Land in California is precious. While disputes about where a property line falls can happen anywhere, these disputes may get particularly heated in California. This is especially true if your homes are close together.

Disputes may occur because one neighbor is looking to build an addition, a fence or replace an existing structure. Here is what you need to know about settling boundary line issues in California.

Who is responsible for maintaining a shared fence?

With a boundary fence, California law assumes that both property owners benefit from the shared fence. If the fence needs repair, you and your neighbor are both responsible for the maintenance costs associated. However, there are exceptions to that rule.

Can your neighbor build any fence?

In California, you can bring a lawsuit against your neighbor for private nuisance, if they build a fence just to bother you. A private nuisance is something that interferes with your enjoyment of your property. Generally, just finding the fence ugly is not enough to label it a nuisance. Your neighbor needs to be acting out of spite. However, your neighborhood association or city may have rules about the height or materials used on a fence. A fence you think is ugly may violate those rules, so that may be worth considering.

Get a survey

No matter what the problem is regarding your property line, the first thing you should do is get a land survey. A survey establishes the boundaries based on a legal description included in your deed of your property. This should help clear up if anyone is encroaching on another person’s land.

A survey may reveal you were accidentally encroaching on your neighbor’s land. Perhaps it was due to a previous owner’s error, or the deed was incorrect. Whatever the case, it does not necessarily mean you must give up this part of the property automatically. You could try to make arrangements for use with your neighbor, or you could try to claim the land as yours.

Can you claim adverse possession?

If you have occupied this part of the property for a long time, you may be able to claim adverse possession. According to the State of California, this would give you legal ownership of the property. To claim adverse possession, you must demonstrate:

  • You openly occupied the property.
  • You acted like you owned the property.
  • You did not share ownership of the property with anyone.
  • You possessed the property for five years or more.
  • You paid the property taxes during this period.

However, proving adverse possession can be difficult, and the standard of proof will rest on the person asserting an adverse possession claim.

What if your neighbor is encroaching on your land?

If a survey reveals your neighbor is over your property line, there are several remedies to this situation. You could speak to your neighbor and try to clear up the problem. Perhaps your neighbor did not realize he or she was over the property line. Or maybe he or she was aware, and the neighbor is not willing to cede the property back to you.

You could give your neighbor permission to use the property, and then have him or her sign a written acknowledgement. This would prevent your neighbor from asserting an adverse possession claim, since you are claiming the property as yours, and he or she has acknowledged that in writing.

You could also modify your property line, or offer to sell that piece of land to your neighbor.

If you simply want your neighbor off the property and he or she is disputing it, you may need to go to court to settle the issue. An attorney can examine your case and advise you of the smartest and quickest way to settle your property line issue.