Neighbors put bushes and landscaping several feet onto my property
June 30, 2014 10:54 AM   Subscribe

My neighbors, who are renters, have put lilac bushes, flowers, and landscaping several feet into my property. I've nothing against flowers and landscaping, but I would not have chosen to add this to my land in this particular configuration, and I am concerned about the idea of encroachment on my lot. How should I respond?

I live in Michigan, in the city of Grand Rapids specifically. My lawn includes a concrete path about 4 feet in from the boundary line that could appear as a visual 'border', but in actuality, according to my (admittedly marked NOT A SURVEY) Lot Description Report Diagram my land goes an additional 4 feet or so past that sidewalk.

The neighbor in question has a bit of a history of being difficult to deal with, and though I haven't had any particular problems with him, I'm not too eager to confront him. The actual owners of the property are on public record as having their mailing address at the property in question, but they don't live there, unless they live secretly in the basement or something -- that place has been a two-unit rental that's turned over quite a few times in the six years I've lived here.

Some friends advised me to get a survey, but I've heard that's around $400 and that's gonna put a big dent in a tight wallet right now. At the same time, I wouldn't want an 'easement' (which I've been reading about) to end up established here because I can't shell out for a survey. Has anyone experienced anything like this before? Suggestions?
posted by scrowdid to Law & Government (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Even though you describe them as having a bit of a history of being difficult to deal with, I would approach them informally at first and tell them something like "Hello neighbor, I guess that the owner of the property you are renting did not inform you but this space (indicate which) actually belongs to me and not to the unit your are renting. I purposely did not plant any bushes there and do not want any there. If you want to move them, that would probably be the best, otherwise, I will have to cut or remove any parts of them that encroach on my land." Make note of the date and time at which you do this.

If nothing is done in a suitable time frame, or you are not satisfied with the response you are getting, follow-up with a letter to the renter, copied to the owner.

Yes, it can be unpleasant to deal with neighbors but, in my experience, it is always better to deal with such situations as soon as possible. Removing a recently planted bush and flowers is a lot easier to do than doing the same to something that has been there for years...
posted by aroberge at 11:07 AM on June 30, 2014 [20 favorites]

Surveys usually get cheaper if you get your neighbors (the landowners, that is) to also get a survey; Your property has (say) 4 boundaries, and if one of your neighbors gets surveyed also, that's only 3 more boundaries to survey, and the discount for combining the jobs goes to everyone.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:08 AM on June 30, 2014

If you're worried about them ending up taking your property by adverse possession, it's probably pretty straightforward to look up what the adverse possession statute is like in your state. (Seems like it's 15 years, IANAL.) Typically you can fashion up some sort of agreement that lets the neighbor use the property but blocks any future adverse possession claim, but you'd probably have to spend at least an hour with a lawyer to figure out exactly how to do that.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:12 AM on June 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would go to the renters directly even if they have a rep for being difficult. Take a six pack or some cookies. Be low key, but direct. "I appreciate that you're taking such good care of the house. Here's the thing. My property goes 4 feet beyond the walkway and you planted on my yard. Since you've probably never seen the lot diagrams, you had no way to know that - no foul on you. I didn't want to be a jerk and rip out something that you obviously want and probably paid for at the greenhouse. Where should we move those bushes so you can still enjoy them?"

If that doesn't work, then think about showing the lot diagrams or getting a survey. It sounds like they were trying to do something nice and just didn't know.

Figuring out how to deal with your neighbors is worth it's weight in gold.
posted by 26.2 at 11:48 AM on June 30, 2014 [16 favorites]

I'd communicate this to the landlord in writing. If their mailing address is at the property address then you send it there. But send it and have proof of posting.

Then you can also go and talk to the tenants as suggested by others. But fundamentally you need to get a paper trail with the landlord not the tenants because it's down to the landlord to ensure their tenants respect the property boundaries.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:07 PM on June 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

Speaking as a LL, I was coming in to say exactly what koahiatamadl said. This is the landlord's business, and since the tenant has potentially put the landlord into the position of owing somebody (namely, you) $, then the landlord needs to know about it. You might ask at city hall if they can verify the legal mailing address, or check with a lawyer. If you elect to send mail to the rental property, be sure to do it certified.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:16 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. Some further info and thoughts:

- The other-side neighbors got a survey last year, would that help me save money? I saw the red-flagged corner stakes but I don't think they're still there.

- When I saw that neighbor's markers, I measured out my lot, and it confirmed my Lot Description diagram. I'd say I know the line within about nine inches and this encroaching landscaping is a good 3-4 feet past it - I may be vague on the line itself, but I have little to no doubt on the encroachment. (I realize that's no match for a legal survey; it's just I'm not saying 'looks like you might'a maybe come into my yard a few inches there Hank'.)

