May 2014 Bar Bulletin
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May 2014 Bar Bulletin

Boundaries: The Title Lines That Blind

By Robert WM Zierman


For time immemorial we have sought to identify and protect the bounds of our land. Why? Absent perhaps the capstone of self-actualization, realization of all the other pyramid levels of Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs can be indirectly, if not directly, met as a result of real property.

Real property provides a space for the satisfaction of all our physical needs; safety and protection of resources; a place to gather for love and belonging; and a means of projecting esteem in one's community. But how do we identify our real estate? We do this by legal descriptions. These legal descriptions in turn - whether in reference to plats on a specific page in a particular book of maps at the recorder's office, government lots or perhaps by metes and bounds - were all developed by surveyors at one time or another using the tools of the day.

Barring scrivener or computational error, the results are designed to allow later identification of property corners and the resulting title lines, which purport to connect and surround each of our respective real properties. Unfortunately, scrivener and computational errors do occur.

The tools that were used for original platting and sub-platting may have changed so drastically that current methods of measure fly in the face of the old tools. Most importantly, there are untold other reasons why these deviations occur that have nothing to do with surveyors. The end result though is often the same - in a high percentage of situations, owners' use of real property "on the ground" simply does not match their title lines.

Title lines are in essence invisible curtains. Are you able to look at your legal description and immediately know the bounds of your property? I know I can't. But once these invisible curtains become revealed, all sorts of trouble can erupt.

Generally, it starts as something that sounds somewhat akin to the following: "This is my property and I've been paying tax on it. You [my dear] neighbor have been using my land now for several years. That's not fair. I want it back."

Unfortunately, there is a real misunderstanding between title lines and boundary lines. True, the surveyor is very likely in the best position to render a very accurate opinion as to how the title lines relate to the land. Yet, the surveyor cannot tell where the boundary line is. This disconnect creates untold and unreasonable friction between neighbors.

As attorneys we can either help to properly educate our clients about this difference and to come to terms with their neighbors in order to maintain peace ... or not. Unfortunately, the ability to do the former is often predicated upon our clients' neighbors being well counseled and also willing to be reasonable.

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