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Drawing the Line: Strategies for Resolving Boundary Disputes in Florida

On Behalf of | Apr 30, 2024 | Real Estate Law

Boundary disputes can be a significant source of tension between property owners. These disagreements may arise from mistaken beliefs about where property lines exist, new construction, natural changes to the landscape, or simply a lack of clear, up-to-date legal descriptions. Whatever the cause, when disputes over property boundaries occur, they can sour neighborly relations and, if not resolved, impact the value and enjoyment of your property.

In real estate, “good fences make good neighbors” is not just a cliché; it’s a legal principle. For many Floridians, property – home, business, or land investments – is much more than a possession; it reflects hard work, aspirations, and financial security. Here’s an in-depth look at how property owners in Florida can settle boundary disputes.

Review the Property Deed

Begin with the basics. Your property deed contains the legal description of your property, which defines the boundary lines of your parcel. By reviewing this document, you may be able to clarify boundary issues without escalating to a dispute. If you and your neighbor review your respective deeds together, it might become apparent where the precise boundaries lie.

Conduct a Title Search

If your deed’s legal description isn’t clear, a title search may provide more context. The title search can reveal historical ownership and any recorded easements, encroachments, or other issues that might affect boundaries. This search can also help preempt any future disputes by providing a more holistic view of your property’s boundaries.

Hire a Professional Land Surveyor

Sometimes, reviewing documents isn’t enough. If there’s still uncertainty about the boundaries, hiring a professional land surveyor is a prudent next step. These professionals are experienced in interpreting complex legal property descriptions and using cutting-edge technology to demarcate property lines accurately. A current survey is particularly important in Florida, where frequent storms and erosion can alter the landscape over time, potentially changing property lines as understood by physical markers.

Mediate the Dispute

Before things escalate into legal action, consider mediation. This process involves hiring a neutral third party to facilitate a discussion between neighbors to reach an agreement regarding the boundary. Mediation can be a cost-effective and less adversarial approach to resolving property disputes and often leads to solutions that court rulings cannot provide.

Negotiate with Your Neighbor

Simple, direct communication can sometimes head off litigation. Open dialogue allows both parties to express their concerns and work toward a mutually beneficial solution, such as readjusting landscaping plans, agreeing to a property line adjustment, or establishing an easement agreement.

Legal Action and Adverse Possession

When all else fails, the courts may have to be involved. A quiet title action can settle the boundary dispute legally and permanently by having a judge determine the rightful owner based on the deeds and surveys presented. However, keep in mind the doctrine of adverse possession, which in some cases, if someone uses another’s property openly, notoriously, and continuously for a statutory period, they may gain legal title to that property.

Involve Local Authorities

If building codes or zoning regulations are being violated due to the boundary dispute, involving municipal or county authorities could resolve the matter. This might require the neighbor who is infringing on your property to halt construction or remove structures that have crossed into your property.

Use Legal Instruments

A variety of legal approaches, such as an agreement, can formalize any negotiated settlement. If you agree to allow certain uses of your property by your neighbor, a license or easement can formalize this arrangement legally. Remember that these instruments should be drafted and reviewed by legal professionals to ensure that your interests are fully protected.

Seek Legal Counsel

Consulting with an attorney with experience in real estate or property law is essential, particularly if you anticipate a contentious dispute or if the matter escalates to legal action. An attorney can help negotiate on your behalf, prepare for mediation, or represent you in court if necessary.

Protect Your Real Estate Investment

Florida’s homestead laws protect homeowners, but boundary disputes can muddy those protections if not handled appropriately. By taking proactive steps, you can protect not just the physical bounds of your property but also the legal integrity and financial investment it represents.

Whether through open communication with your neighbor, engaging surveyors and mediators, or, if necessary, pursuing legal action, the goal is the same: safeguarding your property and ensuring peaceful coexistence with those who share your boundaries. With the right approach and professional assistance when needed, most boundary disputes can be settled quietly and to the satisfaction of all parties involved.