Construction Projects and Boundary Disputes

August 3, 2016

Construction projects are exciting!

But sometimes, even construction projects that start out as exciting have unexpected twists and turns, which quickly dampen the excitement. For example, oftentimes, through a property survey as part of the planning stage of a construction project, a client will discover that the property’s boundary lines are not where he (or the adjoining neighbors!) thought they were. A survey can reveal a myriad of issues, ranging from not enough distance between the structure and the property line to build the desired project, to a neighbor’s shed, or garden, or patio that is encroaching on the property. If you suddenly find yourself with a boundary line issue, especially if you are in the middle of a construction project, retaining an attorney quickly might afford you opportunities for resolving the issue and keeping your project on track.

Boundary disputes are sensitive matters, both because of the personal nature of one’s property and the general desire to keep the peace in a neighborhood. Many times, there are solutions available that can balance both sides of this scale. A homeowner with boundary line questions should seek the advice and counsel of an attorney, but a few key points should be kept in mind:

  1. Owners of adjoining property may be able to establish ownership or the right to use a neighbor’s property through the doctrines of “adverse possession” or “prescriptive easement.” Contrary to what many homeowners believe,however, these claims are not available for all types of property in Minnesota. In fact, adverse possession and prescriptive easement are only possible claims if the property at issue is abstract property. For Torrens property, these claims are barred by Minnesota statutes, although the adjoining owner may have a similar, but distinct claim for practical location of boundary. However, all of these claims involve proving very specific elements.
  2. In dealing with encroachments, oftentimes there are solutions that go beyond a simple either “the land is mine” or “the land is yours” analysis. For instance, through the use of instruments like easements, an owner may be able to retain ownership and certain control of the land, but also permit a neighbor’s use (oftentimes for a fee).
  3. Boundary line disputes often raise related questions about trespass, conversion (e.g., removing a fence), and nuisance (e.g. removing a natural barrier or something else that interferes with one’s use and enjoyment of her property). Such claims can quickly escalate a boundary line dispute.
  4. The law aside, boundary line disputes are impactful in ways that cannot easily be quantified or even put into words. Among other things, a protracted dispute regarding one’s property with one’s neighbors is a surefire way to squelch the excitement of a construction project.

Keeping these key points in mind and seeking counsel as soon as you recognize a boundary line issue will hopefully allow you to keep your project on track and any dispute minimal.