It's not unusual for a homeowner to build a fence or wall that falls inside his neighbor's boundary. If the encroachment takes only a small strip of land, you may not be too bothered about it. Yet even a small encroachment can cause big problems when you try to sell the property. Plus, there's a risk that your neighbor will meet the statutory period for squatter's rights and be able to legally claim title to the encroached upon area. You can nip these problems in the bud by sending an encroachment notice.
Be Sure of Your Boundaries
Before you do anything, make sure you know where the boundaries of your property are. You are about to ask your neighbor to move his boundary structure and you don't want to cause resentment over mistaken property lines. In most cases, you'll have received a plat map when you bought your home showing the measured boundary. If you don't have a copy, check with the county clerk's office. Where there's no plat, or the one you have is wildly out of date, it's worth hiring a surveyor to do a land survey. You'll need a professional survey if the matter winds up in court.
Figure Out What You Want Your Neighbor to Do
The next step is figuring out what you want your neighbor to do about the encroachment. There are multiple solutions for resolving property line disputes. You can:
- ask your neighbor to remove the encroaching structure.
- leave the encroachment in place and give your neighbor written permission to "borrow" the strip of land. This is a good option if the encroachment does not bother you, but you want to stop the neighbor claiming legal title to the land in the future.
- sell the encroached-upon land to your neighbor.
Be aware that you'll need your mortgage lender's consent if you're thinking of selling or leasing any part of your land. A real estate attorney can help you get the papers in order.
Write the Letter
Now that you have your ducks in a row, writing the letter is reasonably straightforward. Break it down into these sections:
- Describe the violation. For example, the neighbor's hedge or fence is encroaching on your property. Attach your survey or plat map highlighting the disputed area.
- Explain that you are giving the neighbor notice that she needs to remove the encroaching structure. Specify a reasonable period in which the neighbor should fix the encroachment, for example 30 days.
- If relevant, mention other solutions such as selling the land or giving the neighbor permission to use the encroached-upon area. Invite the neighbor to talk to you or your attorney about these options.
- Warn your neighbor that you will go to court if he doesn't fix the problem, seeking an ejectment order that will force him to remove the encroachment at his own expense.
Send your letter via certified mail so you can track its delivery.
Tips and Recommendations
There is no standard land encroachment complaint letter, and the best advice is to keep things simple. You don't have to cite any law or get especially complex. Be polite and courteous; remember, you live next door and you do not want to harm the goodwill between you and your neighbor. Assume she encroached innocently – there's a chance your neighbor will be embarrassed to learn that she's done something wrong. If you don't get the hoped-for results, have your attorney send the letter. This shows you mean business and are prepared to go to court.
While there's no standard legal notice for encroachment, it should clearly put your neighbor on notice that she needs to remove the encroaching structure or face legal action.
- Ask your neighbor in a polite and courteous manner to remove the encroachment before you resort to sending your letter. You live next door, and you do not want strained relations existing with neighbors if you can avoid it.
- You cannot legally remove an encroachment upon your land by yourself, without the express permission of the adjoining landowner. You could be charged with trespassing or destruction of private property.
Jayne Thompson earned an LL.B. in Law and Business Administration from the University of Birmingham and an LL.M. in International Law from the University of East London. She practiced in various “Big Law” firms before launching a career as a commercial writer. Her work has appeared on numerous legal blogs including Quittance, Upcounsel and Medical Negligence Experts.