Title & Boundary Dispute Law in North Carolina
Sometimes, neighbors will find out that their use of their land (or what they thought was their land) is not reflected in the actual property lines on record. Obviously, this can create a problem.
In a seemingly-ideal situation, the neighbors will choose to ignore this new revelation, and go on as they always have. Of course, this doesn't happen commonly, and might have consequences down the road, including title eventually changing to reflect the perceived property lines, without the choice of either neighbor.
It's more commonly the case that one neighbor wants to maintain the current use of the land, property lines notwithstanding, while the other neighbor wants to enforce the property lines that are on record. This is because moving a property line necessarily expands the land of one neighbor, while shrinking the land of another. Obviously, the neighbor whose land would be shrunk will probably oppose any attempt to enforce the property lines.
People in Durham, North Carolina 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). Normally, 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 Durham, North Carolina
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 typically 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 considerable hardship on one of the parties, not outweighed by the overall benefits of doing so.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons why a court might decide to enforce the property lines as the records indicate. If one neighbor knew about the discrepancy, and hid it from the other neighbor (presumably because the neighbor with the knowledge of the discrepancy benefited from it), a court will, of course, not reward this kind of dishonesty, and will decide against that neighbor. On the other hand, if the neighbor whose land would be expanded by enforcing the "real" property boundaries knew this fact, and took no action for many years, a court will probably not be receptive if he or she suddenly tries to enforce them. This is referred to as "sitting on one's rights," and courts will not reward this, either. If you have a legal right, you're expected to make efforts to vindicate it as soon as possible. If you don't, a court will basically say "I guess it wasn't that important to you if you waited 10 years to bring this to our attention. Next case."
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 confusing and (in some cases) antiquated legal issues that guide Durham, North Carolina courts on these matters.
Suffice to say, you'll want the help of an expert on this subject. In general, however, you should know that courts almost always rule in favor of the buyer who first recorded the deed, AND (not "or") didn't have knowledge of any prior conveyances. This protects the buyer who was most diligent in vindicating his own rights, and acted in good faith (obviously, a buyer who knew about a prior sale of the same land isn't acting honestly).
What Can A Durham, North Carolina Attorney Do?
Because of the high stakes, going it alone in a boundary or title dispute is rarely advisable. Therefore, it's almost always a good idea to get a good Durham, North Carolina real estate attorney to help you with such legal problems.