While neighbor disputes are relatively common, sometimes they can get more complicated than an argument over noise or pets.
If one of your neighbors is ignoring an encroachment on your property, it can be difficult to resolve, but it’s something you shouldn’t leave until later. We will examine an encroachment and what you should do when one is discovered.
What is the definition of encroachment?
The encroachment definition in real estate means one neighbor violating the land ownership rights of another neighbor.
Encroachments might happen because they have built on land that isn’t theirs when the property lines aren’t clear. They might have extended their home, and part of the building now crosses the property line. Though, sometimes, a structural encroachment like this can be intentional.
Perhaps your neighbor has built a fence in the wrong place, or there is an overhanging tree branch, and issues like these might not seem too serious.
However, slight encroachments could cause more serious problems for you later on if you don’t deal with them.
Problems created by encroachment
If the encroachment isn’t a major issue, you might be inclined to let it go. However, these issues can become problematic when you want to sell your home.
Encroachment might mean the property lines are difficult to establish. It could also mean issues with the title that might make selling the home hard. The encroachment will be recorded during a property survey if surveys are required for the sale.
These issues, even minor, could be a problem for your buyer. They might make things more difficult or lead to your home selling for less.
Encroachments and easements
Encroachments and easements can be confused as they do share some similarities. They both deal with a neighbor using land they don’t own, but with an easement, there is an agreement between both parties.
An easement can happen when access is required across part of your land. Perhaps there isn’t any other way for them to reach part of their property, and this is the only practical solution.
An encroachment can become a prescriptive easement if it isn’t dealt with. When a neighbor uses your land openly and without permission, which continues for a certain amount of time, an easement by prescription can be created. The amount of time this takes depends on state laws but gives them the legal right to use the land.
Encroachments that aren’t resolved for a long time can become unrecorded encumbrances. This gives the neighbor some rights to your property.
How to deal with an encroachment
Most of the time, it should be possible to resolve an encroachment without things escalating. If you address the issue early on, there should be a way for you and your neighbor to reach an acceptable resolution.
To deal with an encroachment, try the following steps:
Discuss the situation with your neighbor
If you talk with your neighbor, you might find a fairly minor issue can quickly be dealt with. Something like an overhanging branch can often be solved this way.
However, if the issue appears more intentional, don’t begin the conversation with that assumption. You want to approach the discussion more friendly to make them more sympathetic toward the problem.
Sell the land to the neighbor
You could deal with the issue by selling the land or an easement to your neighbor. This removes potential future issues when the property clerk records are updated to reflect the sale.
Go to court
If all else fails, you might have no option but to begin legal proceedings. You’ll want to hire a real estate attorney familiar with disputes. This will take a long time, be costly, and may forever remain a source of tension with your neighbor.
Even if you take this option, there’s no guarantee things will go how you hope. The judge could favor your neighbor, granting a prescriptive easement. But if you succeed, your neighbor will have to remove the cause of the problem.
Issues with neighbors aren’t pleasant, but putting off dealing with an encroachment isn’t a better option. Don’t ignore an encroachment, even if it doesn’t seem like a big problem, because it could have consequences later on.
If the encroachment becomes a prescriptive easement, you can’t do much about it, and your neighbor can continue to use your land without your consent.
Bill Gassett is a nationally recognized real estate leader who has been helping people buy and sell MetroWest Massachusetts real estate for the past 35 years.