What To Do If You Think You’ve Accidentally Stolen Your Neighbor’s Land

Accidentally stealing your neighbors' land seems like a ridiculous idea on its face. After all, your neighbor would know if you were intruding on his or her property, right? Not necessarily. If neither of you have had a land survey completed in a long time, it's possible that, over the years, you may have accidentally captured land that didn't actually belong to you when you installed a fence, built a shed, or planted your garden. The problem can have long-reaching consequences for you and your neighbor, so you can't just ignore it. Here are your options if you suspect you've taken land that belongs to the people next door.

Get a Land Survey

Before you talk to your neighbor, the first thing you should do is have a professional survey the land to determine how far you've encroached on the other person's property. Regardless of what you ultimately decide to do, you'll need an accurate idea of how much land is in dispute.

If your neighbor already had a land survey conducted, you should consider getting your own done to ensure the first one was accurate. The average cost of a land survey is $475 depending on where you live. If you end up purchasing the land from your neighbor, you may be able to deduct the cost from your taxes. It's best to speak to a company like Wesley B Witt, Inc about your land survey options. 

Offer to Buy the Land

If you have something on the land, such as a fence or garden, and moving it is not an option, you can offer to purchase the land from your neighbor. This is the best choice if you want to maintain a good relationship with your neighbor.

The loss of the land will likely negatively impact the market value of your neighbor's home and improve the value of yours, so research the land prices in your neighborhood to get an idea of how much you should offer. For instance, the average cost of land in Florida is $5,000 per acre. If you're taking a quarter of an acre of your neighbor's land, then you should be prepared to pay around $1,250 for it.

Take Adverse Possession

If your neighbor isn't willing to sell the land or is asking too much for it, you may be able to seize the land using the adverse possession laws in your state. Be aware, though, that going this route will likely destroy any goodwill between you and your neighbor.

Adverse possession laws let you legally claim land that belongs to someone else by filing a lawsuit with the court. If the court decides in your favor, the land will be titled to you despite any objections your neighbor may have, and you won't be required to pay the person any money for it.

However, there are several requirements you must meet to successfully use this option. Though the rules may vary from state to state, in general, you must

  • Have possession of the property without permission of the owner
  • Be actually using the land
  • Be using the land exclusively (no one else is using it along with you)
  • Openly posses the land; the owner must be aware you are using it
  • Have used the land for a minimum length of time (for instance, in Michigan, you must have control of the land for at least 15 years)
  • The land must not be owned by the government

Adverse possession can get complicated, so it's best to consult with an attorney about this option.

For more information about settling a property dispute or to get an accurate survey of the boundaries between you and your neighbor, contact a surveyor in your area.