Title & Boundary Dispute Law in Massachusetts
If you discover that you and your neighbor's use of your respective properties do not reflect the legal property lines, this can create a problem.
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.
Therefore, neighbors more often end up in some type of legal dispute over whether and to what extent the property lines should be enforced. Obviously, when the property lines are changed, one neighbor wins, and the other loses. It should come as no surprise, then, that legal fights are often the result.
In addition to the boundary disputes mentioned above, land owners and buyers in Topsfield, Massachusetts should also be aware of the possibility of a title dispute. Rather than being a disagreement over the exact boundaries between two pieces of land, a title dispute is a disagreement over who actually owns an entire plot of land. Uncertainty over ownership of land can come up more often than you might think, and is most often caused by a buyer's failure to correctly record a deed, or the accidental loss or destruction of a deed. Sometimes, however, these disputes can be more dishonest in origin: on occasion, unscrupulous sellers of land will attempt to sell the same parcel to more than one person. Obviously, once you've sold land to one person, you can't sell the same land to someone else, as you no longer own it. These tricksters know this, but are attempting to gain a large amount of money through the multiple sales. Once this is done, they usually attempt to flee the state or country before the buyers discovery they've been duped. This leaves it up to the buyers to figure out amongst themselves who owns the land.
Possible Outcomes of Boundary and Title Disputes in Topsfield, Massachusetts
One way to resolve boundary disputes is to simply re-draw the property lines to reflect what the neighbors thought they were all along. When this happens, nobody's situation changes, and it's generally considered a neutral result (causing no significant loss or gain to either party). This is often done if both of the neighbors knew about the actual property lines for many years, and didn't do anything about it. A court might also take this course of action if enforcing the property lines would impose a significant hardship on one of the parties, not outweighed by the overall benefits of doing so.
However, a court might also enforce the legal property boundaries, especially if failing to do so would place a significant burden on the owner of the encroached-upon land. If the owner of the encroaching land knew of the encroachment, and concealed it from his neighbor, this fact would also weigh heavily in favor of enforcing the legal property lines.
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 complex and (in some cases) antiquated legal issues that guide Topsfield, Massachusetts courts on these matters.
Without delving into the details too much, courts usually resolve title disputes by looking at who recorded the deed first, and whether or not that person had notice of any prior sales of the same land. To prevail in a dispute like this, a buyer will generally need to prove that they were the first to record their deed, and that they had no notice (or reason to know) of any prior conveyances of the same land.
What Can A Topsfield, Massachusetts 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 Topsfield, Massachusetts real estate lawyer to help in situations like this is always a good idea.