Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
My husband’s father died three years ago and we bought some rural
property. Since then we built an outhouse, then a house, various
outbuildings, and fence-line improvements. As we were contemplating
a larger project we discovered, to our great horror, that all the extra
improvements we had done (other the house) were on the wrong side
of a property line. Our first response was terror at all the legal hassles
and costs, and at the seller for misrepresentation, anger at ourselves
for not having had it surveyed before buying, and an irrational desire
to just sell the place and start over again somewhere else. Do you
have any rational ideas for how to proceed? One note: because there
was a big “maybe some developer will buy up all this property for an
outlet mall” rumor a few years ago we think he neighbors on whose
side of the line we did our work may not sell. But their parcel is too
small to build a house upon on based on current zoning.
Between a Fence and a Hard Place
The simplest, assuming you can afford it, would be to buy some or all
of the adjoining property. How you offer and get an answer without
revealing the potential for them to sue you is a tricky tightrope to
walk. My first instinct is a simple approach saying, We know your
property is too small to build on and we’d like to expand ours. Wanna
sell? If you get a yes you are just haggling over price. Your baseline
offer could include the legal costs you might otherwise incur.
If they decline or identify the boundary issue on their own, you should
look into relocating the improvements and returning the land to how it
was. Or even offering to give or sell the improvements to them. If they
are spiteful or litigious you might still incur legal costs or even fines.
But consultation with a land-use/real- estate lawyer should net you a
lot of useful information. One question you should definitely ask is
whether the people you bought the property from have any obligation
to have done the survey or verified the property line before they sold
it, or if in fact you screwed yourselves by insufficient research.