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 truly 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 Mateo County, 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). Typically, 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 Mateo County, 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 frequently 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.
A court might do the opposite, and decide to enforce the property lines as they're drawn. This will always benefit one neighbor and hurt the other. A court will probably do this if one neighbor knew that his land was encroaching onto another person's property, and actively tried to hide that fact from his neighbor. Obviously, such bad behavior shouldn't be rewarded. Conversely, if the neighbor whose land was being encroached upon knew about the discrepancy, and did nothing about it, the court will probably change the property lines to reflect this prior use, to prevent that neighbor from being rewarded for "sitting on his rights."
When a title dispute comes up in San Mateo County, California, the court has to apply some pretty perplexing 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.
In general, the person who first recorded the deed at the appropriate government office will be the one who the court deems to own the land, if they didn't have any reason to know about the existence of the other deed, or other sale, or whatever else gave rise to the title conflict.
What Can A San Mateo County, California Attorney Do?
As you might have gathered, it's not uncommon for the legal issues governing boundary and title disputes to get very complicated. Moreover, any dispute that can affect one's use or ownership of land has very high stakes (land isn't typically cheap, after all). Therefore, it shouldn't come as a surprise that hiring a competent San Mateo County, California real estate lawyer to help in situations like this is always a good idea.