Title & Boundary Dispute Law in Iowa
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.
In these situations, neighbors usually have the option to resolve the dispute by themselves. If the neighbors are on amicable terms with each other, and the dispute is minor (for example, it only involves a difference of a couple feet), and enforcing the property lines would be a major inconvenience for one or both of the neighbors, they'll probably decide to just go on as they had before. This is a viable option, to be sure, but it's not a perfect one: if, sometime down the road, one of the neighbors wants to attempt to enforce the legal boundaries, they might find themselves unable 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.
While the boundary disputes discussed above occur fairly regularly, they aren't the only type of land dispute that can happen in Polk County, Iowa. There are also title disputes. These disagreements arise when it isn't clear who owns an entire parcel of land. There are many reasons why such confusion might arise, but a common one is failure to properly record a deed, or subsequent loss of a deed by the recording office. While usually innocent in origin, these disputes can also be the product of fraud. Sometimes, a landowner will sell his land to more than one person, with each buyer assuming that they are the only buyer. Having "sold" his land multiple times, the fraudster presumably flees the jurisdiction with his ill-gotten gains. This leaves the buyers to figure out who actually owns the land that each of them thought they had just bought. Obviously, whoever loses this dispute will usually have to absorb the loss of the land's purchase price, if the fraudulent seller cannot be found.
Possible Outcomes of Boundary and Title Disputes in Polk County, Iowa
There are many ways to resolve boundary disputes. One way is to change the legal property lines to reflect the use that the neighbors had been making of the land before the discrepancy was discovered. This is generally considered a sort of "neutral" result - nobody's situation changes. If both neighbors knew about the real boundaries for a very long time, and did nothing about it, a court may view this as them having acquiesced to the status quo, and decide that it would be unfair to force the neighbors to change their use of the land after such a long period of time. This might also be done if enforcing the property lines would place a very large burden on one neighbor, and re-drawing them to reflect their actual use would put a comparatively small burden on the other neighbor
A court, for several possible reasons, might decide to give effect to the legally-recorded property lines, which would necessarily change the neighbors' situation, with respect to how they use their land. For example, if the neighbor who is benefiting from the current situation (he is using land beyond the actual boundary of his property, thereby encroaching onto the land of another) knew about the discrepancy and took steps to actively hide this fact from the other neighbor, the court is very unlikely to do anything that rewards this behavior, even in the slightest. Accordingly, a court is likely to decide against the dishonest neighbor. Conversely, if the neighbor who would benefit from enforcing the property lines did nothing to make this happen for many years, a court will probably tell them that they had their chance, and basically consented to the current arrangement when they took no action to correct it.
In the case of disputes over title, courts have to figure out who owns a particular piece of real property. Courts will consider many factors, and there are some complicated and (in some cases) antiquated legal issues that guide Polk County, Iowa courts on these matters.
Without going into too much detail, the person who recorded their deed first will be the one who takes ownership, provided he or she did not know (or had no reason to know) of the existence of the other deed.
What Can A Polk County, Iowa Attorney Do?
As you might have gathered, it's not uncommon for the legal issues governing boundary and title disputes to get very complicated. Furthermore, any dispute that can affect one's use or ownership of land has very high stakes (land isn't usually cheap, after all). Therefore, it shouldn't come as a surprise that hiring a competent Polk County, Iowa real estate lawyer to help in situations like this is always a good idea.