How To Find Your Property Lines?

What are Property Lines, and Why do They Matter?

Property lines are the legal boundaries of a given property, but unfortunately, they’re not always easy to find. Not only is it essential to know where property lines are to keep from planting or building something on a neighbor’s property, but it’s also important to know that most lots come with setbacks that prohibit building within a few feet of a property line. Guessing where the legal boundary is can result in having to tear down a shed or garage that’s too close to the property line.

Homeowners are responsible for maintaining the lawn and yard on their property and most are not willing to let a neighbor use valuable lawn if it doesn’t belong to them.

RELATED: Whose Responsibility Is it: Homeowner, Town, or Utility Company?

Can I Find My Property Line Online?

Yes, you can usually find your property lines online. Your county may have online maps for all of the real estate in your area, accessible through the official county or assessor’s website. Property lines can also be found through any online search engine on Geographical Information System (GIS) maps. Another way to view property lines online is on interactive online maps.

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2. Check your deed

The deed contains a description of your property’s measurements and boundaries in words. Measure from the landmarks in the description to the property lines. Mark each corner with a stake or other marker. Measure from each stake to the next all the way around your property to ensure the measured lines match the deed. Physically measuring the boundaries will allow you to visually determine where the lines are and avoid encroaching on your neighbor’s land.

How Are Property Lines Calculated?

Property lines are almost always calculated using a shared protocol called the RSS or Rectangular Survey System. Professional land surveyors use the RSS to create roughly equal rectangular parcels of land, which can eventually be added and measured to create a total property outline. Through the RSS, all land parcels are divided into sections measuring about 1 mile across. However, the land parcel divisions are usually not perfect because of environmental factors like lakes, tree lines, rivers, and roads. Parcel lines are also separated into meridians and baselines, which run north to south or east to west.

Why is it important to know the location of your property lines? 

Property lines are in place to keep one property owner from encroaching on another owner’s land or compromising their privacy by building too close to their house. A typical encroachment might be tree limbs that grow past your property and overhang into a neighbor’s yard or a driveway poured to extend onto a neighbor’s property. When you know exactly where your property lines fall, you’ll avoid accidentally encroaching on your neighbor’s land.

If you plan to build a permanent structure, you’ll want to be as accurate as possible, and ordering your own land survey is the best option. In most states, you are required to call a diggers hotline 811 to request buried utility information before you build a fence, plant a tree, or extend your driveway. This call ensures you know the location of any buried wires or irrigation systems to avoid causing damage. Within a few days’ notice, someone from your local utility company should be able to mark county wires or pipes with spray paint or flags.

Since property line information can be valuable to someone you may sell your house to, you will want to keep all records. Keep a copy of a new survey you’ve completed, a plat map, or any information from the city or county offices in digital or hard copy format. If you do a new survey, you may also need to register it with your county assessor or recorder. During the sale of a property, the title company will search for encroachment of one property into another. They may refuse title insurance to the seller if they find a property line dispute.

When you know how to find your property lines, you’ll gain peace of mind for any project that could come close to the edge of the property. Showing respect for your neighbor and their property rights can help you avoid a lawsuit. 

What exactly is a property line?

Property lines are the legal boundaries to your property. They will tell you exactly where your property begins and ends, officially, so there is no question.

Sometimes property lines are very obvious. For example, your backyard might end in a lake, so there is no question as to where it ends. But other times, for instance, if your yard runs into your neighbor’s yard without any change in landscaping or elevation, they might be impossible to determine without an official property survey.

Dig Out Your Deed for Additional Info

In older neighborhoods, property owners may have purchased or sold off portions of their yards. Locating a survey pin won’t give you this information, but the most recent legal description recorded on your deed will list any such changes. If you don’t have a copy of your deed filed with your homeowner records, get one at the register of deeds office, often located within your county courthouse.

Why Are Property Lines Important?

Property lines are important because they eliminate gray areas when it comes to property ownership. Because of property lines, you know exactly what land you’re getting when you begin the process of buying a house. Your mortgage lender and/or title insurance company will need to verify the property lines to help you qualify for a mortgage.

Knowing your property lines is also helpful when starting a home improvement or major landscaping project. You’ll want to have an understanding of where your yard ends and a neighbor’s begins. That way, you won’t end up accidentally building a new addition on your home or putting up a fence around your yard that encroaches on your neighbor’s property.

Finally, being aware of your property lines shows that you’re respectful of the neighboring premises. Knowing the boundaries of your property can help you avoid disagreements with your surrounding neighbors, especially ones that could lead to legal disputes.

How to Find Property Lines for Free

Homeowner’s Deed

A homeowner’s deed should include a legal description of the plot of land, including its measurements, shape, block and lot number, and other identifiers such as landmarks and geographical features. If the language is tricky, reach out to your real estate lawyer or agent for help in deciphering it.

A Tape Measure

If you want to visually confirm your property lines, you can use a tape measure to determine the boundaries. From a known point detailed in the deed’s description, measure to the property’s edge and place a stake at that point as a marker.

After all the edges have been determined, measure the distance between the stakes. Compare the results to make sure they match the corresponding deed or plat.

