Boundary disputes and property disputes are one of the more challenging areas of real estate law. Common examples of these type of disputes are a fence or property divider being in the wrong place, an incorrect survey, a property encroachment, improved property being developed on the wrong lot, and a dispute over ownership of land. Having one of these issues can devalue your property or even prevent you from selling your property. Since real estate is likely any owner’s most valuable asset, you can rest assure they will fight diligently to protect it.
Disputes arise due to uncertainty or confusion. Property owners assume that that fences are placed correctly on the property line when they are not. Deeds sometimes have errors and multiple parties have rights to property. Reading and interpreting legal documents and surveys improperly also contribute to these disputes. If the uncertainty or confusion is not resolved things can escalate quickly between property owners. Even the President of the United States of America can find himself in a land dispute in Texas.
When you have a discrepancy with another property owner, you should address it promptly. Delaying a resolution could cause you further damage. The first step to take is gathering all your documentation. Most documents you need will be recovered from your closing package, a survey and documents from the city such as plat maps and deeds.
Once you have all your documentation it is important to get with one of our Houston property dispute lawyers to conduct a property audit. A property audit is a complete review of all the documentation pertaining to the dispute. The lawyers will interpret all the documents and establish what rights you have what can be done to remedy the dispute.
Regardless of which resolution you choose a demand letter or notice of dispute should always be sent to the opposing property owner to give them notice of the alleged claims.
Benefits of Sending a Demand Letter or a Notice of Dispute:
- It will document your attempt to resolve the dispute amicably. Most litigation will require this anyway so it is good practice to start with this step.
- A demand letter will document the opposing property owner’s resistance to remedying the issues if they don’t comply.
- If they do comply it would save you time, energy , and money by resolving the issue without litigation. If you can come to terms at this point, it’s a good idea to have the Houston property dispute lawyers prepare a settlement agreement. If they fail to comply after they agreed to it in writing you may have some recourse through a suit for breach of contract.
Not all disputes can be solved through a simple demand letter. In fact, most are not. This is why it is good to have one of our Houston property dispute lawyers involved from the beginning to ensure you are taking the right steps to set up and prosecute your claims with the minimal financial obligation and shortest time period.
There are generally four types of causes of action related to these types of conflicts:
Trespass to real property is an unauthorized entry upon the land of another, and may occur when one enters, or causes something to enter, another’s property In order to recover damages for trespassing, (1) the plaintiff must show they own the land, (2) the entry of the defendant was physical, intentional and voluntary, and (3) the defendant’s trespass caused injury to the plaintiff.
Pentagon Enterprises v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 540 S.W.2d 477, 478 (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 1976, writ ref’d. n.r.e.).
An encroachment is when a person has a physical intrusion that intrudes on or over another’s land. The physical intrusion can be structural, nonstructural, or vegetative. This can include a fence, shed, tree, grass, or even a house.
Encroachment is very similar to trespass except that a trespass applies to a person making an unauthorized entry onto another ’s land. An encroachment, on the other hand, applies to a structure or some other physical object that illegally protrudes or invades another’s land.
In layman’s terms, adverse possession is when a person uses, occupies, or possesses land or improved property continuously for a certain period of time and takes legal possession of the property. The Texas statute allows for a 3, 5, and 10 year time period. There are different requirements for each time frame but it is possible to legally take another’s land even if you were not the true owner.
This typically happens when a neighbor has used a piece of property for an extended period of time and then eventually makes a legal claim to the property. Upholding an adverse possession claim is not as easy as it sounds as there are many requirements you have to fulfill to be awarded an adverse possession claim. Speak to one of our Houston property dispute lawyers to get more details on the requirements.
A declaratory judgment is where a court declaration is sought when a controversy exists between parties and can only be resolved by a trial in the court of law. These types of causes of action are used when there is no written law on which party is right and which party is wrong.
In many cases these types of causes of action are determined by case law. The Texas Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act governs declaratory judgments and can be found in chapter 37 of the Texas Practice and Remedies Code.
Most boundary disputes and property disputes can be resolved through an agreement or settlement. Unfortunately not all of them can be and require litigation. If you or someone you know find yourself in a boundary dispute or property dispute, you need to contact one of our Houston property dispute lawyers to help guide through your legal options.
Knowing what can be done by getting proper legal advice is important to resolve the dispute in the most cost effective and timely manner. Not relying on an expert can cause further damages and more expense. Make sure and let a professional assist you in resolving your dispute.