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How to Handle Boundary Disputes

When purchasing a new home, what you see isn’t always what you get. This is particularly true when it comes to property boundaries. Older neighbourhoods, and those in densely populated urban areas may seem to have blurred lines where boundaries are concerned. Shared driveways, rights-of-way, easements, century old trees, and even past relationships between neighbouring families can live at the heart of boundary disputes.

Boundary disputes are the result of neighbours disagreeing about the location of property boundaries and any related rights and responsibilities pertaining to those boundaries. Common disputes can involve the use of a laneway to access a garage at the back of one neighbours house, the desire to remove a tree or to build a fence.

Oftentimes, these disputes are sparked when a new neighbour moves in and disturbs the status quo. The previous homeowner may not have driven a car, and therefor the neighbor had exclusive use of a shared driveway. Or perhaps neighbouring families were close friends and felt no need to erect a fence between their yards, making boundary lines a moot point.

Of course, there are also instances where a boundary dispute has gone on for years, and the new residents can be caught off guard if not properly prepared.

Research to Avoid Boundary Disputes

There are steps that can be taken to help prevent moving into a neighbourhood warzone. When submitting an offer on a property, have a condition inserted that requires the seller to produce a survey of the property.

Despite the fact that obtaining title insurance essentially eliminates the survey requirement, adding a clause requiring the seller to produce a survey is important to identify the location of lot boundaries. Possession of a lot survey will also allow you to verify the lot’s size, building location, easements, and more.

If it’s clear that the home you are considering shares a driveway or laneway with a neighbour, ask your realtor to discuss the sharing process with the sellers or even the neighbours. This may be the best way to get a clear picture of what you’re walking into.

Resolve an Existing Boundary Dispute

If you are presently involved in a dispute over a shared driveway, laneway, or other boundary disputes, resolving the problem should also start with your land survey. If you don’t already have a copy, you can have a new one created by a licensed surveyor.

“Creating a land survey is a rigorous procedure involving research, analysis and computation to produce a computer-drawn plan.” (Protect Your Boundaries)

Your survey plan will document three specific elements: the property size and layout, the legal lot pattern, and rights-of-way and easements.

Once your survey has been obtained, you can use it to try and come to an amicable resolution with your neighbour. If that is not possible, your next step may be to seek legal counsel. While litigation is quite expensive and is generally considered a last resort, there are times when it may be your only option.

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