Existing Property Survey from Mortgage or Title Company

Most mortgage lenders require prospective homeowners to have a current survey, and your title insurance also depends on it. If you bought your home recently but don’t have the survey, contact either company to see if they have a copy on file.

Existing Property Survey from County or Local Municipality

A property’s history and legalrecords are generally kept in the municipality or county’s tax assessor’s office or in its land records or building department. You can usually begin your search by going online to access the relevant property records. Most municipalities offer this information for free, but some offices may require a small fee or ask that you access the records in person.

Buried Pins

At the corners of your property, you may be able to find steel bars that have been buried, sometimes still visible, with a marked cap on the top end. These were likely placed on your land when a survey was completed. If you can’t readily see the pins (they may have been buried over time), use a metal detector to help you locate them.

While this isn’t a legally binding way to determine your property lines, it will give you a good idea of the boundaries. Warning: Before you start digging, call 811, the national call-before-you-dig hotline, to request the location of buried utilities you don’t want to inadvertently dig into an underground utility line.

Use an App

Download an app like LandGlide that uses GPS to determine a parcel’s property lines. LandGlide is free for the first seven days.

Things to Consider

DifferR/Shutterstock

DifferR/Shutterstock

In the process of finding your property lines, there are quite a few things to remember. This may be anything from practical methods of finding the lines to legal considerations related to record-keeping. Consider the following before and during the process: 

  • Google Earth used to include a feature that showed the most recent property line records. This feature is no longer available, and the information it showed is considerably out of date, making it an unreliable source.
  • If you are in the United States, remember to call the national before-you-dig hotline, 811, for information about where underground utilities are buried before doing any digging on your property. They’ll ask for your address and the project you’re planning.
  • There are many free apps you can use to see your property lines from your phone. These may not be completely accurate, though, so use them in conjunction with other sources.
  • Once you’ve found your property line, ensure that all of your construction is within it. Building a structure like a fence directly on the line can often incur encroachment penalties from your local government.
  • There are many other legal considerations to remember about your property line. Some counties restrict projects based on their size and proximity to other property, while others restrict based on the zoning of the lot. Consult your local law professionals for more information about specific projects you plan to take on.
  • If you are considering selling your property, having an up-to-date survey can help you assess the true value of the land. It will also help your and your buyer’s records stay accurate in the case of a dispute.

Boundary Line Agreements

Boundary line agreements are written legal contracts between neighbors made to settle disputes over property boundaries. They vary slightly by state, but the point is to have a way where property owners can agree on property line usage outside of going to court.

Boundary line agreements are not the same as boundary line adjustments. Boundary line adjustments are made when property owners want to exchange land, redefining the property line between them, typically done without involving money. Boundary line agreements are specifically used when there is a dispute over land and its use.

How Boundary Line Agreements Protect From Encroachments

One of the most common reasons for a boundary line agreement is when a neighbor has encroached on your property by building a structure on it. Often, this issue is only made known because you did a land survey for another project and discovered your neighbor built on your land.

In order to retain the title to that piece of property, you can create a boundary line agreement with your neighbor. In this agreement, your neighbor acknowledges their mistake in encroaching on your property and you allow the structure to remain standing. This allows you to retain legal ownership, your neighbor to use what they built and for you both to stay out of court. You retain the right to the property and if the structure is torn down or destroyed, the neighbor must rebuild it on their property.

If you wish to cede the property to your neighbor, you can file a boundary line adjustment, though you’ll need to pay review fees, and the process takes longer than an agreement. Regardless of your decision, you need to do something if you ever intend to sell or transfer the property. A neighbor’s structure on your property may make things more complicated the longer it goes unaddressed.

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Visit the county recorder’s office or the assessor’s office. Ask what maps are available for public viewing that include your neighborhood and street. Request a copy of any maps that show clear dimensions of your property lines. Use the maps for reference when measuring your property’s total boundary line on each side.

4. Look at your property survey

The survey is a document with a rendering of the property lines and measurements, and should have been given to you when you bought your home. The distance from your house to the property line and the street should be shown on the survey. Use the measurements and details about surrounding landmarks to visually determine the property lines and avoid land disputes with neighbors.

Why Is Knowing Your Property Lines Important?

Having a good understanding of your home’s property lines is a very important part of being a homeowner. Knowing where your property begins and ends can prevent potential unpleasantries or legal disputes with your neighbors. It can also ensure that you’re respecting your neighbor’s privacy and space. It’s important to note that an unknown property line encroachment could result in a title company refusing insurance.

Important Things to Remember about Your Property Line:

It is always important to know your rights as a homeowner, especially when it comes to property lines. These disputes are the cause of many neighborhood arguments and can be easily stopped with some knowledge. Below are a few reminders:

  • Leaves, pods, acorns, etc. falling onto your property are considered a natural occurrence and are the property owner’s responsibility to clear away.
  • If branches fall and cause damage on your property for any reason other than a storm, your neighbor is responsible for the cleanup and damage.
  • If you and your neighbor compare deeds and the property lines do not match up, you will need to agree to pay for a survey. You have to agree to split the survey, one person cannot bully the other into paying for the survey.

Always check with your local laws before getting into a dispute. Property laws change drastically from state to state.

Get up to speed on your new home with these 12 tips.

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