Today, most title insurance companies require some sort of survey before they will issue insurance. Typically, such policies do not include coverage for easements, encroachments and boundary line disputes disclosed in such a survey. This is called the “survey exception.”
“The trend in the title industry nationwide is to provide limited survey coverage,” Mr. Maher says.
But boundary line disputes often occur between neighbors who have both lived on their respective properties for many years. In the best-case scenario, neighbors could agree on a physical object, like a fence, to serve as the boundary line between their properties. Each owner would then sign a quitclaim deed to the other, granting the neighbor ownership to any land on the other side of the agreed-upon line.
You can always go to court. Filing a quiet title lawsuit means that you request a judge to determine the boundary lines of your property.
“When folks can’t agree, and there are two conflicting plats, you rely on the judge,” Mr. Konopka says. “Judges have jurisdiction over land.”
Lawsuits can be expensive and time-consuming, and they may leave you and your neighbor on less than speaking terms. Too often, neighbors end up erecting fences just to anger the guy next door.
“Spite fence claims can be more expensive than total title failures,” Mr. Maher says.
That’s where mediation comes in.
“Mediation provides the opportunity for people to have conversations in a different way,” says Mr. Michael. “We try to shift the discussion from positions, ‘Your fence is on my property,’ to interests, ‘I feel like I’m losing control of one of the things I use to define myself.’ If we can do that, the entire dynamic changes.”
At the Northern Virginia Mediation Service, mediators are trained to deal with a variety of disputes, including those between spouses and ex-spouses, parents and children, and of course, neighbors.
But whether you are trying to decide which child gets to live with whom or where that fence line should fall, the operating principles are much the same.
“We want to help people understand one another and the conflict better,” Mr. Michael says. “If you just work with positions then you are not going to get very far.”
Frequently, neighbors will try to employ the concept of “adverse possession,” to explain a change in the property line.
“Adverse possession is a difficult mechanism to prove ownership,” Mr. Maher says. “Most claims end up being intensely personal, spiteful and difficult to resolve.”
According to the principles of adverse possession, property can be acquired by another if it is used by a nonowner for a particular period of time, so long as such holding is “open,” “notorious” and “continuous.”