Title & Boundary Dispute Law in California
Finding out that property lines are improperly drawn and learning that you have been partially occupying your neighbor's land, or vice versa, can create some fairly serious legal issues.
Sometimes, neighbors will decide amongst themselves that the issue isn't worth fighting over, and will go on as they did before. This is particularly likely if the neighbors are on good terms, and the difference between their use of the land, and the actual property lines, is small (say, a few feet or less). This is an ideal situation, at least in the short term. It can, however, cause problems in the future - preventing a neighbor from enforcing the actual property lines, if they suddenly have a reason to do so.
In these cases, what often happens is that the owner of the property which is actually larger than he initially believed (due to the property line not being where he thought it was) wants to make use of the additional property, and eject his neighbor from it. The other neighbor, on the other hand, will want to keep using the land as before, to avoid having his property shrink.
People in San Francisco, California should also be aware of the possibility of title (ownership) disputes. Unlike the boundary disputes discussed above, the outcome of a title dispute can determine who owns an entire parcel of real property. Confusion over who actually owns a piece of property is more common that some people might imagine. Many local property records are still kept on paper, are not very well-organized, and sometimes date back a hundred years or more. A lost or misfiled deed is the most common way for a title dispute to arise. However, sometimes fraud on the part of a seller can lead to title disputes. Unscrupulous individuals will sometimes try to sell the same piece of land to more than one person. And some people even try to sell property they don't own, occasionally succeeding (and this isn't just limited to bridges in London). Usually, once the buyers discover they've been duped, the "seller" is nowhere to be found, leaving them to figure out who owns the land they all thought they had purchased.
Possible Outcomes of Boundary and Title Disputes in San Francisco, California
One possible outcome of a boundary dispute is a court effectively re-drawing the boundaries to fit what the neighbors had perceived. This is most often done if the neighbors were aware for a long time of the "real" property lines, and didn't do anything about it. It also helps if the neighbor who is encroaching makes major improvements to the land, and enforcing the new property lines would place a major burden on him.
On the other hand, a court could decide to take the opposite approach, and order the neighbors to abide by the legal property lines. When deciding which course of action to take, courts consider many factors, but most of them boil down to common-sense principles of fairness. For example, if the owner of the land who was encroaching onto his neighbor's land knew of the encroachment, and hid this fact from the other neighbor (hoping to continue to use more land than he paid for), that will weigh heavily in favor of enforcing the legal property lines. On the other hand, if neither neighbor knew about the error, and it turns out that the actual property line goes through somebody's living room, a court probably won't enforce them.
When a title dispute comes up in San Francisco, California, the court has to apply some pretty confusing legal and equitable principles. These rules are sometimes fairly obscure, mainly because they can trace their origins back hundreds of years, to the common-law courts of England. However, a close examination of them reveals their basic goal: deciding ownership disputes based on longstanding conceptions of basic fairness.
Generally, the person who records the deed first will be the one who takes ownership. Of course, this will only be if they had no reason to know about the other deeds).
What Can A San Francisco, California Attorney Do?
Because of the high stakes, going it alone in a boundary or title dispute is rarely prudent. Therefore, it's almost always a good idea to get a good San Francisco, California real estate attorney to help you with such legal problems.