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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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.

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

That was poetic justice.


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