Which lawyer does my boyfriend need?
March 1, 2007 9:21 AM   Subscribe

What kind of lawyer specializes in property line disputes?

Researching this for my boyfriend who is in Montgomery County, MD.

My boyfriend's mother owns and lives in a house in Bethesda, MD and has had an ongoing property line dispute with one of her neighbors, who bought the house next door to hers, knocked it down, built a minimansion in its place, and did massive amounts of grading and resculpturing the lot. They also removed several mature trees that my BF's family believe were on their side of the property line, and erected a stone retaining wall that is now causing major stormwater problems on BF's family's side of the lot.

My boyfriend has been tasked with dealing with all this because there is a slight language barrier - his mother is a widow and not a native English speaker. In an effort to help him, I'm trying to narrow down what kind of attorney he should talk to. My search results for lawyers dealing with property or real estate seem to focus on mortgage closings or personal injury law. Is there a particular branch of the law that deals with this type of dispute? (Attorney referrals in the Bethesda / Chevy Chase / Rockville area also accepted, but not required). I'm not asking for legal advice in this question, just a point in the right direction so my boyfriend can start dealing with this ugly mess.
posted by contessa to Law & Government (8 answers total)
Best answer: A real estate lawyer is what you're looking for.
posted by bshort at 9:33 AM on March 1, 2007

Best answer: Investigate their building permit, get a copy of it, and file a complaint that they've infringed upon it. The best of all possible worlds would be if the situation is "city vs. neighbor" rather than "you vs. neighbor".

Get the local land survey documents, from your local city government. This is what's registered with the government as the dimensions/locations of your property and that of your neighbor.

Hire a land surveyor to survey your property and provide a report of where the true boundaries of your property are.

Real estate lawyers do a great deal of basic property sales, yes, but they also (often) handle property disputes such as yours.
posted by jellicle at 9:41 AM on March 1, 2007

Best answer: Real estate lawyers are going to concentrate their ads and things on mortgage closings since that's where the majority of their business is. However they'll be perfectly able to deal with property line disputes. Tell your boyfriend to pick up the phone and call a few. Ask if they'll offer a free initial consultation to discuss the case - couldn't hurt.
posted by phearlez at 9:52 AM on March 1, 2007

Response by poster: jellicle -- thanks for the link to the building permit site! I found the neighbor's permits.

I wanted to keep my question length down in the interest of brevity, but I should add for the sake of completeness: most, if not all of the historical survey documents from 50+ years ago when the neighborhood was originally platted were destroyed in a fire (no, really, if that doesn't beat all...). Also, the neighbor's contractor dug up and removed the original stone survey marker at the corner where the two properties meet. It was the main reference marker for the whole rest of the neighborhood, as well. Due to the frenzy of knocking down 50 year old bungalows and replacing them with huge houses on tiny lots in this particular neighborhood, a great many of the other survey markers are gone too. A year or so ago my boyfriend's mother hired a surveyor to come out and re-survey the line, but he said without the marker as a reference point he had to go by the neighbor's survey (or something...it's a touchy situation).

A check on the County Attorney's website directs anybody with a property line dispute to seek private counsel.

So, I will tell my boyfriend to start calling around to the real estate lawyers. Thanks all!!
posted by contessa at 10:05 AM on March 1, 2007

You need a property lawyer. However the first thing to do is get a registered survey of the land in question. That way their is no doubt who owns what (and if it goes to court and the survey is wrong the surveyor is on the hook for costs). Without a survey you are just spinning your wheels.

Check with your local government on what is allowed re storm run off. Most places you aren't allowed to do anything to your property that directs storm water onto adjoining properties. There are often limits on retaining walls as well, especially if they didn't pull a permit. Document the runoff and phone bylaw enforcement every time you have a problem.

contessa writes "Also, the neighbor's contractor dug up and removed the original stone survey marker at the corner where the two properties meet."

Tampering with a survey monument is wildly illegal here, equivalent to a US felony. However the company may be just talking about lot pins which aren't legal markers anyways. Call a different survey company. With sub centimetre GPS it's no longer a big hassle to not have a monument within visual range of the lot as long as there is a monument within a kilometre or so.
posted by Mitheral at 10:12 AM on March 1, 2007

When interviewing lawyers make sure they have sufficient litigation experience. Many real estate lawyers barely ever, some never, see the inside of a court room. Ask about frequency of court appearances and major victories.
posted by caddis at 11:32 AM on March 1, 2007

With sub centimetre GPS it's no longer a big hassle to not have a monument within visual range of the lot as long as there is a monument within a kilometre or so.

Yes, but in order for that to work there must be a reference in the original survey to the monument, and the OP noted that the original surveys are lost. So what the surveyor told the OP is correct - without boundary monumentation, the only way to reestablish the lot lines is by reference to other existing surveys. A good starting point would be the surveys which cover the publicly owned lands adjoining the lot - streets and utility easements. In fact, utility easement plats often cover several lots and may even include a drawing of the entire lot over which the easement travels.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 11:47 AM on March 1, 2007

Response by poster: Mitheral: I would think that tampering with or removing a survey marker is illegal in Maryland, too. His calls to the county about the situation lead both of us to believe they're sort of blase' about the issue, though. Something along the lines of, "Oh yeah, that's been happening everywhere. Big problem." I think if the facts are on my boyfriend's side, and if the neighbors are less than willing to make things right, perhaps that's an avenue he would explore. The county is also unwilling to get involved in a stormwater runoff dispute on private property -- despite the fact that the wall probably should never have been permitted in the first place.

caddis: thank you for the tips on vetting lawyers. I appreciate the info because my boyfriend has never been through any kind of legal-anything before, and also because it'll help him avoid somebody who is merely a paper pusher.

ereshkigal45: HUGE thanks for the tip about public property surveys -- I can't say for sure but I bet my boyfriend hasn't thought to look into that yet. I will suggest this to him.

Again, thanks all!
posted by contessa at 1:48 PM on March 1, 2007

« Older MannersFilter: Getting a maybe to become a solid...   |   Second chances: how can I propose marriage, again... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.