Our office has seen an uptick in boundary disputes over the last several months. These disputes commonly arise after one homeowner begins to remodel. This is because, as part of the construction process, the City will oftentimes require the owner to obtain a survey, and sure enough, the survey shows that the current fence line is not the true boundary.
Usually, these disputes center on theories of adverse possession or prescriptive easement. However, another theory that often controls the outcome is the “agreed boundary doctrine.”
In Martin v. Van Bergen, the Martins owned a vineyard next door to Van Bergen’s almond orchard in Paso Robles, California. A fence ran between them, but it was misplaced and encroaching onto the Martin’s property. Van Bergan’s orchard was planted up to the misplaced fence, and thus encroached on the Martins’ property. Martin filed suit to quiet title. Defendant Van Bergen asserted the agreed boundary doctrine as its defense.
In order to prevail on the doctrine of agreed boundary, the claimant must prove:
1. An uncertainty as to the true boundary line;
2. An agreement between the neighbors fixing the location of the line; and
3. Acceptance of the line in its agreed location for a period lasting the statute of limitations.
The testimony at trial established that the parties constructed a new fence along the same, incorrect location as the old one. The parties simply assumed that the fence was on the correct boundary. Subsequent surveys revealed otherwise.
California Courts have repeatedly shot down the agreed boundary doctrine because a boundary is not uncertain if it can be determined by a survey. The courts tend to give deference to “the sanctity of true and accurate legal descriptions.”
The Court here found that although the parties acquiesced in the location of the fence for many years, there was no evidence of an actual agreement that the fence was intended to usurp the true boundary line. Further, as the survey established the actual boundary line, there could not be uncertainty as to what the true boundary line was.
This case is in line with many past decisions, and again re-affirms the difficulty that an encroaching neighbor will have attempting to preserve the encroachment and overcoming the presumptions of the agreed boundary doctrine.
If you have any questions about a property line dispute, or real estate related legal issues in general, please contact the Law Offices of Peter Brewer at (650) 327-2900 or on the web at www.brewerfirm.com. Real Estate Law – From the Ground Up