Property Encroachment – What It Is and How It Can Affect You
Good fences make good neighbors…so long as that fence isn’t violating your property line! Property line encroachment is serious; after all, your property is yours and yours alone. Learn about your rights as a property owner and the proper way to address issues of encroachment in Michigan.
One of the most common forms of encroachment is a fence installed over the property line. Other common examples of encroachment include structures like sheds and garages that extend overtop of a neighbor’s land or a newly paved driveway that crosses over the property line.
The issue with encroachment is that, if left unchecked, it could result in the loss of a portion of your property through adverse possession. Alternatively, it could result in the formation of an easement by prescription.
An encroaching party may take ownership of property someone else owns if they can prove to have continuous, hostile, open, notorious, and exclusive possession of the property. Specific common law requirements and statutes of limitations regarding adverse possession cases vary by jurisdiction.
A prescriptive easement is a type of easement that may be claimed after a piece of property is used in a manner that is adverse to the owner’s rights for a given period.
For example, if the encroachment that led to the prescriptive easement was a driveway that was one foot over the property line, your neighbor may have the right to continue to use the driveway for ingress and egress into their property. However, they wouldn’t have the right to put up a fence along that same area. The granting of a prescriptive easement would allow your neighbor to continue using your land for the specific purpose that led to the encroachment.
A prescriptive easement is like an adverse possession claim in that certain criteria must be met before an easement is granted. Unlike adverse possession, though, the title never changes hand. An easement only allows usage of the land, not ownership of it.
In Michigan, a prescriptive easement may be granted after 15 years of continual, open, and notorious use. A prescriptive easement is subject to the same 15-year period that adverse possession claims are, and still must be argued in front of a judge, meaning you will have multiple chances to stop any claims against your property.
If you suspect that your neighbor has encroached on your property, follow these steps:
- Talk to Them: There’s a very real chance that everything was a complete misunderstanding. If you’re not entirely sure where the property lines fall, your neighbor probably has questions, too. If the encroachment was an honest mistake, it’s likely you can come to an agreement or make a plan without legal intervention.
- Mark your Property Line Clearly with Signs or Your Own Fence: It’s not uncommon in northern Michigan to have land that isn’t fenced off. If you think your property is being encroached on, putting up “Private Property” signs or your own fencing can help establish your property lines and advertise them to your neighbors.
- Contact a Surveyor: If there is any confusion about where your property line lies, it’s time to hire a surveyor. Survey results are also admissible in court, meaning that this step can effectively end an encroachment dispute by confirming that your property line has been violated.
- Hire an Attorney: If a dispute still exists, we recommend contacting a reputable real estate attorney. Your attorney will be able to help you settle your dispute by pursuing an order to stop the encroachment and establish the legal property lines.
If you have tried to settle your property dispute outside of court to no avail, it’s time to explore your legal options. The attorneys at Dingeman & Dancer, PLC specialize in land use and property encroachment law in Michigan. We have the skills and experience to help you settle your property dispute.