Utah Real Estate:
Property Boundary Disputes
By Benjamin T. Beasley. Ben Beasley is a partner at the law firm of Freeman Lovell. His practice is focused on business, finance, and real estate law. He received his juris doctor degree from Harvard Law School.
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Utah real estate use and ownership are often in transition, and as properties change owners and uses, neighboring property owners may disagree as to the location of boundaries between parcels, what easements exist and how they work, and how roadways are set up. Items that may have been used as de facto boundaries, such as fence lines, creeks, canals, or even grass types, often don’t follow the property boundaries set out in deeds and surveys filed with county records.
Because of this, boundary disputes are common in Utah. Without good legal assistance, these disagreements often escalate quickly and lead to unnecessary conflicts and litigation. These issues can be made more problematic due to the unusual nature of property descriptions, as it is difficult to clearly understand metes and bounds descriptions and visualize how the written language in a document matches the reality on the ground.
Often, lot owners do not pay attention to the legal documents filed with the county until the property is sold, passed down to heirs, or the use of the land is changed. Agricultural land may be subdivided to create a neighborhood of homes, or existing residential homes may be remodeled or replaced for commercial use. Changes in ownership or use typically require a review of the property by the new owner, a lender, a developer, or the local zoning office, and this can bring to light issues that were not known, sometimes for decades. Unexpectedly, adjoining property owners may have competing claims for a piece of property.
Whether a fence line, boundary marker, driveway, or other item must be moved or changed depends on the facts of the case. Further, a developer may be required to comply with local laws and codes, such as setback requirements, roadways, easements, and access. Legal doctrines such as adverse possession and boundary by agreement may affect who currently has rights, and can even change the legal ownership of the land to be different from that set forth in recorded documents.
Reviewing Your Property Rights
Rights to real estate in Utah normally arise via documents recorded with the country recorder for the county in which the property in located, and those are the first place to start when questions arise. A property owner is granted rights by a deed, normally a warranty deed, a special warranty deed, or a quit claim deed. The rights to the real estate go through the chain of deeds back through time to the original land grant, normally by the government. In Utah, many of these grants were done in the 1800s, although governmental land grants and sales still take place today. A property owner with questions should first pull his or her deed(s) from the county recorder and review the rights and property granted. Metes and bounds are tricky, but in more recent developments, a legal description may be to a plat map.
A plat map is a recorded survey map of the parcel(s), such as a subdivision map showing all of the parcels in the subdivision. This should be on file with the county recorder, and it sets forth many of the rights and restrictions for the plats that it shows. A close reading of a plat map often shows the metes and bounds of the parcels, utility easements, public and private roadways, restrictions on use of the property (such as for residential purposes only), rights of way, and other rights and restrictions of the property.
One key type of documentation to be aware of is an easement. These can be in plat maps or deeds, or can be their own document. An easement gives another party a right to use the property in some way, such as giving a utility company the right to place utility lines or pipes on the property, or giving a neighbor the right to use a driveway to cross the land and access their property. Many different types of easements exist, and their specific obligations and rights are normally set forth in the recorded document.
Other documents exist that may affect property rights. A good title company can help provide these documents and insure that the property rights and obligations are clear, while a good surveyor can create a depiction showing where the recorded property lines are. Review of the documentation, with perhaps title and survey information, as well as pertinent legal doctrines and issues, can help resolve boundary disagreements and problems of all types.
Enlist a Utah Real Estate Attorney
Our deep knowledge of Utah real estate law can help you with all aspects of your real estate needs. Whether you are seeking to buy, sell, develop, or research real property in Utah, or have a dispute with another person or entity, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial free, thirty minute consultation. Call us at (801) 477-6838 for a free consultation. You can also email Ben at , fill out a contact form below, or set up an appointment to meet at our offices. We look forward to helping you.