Should I get a property survey?
May 16, 2012 6:27 AM   Subscribe

What's the downside of not getting a property survey?

We bought a house a year ago in Ohio. At closing, the sellers provided the copy of a property survey they had done recently because the neighbors behind them were disputing the border. Visible stakes should were placed in the ground (per the survey), but upon moving in, we saw none.

The house behind us owns a huge piece of land so their house is very far away from us. We're not planning on building a fence or anything like that so the exact property line isn't that important to my day-to-day life.

Flash foward to this spring, each time they mow the lawn, the neighbor encroaches further and further onto what we thought was our property.

I'm feeling to cheap & lazy to have another survey done to put new visible stakes in the ground. Do I have anything to lose by ingoring this issue, i.e. losing a portion of my property due to something along the lines of squatter's rights?

(How am I arriving at what I think should be the property line? I live on a cul-de-sac developed 15 years ago. The house behind me is probably 50-75 years old and the owns the land behind every house on my street. I believe all the property lines on my street are aligned with one another. These neighbors behind me encroach the invisible line of the backyards of the house on my left and right. Our street doesn't curve in front, so our fronts of our properties line up. I guess it's possible that I own 20 less feet than both of my next door neighbors but that seems odd. One of my next door neighboors has visible stakes and says we used to have visible stakes that lined up with theirs but they magically disappeared before we moved in.)
posted by glenngulia to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Squatter's rights take years to mature - like 15 or 20, depending on your local laws. They also require exclusive control. So, as long as you do stuff that indicates your own ownership. you are good.

Throw up a volleyball net for a few weeks, with one stake on the land. Plant some flowers there the next year. Occasionally exercise control over your land.

I would also, in a joking friendly way, thank your neighbor for mowing part of your lawn. Find out if he really believes he owns it, or what. In any discussions with him, until other evidence is set forth, I would act as though the survey you got at your closing is insured and controlling.
posted by Flood at 6:39 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I suggest that you invite your neighbors over for coffee and have a discussion about the property line. Have the survey handy, even make a copy for the neighbors to take with them.

Just say, "Hey, I notice that you're mowing part of our yard, and while I don't object, I just want to head off any future issues." Then give him a copy of the survey and suggest that he too, get one for his property. This puts him on notice that you are completely aware of where the property line is, and that you'll assert your rights accordingly.

It's easier and kinder to nip these things in the bud if at all possible. What if one day, you come home and he's building a pool or something back there? He'll have sunk all this money into a project and then you'll have to deal with it in court, at considerable expense to you both.

Besides, you might find that your neighbors are really awesome and you may make a friend in the bargain.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:40 AM on May 16, 2012

In your shoes, I would get the survey. Put up stakes. The fact that the neighbors removed them "magically" before you moved in bodes ill.
posted by ellF at 6:41 AM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

This issue is a staple of first-year property law law school exams in the U.S. because it's complicated and common. Short answer: yes, you stand to lose property rights IF a whole bunch of things which are highly fact-specific and wholly dependent upon the statutes in your state, city, and county.

Were I in your shoes, I would get the survey and I would police the property line, if not with a high sturdy fence, at least with a visible, permanent, physical dividing line of some sort.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:46 AM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

You might head out there with a metal detector and see if the visible stakes are actually just barely visible, possibly pounded down by a helpful lawn service employee to make sure that they don't destroy a mower blade. My dad's house has the stakes, but you have to go looking for them.

Metal detectors can generally be rented for a pittance.
posted by rockindata at 6:48 AM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Definitely get a survey done (or try to get a copy of the one the previous owners had done)
FWIW, there may be an easement between the two properties, which is why it may appear that the neighbor is mowing your land. It could be he's mowing the easement, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:48 AM on May 16, 2012

Best answer: I am not a surveyor, but used to work for one (in Ohio). Usually, we would drive 18" pieces of steel rebar (topped with a bright yellow plastic cap, indicating the surveyor's name and license number) in the ground at the corners of properties, with wooden stakes in the vicinity, which were really only for immediate visibility. Stakes rot, get bumped with lawnmowers, or can be purposefully removed -- but the rebar is much more "permanent". So, if you're handy with maps, measuring tape, and/or a metal detector, you may be able to find the boundaries of your property yourself.
Alternatively, you could call the surveyor who did the work (it sounds like you have documentation), and I would suspect they could come out and re-find the boundaries with relative ease -- especially if the work was done recently. My dad boss would have charged minimally (maybe $50?) for re-locating the boundaries on recent work.
After preview, I am on the same page as rockindata.
posted by mean square error at 6:57 AM on May 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

the neighbor encroaches further and further onto what we thought was our property.

Not a homeowner myself, but my parents went through this many moons ago when I was young...multiple times. In each instance, they invited the neighbor(s) to participate in the survey the had already arranged for. Sometimes it went smoothly, other times there were minor disputes. Bottom line, get the survey and be prepared for some awkward moments depending on the personalities involved. As it sounds like you are a bit vague on exactly where your property ends, it will only help to mitigate future issues. No time better than the present.

It is your property, your investment and if you at some point sell, it will be necessary to have the lines clearly defined. Get it done now and nip the problem in the bud before it festers further. If the encroaching neighbor gets pissy, it is likely they had some other plans in mind that were not in your best interests in the first place. If not, they will gladly participate in the survey.
posted by lampshade at 7:03 AM on May 16, 2012

If you have a copy of the survey it should be written in plain English that your lines run from a designated point ( like the middle of the street, or the corner of a neighbor's property) to a point elsewhere. Take a look and go on out with your own measuring tape and pound in markers where you think they should be. If any of the neighbors ask or object then is a good time to whip out the plan and say I'm new owner and just trying to get the lay of the land.
posted by Gungho at 7:16 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Adverse possession (squatter's rights) is all but gone in some places. Where I am, all titles no longer have any adverse possession rights whatsoever (yes, that means if you build your house in the wrong place, even with your neighbour's verbal or possibly even poorly written permission, it must be torn down 100 years later when the new owner doesn't like it). You should check the law in Ohio to see what it is like there. This looks like a good resource to get you going:

In other words, pay for the survey or title insurance, or both.
posted by shepd at 9:19 AM on May 16, 2012

Response by poster: Took this advice and emailed the surveyor's info we had on the documentation. He responded quickly. He'll come out, find the buried markers, and put new visible markers in the ground. It'll cost $75.

$75 is not nothing, but in the grand scheme things it seems worth it to mitigate future pain. Thanks for the help, all!
posted by glenngulia at 12:07 PM on May 16, 2012

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