Neighbors sometimes get into arguments over property boundaries, which can escalate and cause additional problems. We can't always prevent these disputes, but the following information will help you resolve issues and avoid problems with your neighbors.
Surveys done at the time of any property purchase should reflect the boundary lines. Prior to erecting a fence on a boundary line, an updated survey could be ordered to determine the accurate boundary lines. This may be impossible in some cases, due to the age of the property or the wording of the deed. (Some older deeds can contain legal descriptions such as "52 feet from the bend in the stream" on a piece of land, which now has only a dry riverbed where a stream once existed.)
In certain situations -- including when a survey will not resolve a boundary dispute -- a property owner may file a quiet title lawsuit and request that a judge determine the boundary lines of the property. This procedure is generally more expensive than a survey due to the legal filing fees.
See What Does Title Mean? to learn more about land titles.
Another alternative in a boundary dispute is for adjacent property owners to agree on a physical object -- such as a fence -- which could serve as the boundary line between the properties. Each owner would then sign a quitclaim deed to the other, granting the neighbor ownership to any land on the other side of the line agreed upon.
See Property Boundaries, Lines, and Neighbors FAQ for more details.
If the piece of property in dispute has been used by someone other than the owner for a number of years, the doctrine of adverse possession may apply. State laws vary with respect to time requirements. But typically, the possession by the non-owner must be open, notorious, and under a claim of right. In some states, the non-owner must also pay the property taxes on the occupied land. A permissive use of property eliminates the ability to claim adverse possession.
See Adverse Possession: Continuous Trespassers' Rights for more details.