Dear PoPville – Has Anyone Done a Boundary Survey for their Property?

Photo by PoPville flickr user JosephLeonardo

Dear PoPville,

I’m getting ready to do some work to my backyard and there is clearly an encroachment of our property line by one of our neighbors. Most likely not his fault as this fence was clearly misplaced way before either of us moved in.

Has anyone had a boundary survey done? Any tips?

16 Comment

  • I would recommend you actually get a copy of your plat as your metes and bounds are illustrated there. You would have gotten one in your settlement package when you bought your house, if you don’t know where that is, you can go downtown and get another copy.

    Having a surveyor come out and establish your metes and bounds isn’t a cheap enterprise, and there is no real need as your boundary line is clearly established on your plat.

    • Thanks Francois … I did just that, but the measurements are off according to the official historical boundaries we found. Any suggestions on surveyors?

    • T

      A plat is not going to help in this situation. Sure, the plat will show that your property is X feet wide by X feet long and Z feet back from the street, etc. However, that piece of paper does not show you where the corners of your property are physically located. That is what a site-survey is for. The plat is drawn from the surveyor information anyway.

  • (Not OP but a similar vein of questioning)

    What if the plat I got at closing is outdated and doesn’t show the neighboring building encroaching 1/2 foot onto my propertly line. Besides having an official survey done what can one do?

    And the only reason I ask is that the “neighboring building” is a year or two away from being torn down and redeveloped (it is a real POS and bricks fall into our backyard all the time) so when that happens I see primo opportunity to reclaim lost land.

    /Urban pioneer/

    • First, talk to a lawyer. If the fence has been there for 7 years or more, you may have lost your legal rights to the property.

      That fence looks to me like it’s on “public space”, which commonly extends some distance from the actual sidewalk. If it is, then it’s not legal, and not permittable, being well over 42 inches tall.

      • Presumably that’s just a random fence photo, not one of the actual property.

      • Not true. I called DCRA about a 6.5 foot tall fence in the public space, and they inspected it twice, and both times the inspector looked at a legal, 36 in. tall hand-railing on the property, ignoring the enormous fence right on the sidewalk, and said the hand-railing was legal and had all the right permits. No mention of the 6.5 foot fence.

        • First off — the legal requirement for open and notorious use of land in DC is 15 years.

          Second – land surveys are _very_ expensive in old DC neighborhoods. You’re best route if you are replacing the fence is to have a discussion with your neighbor. If you decide to get the survey done and then reposition it with the correct boundary.

          You really need to ask yourself if 1) The condition has existed for 15 years or longer 2) Is it worth pursuing for the extra inches or a couple of feet 3) The temperament of your neighbor.

          If it turns into a legal issue look at point #1; Either way if it does turn legal it will be VERY expensive for you to litigate in Superior Court. The only winners in that situation is the lawyers (and they don’t have to live next your neighbor!)

          • Third off, your first off is inaccurate. While that may very well be the statutory limitations period in DC, for boundary disputes such as this, the “open and notorious” requirement of adverse possession requires a higher level of knowledge on the part of the owner (here, original poster). In other words, you gotta have actual knowledge of the encroachment, rather than presumed or constructive knowledge.

            In addition, the statute of limitations doesn’t just begin when someone posts a comment on an online forum. In this case, it begins to run against the owner when the owner actually has knowledge of the encroachment of his or her property. So, whenever the OP first discovered the encroachment is when the 15 years begins.

            Fourth, get a grip and get a property survey; this should’ve been done before purchasing the property in the first place.


  • As for a definitive survey of the property for a lost / bad boundary you will need to re-survey the whole block. Might cost around $2,000? but cheaper than getting an attorney involved. These guys were fast for me.

    If you need an attorney I would hire Arthur F. Konopka he just helped me buy an unusual piece of property with some wonky boundary issues. He’s good and cheap as attorneys go. Knows dc and the players like the back of his hand.

  • Make sure to use a DC-registered surveyor. DCRA keeps a list on their website. I’ve worked with Ken West– good service and reasonably priced.

  • ah

    1) Hire a surveyor. There are only about a dozen licensed in the District. Here’s the list:

    We used Snider. I think it was something like $400 for each corner, but I imagine that it really was more like $1500 to come out and $100 to mark 3 more corners.

    2) The adverse possession issue is not something to worry about yet. First, have the survey done to see where the fence is. Then, if it’s on your property, ask him to move it. If he refuses, you can sue for removal. At this point you’ll want to be consulting a lawyer to see if there is a chance for adverse possession. Your neighbor will have to establish the proof–it’s not automatic, and he’ll either have to bring an action or do it in the course of defending a lawsuit by you to remove the fence. Of course, one would hope you’re not both going to spend $10K fighting over a couple of feet of land and he’ll just remove the fence.

    • $10k is a dream if you think that would pay for a lawyer to litigate the issue in Superior Court.

      That’s why I suggest first determining how much of an issue this actuall lot line is for the homeowner and the temperate of the neighbor. If the neighbor isn’t a complete jackass and agrees to the reset of the border/fence then there is no issue. If it is a latter the last thing you want to do is have a super pissed off neighbor.

      Lawyers will suck you dry in this town.

  • if it goes all to hell with the negotiations, it seams like if you remove the fence on your property then he looses the right to claim adverse possession. And technically it’s your fence you would be removing anyway.

    • Incredibly horrible advice there. If it is not your fence and the other property owner thinks it is his; that is called Destruction of Property and you’ll end up with a misdemeanor count against you.

  • I’ve come across those locks on the fence near Harvard and georgia before they tore it down.. What’ the story behind them? ??

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