Title & Boundary Dispute Law in Virginia
Sometimes, neighbors will discover that the way they've been using their land doesn't conform with the property lines that the local government has on record. When they find out, the case has to be resolved somehow. In such cases, there is usually a winner and a loser, so conflict is likely to arise.
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 frequently, and might have consequences down the road, including title eventually changing to reflect the perceived property lines, without the choice of either neighbor.
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 further 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 Prince William County, Virginia. 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 typically 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 truly owns the land that each of them thought they had just bought. Obviously, whoever loses this dispute will typically 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 Prince William County, Virginia
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 usually regarded 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 an extremely large burden on one neighbor, and re-drawing them to reflect their actual use would put a comparatively small burden on the other neighbor
On the other hand, a court could determine 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 majority of them boil down to common-sense principles of fairness. For instance, 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 likely won't enforce them.
In Prince William County, Virginia courts have many options when it comes to resolving title disputes. However, these disputes are usually controlled by some fairly complicated (and old) legal principles. While they're usually built around policies that most people would find to be quite fair and reasonable, their application can be nearly impenetrable, even for some lawyers.
Without delving into the specifics too much, courts typically 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 succeed in a dispute like this, a buyer will usually 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 Prince William County, Virginia Attorney Do?
The legal issues surrounding title and boundary disagreements can get pretty confusing, and there are typically very high stakes involved (most people think their land is pretty important). For that reason, a good Prince William County, Virginia real estate attorney will prove invaluable if such a dispute arises.