- The bushes were planted last year, which I didn't think much of because I'm a reasonably moderate guy and they seemed harmless enough, and I just figured I'd pull them out later or something if I really wanted. However, the recent addition of landscaping and flower beds surprised me and, as I researched boundary issues, got me concerned about the adverse possession situation. Now I'm worried I should have pounced on the bushes as soon as I saw them.

- I am not even really in a hurry to get the plantings removed - especially the flowers, because they look like they might be annuals and as far as I'm concerned they're welcome to a season there. The bushes annoy me because I dislike the smell of lilacs, and yes I would like to get those out at some point. I guess I'm mainly concerned with preventing any further idea these people have that it's their strip of land to do with as they please.

- As much as I'd love to plunk the money down on a survey and have those unquestionably visible little flagged stakes visually proving my boundary, it sounds like the letters might handle the situation without the cost. It does seem dumb to send the letter to the address of the rental property though.

- What would happen if I did nothing? After fifteen years of this I actually lose my right to that strip of my property and this fifty-foot lot becomes a forty-six foot lot for all time hence?
posted by scrowdid at 1:04 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

The neighbors have inadvertently given you some very expensive bushes; it would be a kindness to let them know early so that they can move them onto their own land.
posted by amtho at 1:38 PM on June 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Was there a survey or legal lot description when you bought your house? That might clarify where the boundaries are.
posted by leslies at 1:51 PM on June 30, 2014

Response by poster: Yes, I have the legal lot description, with a blueprint of the measurements of the lot somewhat resembling this image here, and signed by a licensed professional surveyor. But it does say "This report, prepared for mortgage purposes only, does not represent a property line survey; no property corners were set; and is not to be used for the establishment of any fence, building, or other improvements." It's a pretty detailed diagram of the lot though.
posted by scrowdid at 2:10 PM on June 30, 2014

Lilacs aren't that expensive.

My mother-in-law is dealing with something similar now, new neighbors and a new fence, and she's going ahead and getting it surveyed because it is worth it in the long run to have this information.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:19 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

You really don't need to get the survey done, just tell them it's on your property using 26.2's script. They're renters, not the owners, and this some simple landscaping, not a building. The only reason to do the survey is if you think it's headed to court.
posted by zug at 3:09 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Take pictures first.

When you do talk to them, tell them the landscaping is lovely and you're sure they didn't know it, but they inadvertently planted things on your property and you'd like them relocated to their side of the lot line. Maybe say you're planning on getting a fence and you need the lot line clear.

Be clear about exactly how you want them to repair the area also. Otherwise you could end up with a messed up property that you'll have to landscape.
posted by kinetic at 3:24 PM on June 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Go to google maps and get an overhead image of your lot. Measure something in real life which appears on the image (i.e. a 4' sidewalk) to establish a scale. Place a corner of your property on the image where the little red flags were for your neighbor's survey (you should also check to see if you can still see the spikes which probably have not been removed). Then draw your lot to scale on the image.

Take this plus the "real" survey to when you discuss with the neighbors. You would be amazed how much more convincing (although not entirely correct) an overhead image can be with respect to the location of property lines...
posted by NoDef at 4:36 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might talk to your neighbors who got a survey last year and find out what company did their survey. You may be able to get a lower price from that surveyor since they have already done work in the area and have some of the information already from doing your neighbor's survey.

I live in a different state, but a typical city lot survey by me would probably cost $600-1000.
posted by Ophelia Bleu at 8:22 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

In NC, all you have to do to avoid adverse possession is give them permission in writing.

If you don't want the plants there, sorry, you really should get a survey. Or talk to the renters first and see if they are willing to move the stuff first.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:27 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and don't touch the plants unless and until you get that survey. Previous surveys can be wrong!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:31 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

The neighbor in question has a bit of a history of being difficult to deal with, and though I haven't had any particular problems with him, I'm not too eager to confront him.

This is why you need to present this not as a confrontation but as a heads-up. Your main aim is to make it perfectly clear that you understand that the only reason somebody would conceivably do what he did is that he wasn't aware where the property boundary is, which is perfectly reasonable since as a renter he's had neither reason nor opportunity to look at lot maps.

Any momentary emotional discomfort you feel at the prospect of actually needing to raise a boundary line issue with the neighbor directly concerned will pale into insignificance next to the weight of completely avoidable hassle that will descend on your life if you do decide to deal with this thing as a confrontation, which is what will surely happen if you spend money on a survey and then go in all huff and puff and My Property Rights. There is no need at all for you to do it the hard way.

So, some time within the next 15 years it's going to be a nice sunny day and both of you will be outside and enjoying it and feeling mellow and you will be presented with a natural opportunity to raise the issue, friendly neighbor to friendly neighbor. When that happens: take it.
posted by flabdablet at 10:12 PM on June 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Send a certified letter to the owner and the renters stating that they have accidentally planted on your property and you would like to see your property returned to its original state by such and such date.

After such date has passed, send them a lease agreement (you can type one up yourself) charging them a nominal fee for the use of your property. This should annoy the owner enough that he fixes the problem for you.
posted by myselfasme at 11:19 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

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