Disputing a boundary

A dispute with a neighbour over property boundaries can become a homeowner’s waking nightmare. Boundary disputes often result in hurt feelings, fractured friendships and social shunning in the neighbourhood. At worst, these disputes transform the friendly guy-next-door into the “neighbour from hell.”

Boundary disputes are usually precipitated when a neighbour tears down a fence, chops down a tree, cuts your hedge to an outlandish shape or builds something straddling the property line without regard for the legal location of the property boundary. Or it may be your neighbour who’s complaining about something you’ve done that you think is within your property rights.

People who are encroaching on your property boundaries often peacefully comply when politely asked to desist. Unfortunately, some do not and they rebuff all attempts to arrive at a reasonable solution.

There is no magic fix to this kind of deadlock, but here are some tips on how to deal with the situation:

  • The first step is to confirm the location of your property line by commissioning a survey or obtaining an existing survey plan of your property, called a Surveyor’s Real Property Report. In a boundary dispute it is always advisable to get a new survey as it is the most current analysis of the property's boundaries, physical features, easements etc.
  • Alternatively, consider engaging a licensed Ontario Land Surveyor to mark your property lines on the ground, set stakes along the property line and install brightly painted survey bars on your property corners.
  • Once you have the facts in hand, it’s time to talk to your neighbour. Upon being informed of the facts, most people can usually find common ground for resolution.
  • If your neighbour disputes your facts or disagrees with your survey, then it may be time to consult a lawyer, who will help you understand your property rights and what legal recourse you have.
  • Record events involving your boundary dispute as they happen with journal entries, photos and videos if possible.
  • Do not attempt to unilaterally remove an encroachment on your land, as it can be interpreted as taking the law into your own hands.
  • Going to court should be your last resort. Lawyers and court proceedings can be extremely expensive, so consider resolving the dispute through third-party mediation.
  • If the boundary dispute is occurring while you are attempting to sell the property, be aware that an ongoing dispute can effectively reduce your property value and that realtors may be obligated to disclose the ongoing dispute to potential purchasers.

Should you call the police or involve your local municipality? The police will not get involved unless your property or belongings are damaged or destroyed in a criminal act. Likewise, local governments will also refuse to get directly involved in such a dispute and will urge both parties to resolve their differences privately.

Differing opinions ignite boundary disputes, but measured facts determined by property surveys extinguish them.