Where Are Your Boundaries?

Many parcels in North Country are described by metes and bounds.  That means that your land is not part of a subdivision and, as a result, your legal description is often a very long description of calls that trace your boundaries and then relate to government section pins.  These descriptions are often quite old and most transactions simply repeat the old description without the benefit of a modern survey to confirm its accuracy.  This can lead to several issues.

One common problem is that your improvements or that of your neighbor encroach over these old lines described in your deed.  According to the law of adverse possession, if structures, driveways, fences, drainfields or even landscaping encroach over the line and the parties come to assume these structures are on the correct parcel, then a Court would find that your neighbor owns the real estate under these structures even if their legal description doesn’t include this land.  This usually comes to a head when a survey is completed and it shows that what’s on the ground doesn’t match up with old legal descriptions.  The only way to really confirm if you have a problem is to get a survey.

Along lakeshore, another common problem is that an old description will use the lake as a boundary.  The problem with that is that lakes move over time so your description may not guarantee that you own all the way to the water’s edge.  Old descriptions often refer to an old fence, tree or road as well and all these things can move or disappear over time and now your description is ambiguous.

Many people believe that when they obtain title insurance or use a title company that these issues are addressed.  Unfortunately an examiner of the record title can only review what is of record.  If there is no current survey, they can confirm you have title to your real estate but they can’t confirm that this real estate properly includes all the land you think you own.  In other words, part of your yard may be outside of your legal description but a deed or your abstract would not put anyone on notice of that.  Again, a survey is really the only way to address this issue.

Like many other title problems, lake lots seem to be the most common source of these title issues as lakes were developed a long time ago, before modern survey techniques and lakes are round and descriptions are usually rectangles.  In addition, people tend to assume the angle of their lot from the lake to the road is a right angle but it is often at a different angle and then people’s yards tend to creep over the described boundary.  As always, it is best to have a survey and title search done before you are about to close on your property so you have enough time to fix these issues as they often are difficult to solve and being in a rush simply hurts your negotiating power.

Please send any request for topic suggestions to rene@breenandperson.com.  Although we cannot give you legal advice through the column, we can provide some general information that may be helpful for you to know.  Our purpose is to educate and we hope that you can take something new away from this column each time you read it.