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Lot Line vs Property Line ?

Hello Fellow Surveyors,

What are the definitions of Lot Line and Property Line? Can they be used interchangeably?

Your input would be appreciated.

Thanks, Paul

lot line vs property line in surveying

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  • Land Surveyor

    A lot line and its location are defined by the subdivision plat that created it.  The property line is the same as the lot line at the instant of its platting.  Anytime thereafter the property line will evolve from the location of the lot line based upon the land usage and occupation.  A fence line built between the subject property and any adjoiners is only a fence line until acquiesced to by the property owners.  Once that fence line has met the statutory requirements for either acquiesce in boundary or adverse possession, then the fence line defines the property line and being in a different location than the lot line.  A replat and exchange of quit claim deeds may become necessary.

  • I realize "line, property" is defined in the ACSM book of surveying terms but I think it is surveyor jargon and not really a legal term. Boundary is the accepted term in case law and in the secondary authorities such as the legal encyclopedias and treatises.

    A lot line is a line bounding a lot shown on a subdivision map. It may or may not be a boundary. A boundary is the furthest extent of a given title. Surveyors should not determine title which can be very complex and can be affected by things not in the recorder's office such as probate and matters which an exhaustive abstract would reveal.

    If Jones holds a Deed to Lot 1 of XYZ Subdivision and no other legal doctrines apply then the lot line and boundary are the same. For the sake of discussion I will say that there is a fence or barrier wall 5' onto Jones Lot 1 on the east side. Smith's Lot 2 is east of Jones. Both Deeds describe by Lot Number. There are several possibilities:

    1. Jones built the fence 5' onto his property and the lot line and boundary are the same. Jones can build on his own property.

    2. Smith built the fence 5' onto Jones property for whatever reason, Jones was not involved. The lot line and boundary are the same and the fence is an encroachment.

    3. Jones and Smith built the fence together just to be a fence, they did not intend to establish their common boundary. The lot line and the boundary are the same.

    4. Jones sold Smith the east 5' of Lot 1 by Deed. Now the lot line is just a lot line and the boundary is 5' west of the lot line (nominally at the fence).

    5. Suppose one of the establishment doctrines can be proven by Smith:
    5a. Adverse Possession, this is an unwritten transfer of title. Smith bears the burden of proof and must meet the statutory requirements per State law.

    5b. Agreed Boundaries, oral or implied, if 1) Smith and Jones were uncertain of the boundary location, 2) they agreed to establish a boundary and 3) they mark their agreed location with monuments then the Court may enforce the agreement against Jones. Uncertainty means they don't know where the boundary is located because if they do and orally agree to a different location that is a violation of the Statute of Frauds. The agreement may be parol and it may be inferred from evidence of the parties behaving as if the fence is a boundary. If the doctrine applies then the established boundary is the same as the boundary in the Deeds, there is no transfer of title. Some States require an acquiescence period. In order for the agreement to be enforceable against third parties the boundary needs to be such that it gives actual notice such as a fence would. A fence would at least put third parties on inquiry notice.

    5c. Mutual Recognition and Acquiescence: if the established boundary persists beyond the statute of limitations for adverse possession then some States will presume there is an agreement and enforce the established boundary. Jones affirmative defense would be that no one thought or acted as if the fence was built to be a boundary. Like agreed boundaries, if the doctrine applies then the Deed descriptions carry up to the established boundary regardless of the accuracy of it as revealed by later surveys. Again there is no violation of the Statute of Frauds because the law does not view this as a title transfer.

    5d. Some States have a practical location doctrine. Assume Jones owned both Lots and built the fence when he built his house on Lot 1. He shows the vacant Lot 2 to Smith and points to the fence as being on the Lot line. He grants Smith Lot 2. Later Jones has his lot surveyed and finds out the fence is 5' into Lot 1. He tells Smith that he wants to move the fence to the lot line and Smith objects. Smith may be able to convince a Court that the doctrine of practical location applies and the true intentions of the parties was Smith was buying up to the fence. Normally the parol evidence rule does not allow evidence prior to a contract to modify or add terms to an unambiguous written Deed the Court still may be able to find that through mutual mistake the Deed does not reflect the true intentions of the parties and the Court may reform the Deed.

    The requirements and which doctrines are available vary from State to State. Uncertainty is a subject in of itself too. All of this information is readily available to you in your local public law library. The Attorneys are very well organized. My law library offers classes on how to do legal research. You can read national encyclopedias such as C.J.S. Under Boundaries or American Jurisprudence. There are also Real Property Treatises available. Larger states have these materials available for that state only such as California Jurisprudence.

