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Potential legal remedies in a Minnesota property boundary dispute

On behalf of Patrick Burns

When neighbors disagree about where their mutual boundary is, legal action may be necessary.

People tend to go about their lives without thinking much about the boundary lines of their land. We tend to presume that it is on or near the mowing line or along the fence, tree line or driveway. Until a neighbor raises an issue about the location of a boundary or we have a survey done and are surprised by the result, it is not something that comes up often.

But when it does, it can impact real estate value or cause neighborly friction. Some boundary disputes are problematic such as when a building straddles a property line or a neighbor cuts down trees you both think are yours. It can also be a significant issue when the owner wants to sell the parcel or develop it and exact lines must be legally determined.

Consulting with a real estate lawyer early on is a good idea to understand your rights and options. You may be able to negotiate an agreement to set the boundary with your neighbor. If you cannot come to a compromise, you may decide to file suit in Minnesota state court. Legal counsel can advise you of your options under the particular circumstances of your boundary dispute. It is not unusual for detailed analysis and significant investigation to be required in order to understand the legal remedies suited to each unique property line dispute.

Adverse possession

The doctrine of adverse possession vests title to land in a so-called adverse possessor even though another person holds legal title. Basically, under Minnesota law, the possessor has to prove to the court that he or she has openly, exclusively and without permission (called hostile even if not in bad faith) used that property continually for at least 15 years for the doctrine to be a possible way to obtain title over a disputed piece of property along a boundary.

The possession has to be more than just trespassing or casually entering the property as neighbors occasionally and informally do. Once title is obtained through adverse possession, a lawyer should be consulted about how to make the title marketable and insurable.

Practical location of boundaries

This concept is similar to adverse possession except that the adjoining landowners are not hostile; rather they behave as if the boundary between them is different than that in the legal description in a deed or where it would fall if the property were surveyed. As described in the Minnesota Practice Series, the court would transfer title to the disputed strip “to give effect to informal understandings or implicit agreements about the location of a common boundary …”

Action to determine adverse claims

Known in most other states as an action to quiet title, the Minnesota action to determine adverse claims is a request for the court to determine appropriate title when two parties each claim interest in property, such as in a strip of disputed land on a boundary.

These are just some of the legal concepts at play when a boundary dispute must be resolved. Other relevant doctrines might include a claim for prescriptive easement, a petition to reform a deed, a suit for trespass and more.

From their offices in the west metro, the lawyers of Burns & Hansen, P.A., represent residential and commercial clients in boundary disputes and across the spectrum of real estate matters.