Walking the Line: What You Need to Know About Property Lines
If you're a homeowner who is happy with their property and the neighbors around you, it's likely you've never had to think about property lines. This is even more likely if you have a fence around your yard or a line of trees acting as a border. But do you really know where the line dividing your legal property from your neighbor's really is?
If you or your neighbor are looking into building a home addition or putting up a new fence, knowing how to find property lines becomes critical for maintaining a friendly relationship and protecting the land that you legally own.
In this post we'll cover everything you need to know about property lines so that you can approach the topic like an expert the next time it comes up. You'll need to know what a property line is, how to find them, and what resources are available to you to back up the legality of your property lines and make sure there's no room for dispute. Let's get started.
What is a property line?
A property line is the legal line which marks where your property ends and another property begins. Property lines are used to mark off lots of land that are under private ownership. A map of property lines is part of your property’s paperwork, also called a "plat". These plats are available at local zoning departments, where you may be able to obtain a copy of your block and lot plan.
You can also find property lines by looking for fences or other landmarks. Often, when concrete is poured for sidewalks, the contractor will start and stop at property lines. This will give you a cut line to look for in the concrete as an indication of where the property line is located. The appearance of the concrete in front of your house may also appear different than that in front of our neighbor's. Another good indicator to look for are survey pins — metal rods which often mark property lines. They are capped with plastic and made flush with the ground. Survey pins can usually be found with a metal detector.
While casual methods are fine for satisfying curiosity, it’s usually a wise choice to employ a professional surveyor who can create a property line survey for you. This report has legal weight, and is the best way of finding your property line.
Why do I need to know where my property lines are?
As we said before, knowing where your property line is can have an enormous impact on home sales, renovations, and repairs. For example, if you want to install a fence, your local zoning ordinances might require an 8-inch distance of your fence from the property line. Other ordinances may dictate responsibility for sidewalks and tree removal. Finally, where a property line falls may be critical for liability issues, such as slips and falls. If you plan on building or renovating your home, knowing where the property line is can be critical.
How do I find my property line?
The best way to find the property line is to consult the plat for your property. Depending on the urgency, you may want to measure it yourself or call in a surveyor. In either case, it’s a great idea to visit your community’s zoning department. They can give you a copy of your plat (for a fee) and bring you up to speed on your local zoning ordinances.
You may also want to visit the register of deeds office at your county courthouse. There, you'll be able to obtain a copy of your deed. They may also have insights for you as to the history of the property. Property owners often sell off portions of their lots or bought pieces of them — the deed will list any changes like this.
Your deed should include a "metes and bounds" survey. This part of your deed describes a starting point from which you can measure all the corners of your property. However, it has technical language that can be difficult to understand.
What resources are available to help me determine property lines?
There are many resources that can help you find your property lines for free:
Local zoning and surveyors’ offices
These offices often have the actual survey maps for various properties, from which you can measure out your property by hand with a simple measuring tape. Many states also have interactive maps that you can use, such as this Massachusetts Interactive Property Map. These tools make it easy for you to find your property line and decide if you need to bring in a professional surveyor or not.
Apps such as Landglide and Boundaryviewer use a combination of GPS and online records to help you find your property lines online.
Web based sites and apps
Google Maps has a feature that displays property lines based on the date that you input. This is part of the Google Earth and Google Maps functionality and is a free service.
Want to learn more?
If you’re buying, selling, or renovating a home, knowing where your property lines are is essential. We at Main Line Homes have been working with home buyers and sellers in Philadelphia’s best suburbs for years to determine property line boundaries. Let us answer your questions today!