    • This has been a great topic with many opinions, I have an Island property surrounded by roads on each side no adjoining land owners only city streets, The BL shown on the survey Could eiher be the old building line as in the extent where you could build to or Boundary line, It looks like it matches the original plat survey, Local zoning relate all the set backs requirements to the Property line and don't refer to Lot lines,plats etc.¬† I would consider that the surrounding curb of this island with a fence straddling it for 30% would be the defensible boundary, And when the land was purchased the realtor said we would own the island to the curb, Therefore the curb would be the property line in my opinion. Anyone run into a question on an island property before.¬† thoughts ? Thanks in advance for spirited discussion and help.¬†

    • Land Surveyor

      That was poetic justice.

    • I forgot Boundary by Estoppel. I have to go earn my living now.
  • Land Surveyor

    Once again, everybody seems correct.  Thank you all for your time and consideration.  This has been a truly impressive share of wit and wisdom.  What I hope we can all learn (including myself) from this discourse is that surveyors argue quite professionally, like scientists on theory, or archaeologists on origin.  Is there a particular subtopic within the discussion that anyone would like to expand upon?

    Scott D. Warner, RLS

    Senior Director / Editor

    Land Surveyors United 

  • Land Surveyor

    This discussion is a good example of how any discussion but especially an on-line discussion can devolve for semantic reasons.  Lot line, title line, property line... any division line is a boundary of some sort.  I believe we mostly get hung up waiting for the "other guy" to adopt our parochial definition.  That said:

    If we look at the lines and the surveying and court procedures temporally, one may perceive a time between when the possessor-owner (or his surveyor) identifies the boundaries of his claim that are different than described in his title and the time a court validates his claim aligning title to the claim.

    Perhaps during that period one might with some reasonableness differentiate.  As a practical matter, however, boundaries claimed and defended by nations and individuals (particularly in the U.S.) define the extent of owned property, disregarding the notion of rights by title as a precondition, which is where I believe the philosophical disconnects occur.

    To many, using the word "property" implies ownership and for them ownership requires title.  On the other hand, the courts will grant title to land possessed evincing the dignity of occupation to a claim of property ownership right.  I think when we recognize where and when the disconnect in the conversation occurs we can better understand each other and agree to disagree on finer points and move the discussion on.

    In a practical sense I agree with Keith for reasons that a deed/title needs be interpreted within the four corners of the document AND the document DEPENDS on the REAL record on the ground.  I understand the apparent dilemma of paper records not matching the evidence on the ground but one must remember the ground PROVES the paper in all cases barring fraud and blunder.  It is the mindset of attorneys and technicians that the paper or electronic record rules any evidence on the ground.


    • Excellent JAC,

      I just can't imagine a surveyor that is on the ground, for the purpose of determining a clients property line, to not just determine where the lot line was supposed to be, but is finding the actual boundary/property line on the ground.

      At least, that is the way I see it


  • Land Surveyor

    So simple the question the line of the lot the line of the property?  So simple the answer, sometimes the lot line crosses the property line, and likewise, the property line may tend to cross the line of a lot.  Aside all differences in terminology, where lot and property become one, or where they cross or diverge from what one would ordinarily consider one to be the same as the other, the two are different.  That is why there are two.  It is nearly the same as asking whether it is a boundary line or a section line.  The two are not the same.  In the end, when the surveyor is finished, it is really only a line of professional opinion.  Professional opinions may tend to vary from surveyor to surveyor, and although one line of opine may not match another, it becomes, only in dispute, that one be superior over another by a court of law.  Usually boundaries go undisputed.  When differences of opinion arise among abutting land owners over a property line, many times a land surveyor is consulted to help mitigate.  So, help mitigate we do, as land surveyors, by determining boundaries by a combination of public records, mensuration, and other forms of evidence.  Are these boundary determinations final?  No.  Why?  Because there are other unwritten and circumstantial factors that come into play which are not a matter of survey at all.  What are they?  They are matters of law.  Why can't a land surveyor determine a property line?  Because boundary lines are not property lines.  Any questions?  I'm sure you have them.  Let's get this resolved.

    Scott D. Warner, RLS

    • ¬†Why can't a land surveyor determine a property line?¬† Because boundary lines are not property lines.

      Lost me there........have to have a little more explanation?

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