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Encroachment: what it is and what it means in real estate

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    So, you’ve finally made the move and purchased your very own piece of property. You’re excited to make the place your own. Maybe a few backyard renovations are in store, and in the process, you’ve noticed your neighbors’ hedges have grown onto your property. This may be considered an encroachment. Let’s look at what exactly this means for you as a homeowner and what it means when it comes to real estate.

    What is encroachment in real estate?

    Encroachment in real estate is when a person — without permission — impinges on another person’s property by either building a structure or extending their property onto the other’s, to name a few examples. Encroachment can occur accidentally, for example, if property lines are unclear and the encroaching party believes they’re within their own property lines. Encroachment may also be purposeful in some cases when the encroaching party is aware that they’re not staying within their own property lines and continues using the space anyway. 

    How do I know if I'm dealing with encroachment?

    Encroachment often starts with a neighbor crossing over property lines when building or extending a structure from their own property. For example, a neighbor might plant flowers in the wrong spot or install a fence that crosses the property line. If you’re not sure whether the structure is definitively encroaching on your property, it may be helpful to obtain what’s called a property survey to understand the exact legal boundaries of your land.

    Property surveys are done to help define land boundaries. It’s likely you had to obtain one to secure your mortgage. But you can request a property survey at any given time, especially for encroachment concerns. Feel free to ask your lender if they have a copy before you request a new survey. If you’re worried the survey you have access to is outdated, finding a trusted surveyor in your area is just a web search away.

    How is encroachment settled?

    Sometimes a conversation between friendly neighbors usually does the trick to settle an encroachment issue. Once the problem is identified, the situation is typically remedied when a land survey is presented and the neighbor removes the items, or the two parties come to an agreement that the encroachment is acceptable.

    If further conflict ensues — for example, if both parties are under differing assumptions about the property lines — then encroachment may be resolved in court or through mediation. The court will order new property surveys and an official consensus is made in favor of one party.

    In summary

    Encroachment in real estate is typically when one party impinges on another person’s property. Typically, encroachment issues occur accidentally and are easily remedied. To understand if you’re dealing with an encroachment issue, reference a property survey. However, if the situation isn’t easily remedied privately between both parties, then an attorney can help determine whether there is an unlawful encroachment.

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