An introduction to Pennsylvania boundary disputes

The law governing boundary disputes in the commonwealth is complex and detailed.

Disputes over boundaries between adjoining Pennsylvania landowners can arise in so many different ways. Language in deeds can be conflicting or ambiguous. Surveys, plats or maps may be inconsistent with legal descriptions or features of the land itself. People may have used their land for years believing the boundary to be in a different place than a new survey shows it is.

Not only is a boundary dispute about the potential reduction in value of a real estate parcel that might be smaller or less desirable than originally thought, but such a disagreement can be wrapped up in emotion when the land has been in a family for years or generations. Despite this, often parties to a boundary dispute are able to negotiate a compromise and settle the matter by drawing a line in the sand, so to speak.

Settlement often ends up a financially smarter option than going to court, which can be drawn out and expensive. Putting on a case to quiet title to the disputed area can involve extensive evidence like costly surveys and expert opinions. The Pennsylvania court tasked with a boundary dispute must try to understand the intentions of original or earlier owners who divided larger parcels when granting smaller parcels to others. The plain and obvious meaning of the deed that transferred the interest is considered the best evidence of the grantor's intentions.

The court must apply complicated rules about how to analyze conflicting or ambiguous provisions in deeds, legal descriptions and surveys. For example, certain "calls" take priority over others such as a natural object trumps a manmade monument; a manmade object on the land trumps an adjoining boundary; and so on. Boundaries running with flowing bodies of water are governed by another set of rules.

Ultimately, the Pennsylvania court may use any of several legal theories to resolve the dispute, depending on the circumstances, including adverse possession, prescriptive or implied easements, establishment of a consentable boundary line and others.

Anyone embroiled in a boundary dispute or who suspects a true boundary may be in conflict with a neighbor's use of the land should seek legal advice as early as possible from an attorney with broad real estate knowledge and experience. Legal counsel can research the history of the parcels involved and lay out the options and likely outcomes to help the landowner make an educated decision how to proceed, whether in negotiation and settlement or in court.

The lawyers at Weisberg Law with offices in both Philadelphia and suburban Morton serve Delaware Valley clients from Pennsylvania and New Jersey in title, easement and boundary disputes and in a wide array of other real estate matters, including litigation.