Wait! You are on My Property...I Think?
May 23, 2011
You know the boundary lines of your property and everything else there is to know about your property. You know that tree in the back corner of your yard is on your property because it is on your side of the fence. You are sure the driveway coming up to your house is on your property because, after all, it is your driveway. But, if you had to, could you calculate precisely where your property begins and ends? What about who has the right to come onto your property and why? Now, you might have a sneaking thought – “Hmm, maybe I do not know everything there is to know about my property.” Before the placement of your new fence or the construction of a new addition to your house, you should invest in a professional survey of your property. A professional survey will settle common property description issues before they become problems and give you important information about what is buried on your property and who has the legal right to enter your property to maintain anything buried there. Below are some common reasons to get a professional survey:
- Boundary Lines. One of the most common reasons a landowner seeks the assistance of a surveyor is to determine the location of your property boundary lines. The location of boundary lines and other lines of occupancy or possession, like rights-of-way or easements, is a critical piece of information to have before you build a fence, add a sunroom, or pave your driveway. All too often the survey shows that you and your neighbors were operating under the wrong assumption about the placement of the boundary line between your properties. Before you have that fence erected, make sure it will be built on your property, not your neighbor’s. The boundary line certification will also tell you whether the legal description of your property is accurate or if the legal description on your deed needs to be corrected.
- Gores, Overlaps, and Gaps. The survey will include a statement about whether there is or is not any discrepancy between the boundary lines of your property and the adjoining property. This is especially important if your property is next to an alley, road, highway, or a street.
- Rights-of-Way, Easements, and Abandoned Roads. A survey will show all the conditions imposed by law that are reflected in your property’s title report and other agreements. If your property blocks your neighbor’s access to the road, for example, there could be an old agreement that gives your neighbor the right to use your property to get to the street.
- Joint Driveways, Party Walls, Rights-of-Support, Encroachments, Overhangs, or Projections. If you share a drive-way with your neighbor or if your driveways are connected in some way, you may have an obligation by law to support your neighbor’s driveway by maintaining your own.
- Existing Improvements. For better or worse, the surveyor typically certifies whether or not the existing buildings and other improvements, alterations, and repairs to your property violate any laws or other codes, such as those regarding height, bulk, dimension, frontage, building lines, set-backs, and parking.
- Water, Electric, Gas, Telephone and Telegraph Pipes, Drains, Wires, Cables, Vaults, Manhole Covers, Catch basins, Lines, and Poles. A survey will show the location of any underground cables and drains and report on a utility company’s rights to enter your property to maintain both underground and above ground wires/cables. This information is important for two reasons: 1) A utility company may have the right to use a portion of your property for upkeep of utility lines, and may have a say in how you landscape your yard; and, 2) you need to know the exact location of all underground utilities before you start any excavation or construction on your property.
- Cemeteries. While it is probably unlikely that unbeknownst to you, an old family burial ground is in your back yard, a survey will show the exact location of any old cemeteries if they do exist.
- Access, Ingress and Egress. A survey will note whether there is any physical vehicular ingress and egress to an open public street and will comment on the adequacy of access for a particular purpose, such as delivery trucks, emergency vehicles such as fire trucks, and driveways for tenants.
- Zoning Classification. You probably know whether your property is zoned for residential or light industrial use. But, you may be surprised to discover that your zoning classification puts specific restrictions on how you use your property. This part of the survey simply reports your zoning jurisdiction and classification.
A consultation with a knowledgeable real estate attorney can answer your questions about whether you are using your property in conformance with zoning ordinances and give you advice about the legal ramifications of your property survey.