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How to find your property line

Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin, Tribune Content Agency on

Q: Where can I find out where my property line is located? My neighbor put up a fence and I believe it’s over the property line. How do I find out?

A: We’ve got a few ideas for you to try. But without knowing the particular circumstances of your property, we’ll have to make a number of assumptions relating to your circumstances. Understanding how the process works may help you find the answer a bit faster.

In real estate, large parcels of land usually get broken down into smaller lots. When real estate developers or owners do this, they hire a surveyor to create a plat of survey to depict the area for each lot from the larger parcel of land. This would be the case in either a city or suburban location.

The resulting smaller parcel of land will get a new real estate legal description and a new property address from the United States Postal Service. The legal description is not the same thing as the official address. The address may be something like 123 Main Street in Springfield, but the legal description may be something like Lot 51 in the Main Street Subdivision or the north 50 feet of some other described land or lake.

We mention this because, at some point in time, a surveyor should have surveyed your land. In some parts of the country, it is customary for the surveyor to find (and make sure) the corners of the property are located and marked. So, if you purchased your home in the last several years and live in an area where obtaining a survey for your purchase is the norm, you might be able to walk around your property and discover the corner markings.

These corner markings could be an iron pipe half-buried in the ground. Or, it could be a cross mark in concrete, where the cross is the actual corner of your property. If you have the survey you received when you purchased your home, you might look to see if the surveyor marked the corners. If they did, you can go to wherever you think the end of your property is located and look for those corner markings. Once you find them, you can eyeball one corner to the other to get a sense of your property line.

If you’re lucky and find those corner markings, and the survey indicates that those markings were found or placed exactly on the corner of your property, you might be able to see if your neighbor’s fence is on the money or way off. You likely won’t be able to tell if the fence is inches off, but if the fence is five feet over the line, you should be able to tell.

Unfortunately, if you have a large parcel of land or if there is a lot of landscaping, water or forest, you may not find the corner markings. Even if you do, it could be difficult to make sense of those markers if they’re several hundred or thousand yards from each other.

Your old survey may contain other clues that could potentially help. For example, some surveys will note that a home is a certain distance from the property line. You can then try to eyeball whether the fence is generally located correctly — or not.

 

Having said all that, it’s unlikely that you’ll figure out the exact location of the property line without the help of an expert — a professional land surveyor. The land surveyor would use special tools to figure out exactly where the fence is located and whether it was placed correctly.

A survey can determine the exact location of the fence and whether it’s over the property line by even a fraction of an inch. That would be the only real way for you to know if your neighbor’s fence is on your property or not. This survey would then be documented in writing.

In urban locations, homeowners usually need to get a building permit to put up fences. Your neighbor may have been required to provide the municipality with a survey to get the permit. Given that you didn’t mention that you talked to your neighbor, we suspect you might not be on the best of terms.

However, you might be able to go to your local city or village building department office and ask to see whether they got a permit for the fence and if the neighbor supplied the office with a survey. The building department may allow you to see the survey. From that, you may be able to tell whether they’ve placed the fence correctly, or if you have a larger problem.

Why don’t you start here? If you can’t figure out what you want to know, you’ll need to talk with a surveyor. The building department may be able to recommend a reputable company.

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(Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, a financial wellness technology company. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact Ilyce and Sam through her website, ThinkGlink.com.)

©2024 Ilyce R. Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


 

 

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