fence. Instead, the duty to maintain the fence falls on the landowner whose property holds the fence. In certain circumstances, state law may allow, or require, for landowners to share in the cost of putting up any such divisions. If there is an existing fence, one landowner cannot remove a pre-existing fence without the consent of the other who shares the same property line. Indeed, intentionally destroying another person's fence may constitute a criminal trespass.

Boundary disputes between neighboring landowners are common areas of litigation. Such conflicts arise because adjoining landowners cannot agree on their respective property lines. This confusion may arise because the property description is unclear. In areas where the land shifts, as a result of erosion or landslides, the movement may also make property lines unclear. Adjacent landowners then have the option of seeking county records to help resolve the dispute, or establishing a method to determine the property line on their own. However, if neither method provides a resolution, the landowners may file a complaint asking a court to govern the parties as they attempt to determine the property line.

The more difficult aspect of adjoining property disputes is proving that the landowner suffered damages. Accordingly, landowners may find that resorting to alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation or arbitration, can save time and resources and help reach a mutually beneficial decision for everyone involved while avoiding the complications of litigation.