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What Do Property Encroachments Mean?

By Bill Gassett | October 4, 2021

Have you heard about encroachments in real estate and wondered what exactly that meant? You might think that you've found your perfect home, but a dispute with your neighbors can ruin the dream. Neighbor problems can occur for many reasons, but one source of problems can be encroachments.

Perhaps you have a neighbor that either doesn't realize or care that something they own is infringing on your lot. While you might want to avoid dealing with a complex problem like this, it can lead to further issues later on.

We look at how to deal with encroachment issues so that you can resolve neighbor disputes before they escalate.

What is an Encroachment?

The encroachment definition is when a property owner violates the rights of a neighbor by building across the property line. It can also happen when trees or plants grow over the boundary and usually is unintentional.

There might be some confusion over the exact property line between the homes. Having an undetermined boundary line could lead to a wall, fence, or even an addition to the house, being constructed in the wrong place.

If this affects you, it might not concern you too much, but not dealing with it can lead to problems. There can be issues of liability or damage to your home caused by the encroachment. Problems can also arise when you try to sell your home, and the potential buyer is alerted to the problem.

It is almost a certainty a buyer will discover the problem during the due diligence period when they are checking on the history of the house.

Meaning of Encroachment in Real Estate

Trying to Sell Your Home With an Encroachment

Though the encroachment might not seem much of a problem to you, and you are happy to let it slide, it could become an issue when you try to sell. Any encroachment could cause issues with the title and make the property lines unclear.

Sometimes a property survey will be needed before selling your home, and any encroachments will be discovered. If the problem is simply a hedge or tree branch that has grown over the boundary, it can seem trivial to you, but a buyer might think differently.

This could potentially slow down the sale of your home and reduce the amount of money you will receive. Even if you believe an encroachment isn't really going to be an issue, you should make sure you tackle it before you begin the process to sell your home.

Turning Encroachments Into Easements

Easements and encroachments are frequently confused in real estate. Where an easement differs is that the neighbors agree to allow the breach of the property line.

An easement might be required if a neighbor needs to cross your property for access reasons. Sometimes encroachments like these can turn into easements because the neighbor has been doing it for a long time. Whether this will be a problem can depend on the laws in your state.

This is another reason to not ignore encroachments on your property, even if it is only someone walking across your land. Otherwise, you could find that your neighbor ends up having a legal right to this encroachment just because of the amount of time they have been doing it.

How to Deal With Encroachment Problems

If a neighbor is infringing on your property rights, you should avoid the temptation to get angry about it. It is something you will have to deal with though, and if you can approach the situation without antagonizing your neighbor, things will be a lot easier to resolve.

Let's look at the things you can do to resolve a property line issue.

Talking with Your Neighbor

If you don't have any previous issues with your neighbor, simply talking to them and discussing your concerns could be all you need to do to fix the problem. This will most often be the case if only a minor issue is easily solved, like a tree branch, for example.

Even if you have suspicions otherwise, it is better if you approach the situation assuming that your neighbor hasn't intentionally infringed your rights. Assuming the best from your neighbor and giving them the benefit of the doubt should allow you to be more calm and friendly in your discussion with them. This should give you a better chance of getting the problem dealt with quickly.

Not taking care of the problem upfront could easily jeopardize the standard time frame it takes to close on a house. If the buyer can't wait, you could lose them altogether.

Selling Land to Your Neighbor

There is also the possibility of selling, either some of your land or the rights to an easement, to your neighbor. This can be a way of resolving a complex or uncertain property dispute and reducing the likelihood of future issues.

Hiring a Lawyer

If the two previous methods don't work out for you, you may have no other option than to take legal action. This will be the most expensive of the options available, but if you have exhausted the other possibilities, it may be the only thing you have left to deal with the situation.

Bringing in a lawyer to deal with this will take a lot of time as well as a lot of money. It's also going to cause problems between you and your neighbor that may never improve. But if you are doing this to help sell your home, it might not be something that overly concerns you.

When you decide to use legal action to resolve this type of issue, it does remove a lot of the control you have. And you might find the result doesn't play out the way you want it to.

The court might find that your neighbor has the right to access your property because they have been doing it in the past. But if things go your way, your neighbor will have to take action to remove whatever it is that is crossing the property line.

Resolving Encroachments

Dealing with a neighbor dispute isn't something that most people enjoy. However, it could be something that your neighbor is entirely unaware of and will want to fix as soon as you bring it to their attention. But whether they have intentionally ignored the boundary line or not, it is an issue you need to take care of.

Resolving these problems as soon as you notice them will ensure the encroachment doesn't turn into an easement without your agreement. If this is decided in court, there won't be much you can do to change the situation, which could affect selling your home.

Hopefully, you now have a much better understanding of property encroachments and how they can impact a real estate transaction.

Bill Gassett is an authority in the real estate industry with 38 years of experience. Bill is well respected for his informative articles for buyers, sellers, and fellow real estate agents to make sound decisions. His work has been featured on RIS Media, the National Association of Realtors, Inman News, Newsbreak, Credit Sesame, Realty Biz News, and his own authoritative resource, Maximum Real Estate Exposure. He has been on of the top RE/MAX agents in New England over the last two decades.
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