Fences make good neighbors

The location of boundaries between parcels of land is one of the more misunderstood areas of law by the public-at-large. 


Many lawsuits (and regularly arrests) began with these words. Your deed does not conclusively determine the location our your boundary line. It is certainly evidence that you own side of the line, but the true location may be controlled by other factors. 

Part of the reason for this is that most people, when preparing their deeds, do not compare and contrast the legal description in their deed with their neighbors deeds. In fact, it irregular to even consult those deeds. I am certain that over 50% of properties in Alabama, especially in rural Alabama, overlap with their neighbors. Unfortunately, all the parcels of land in Alabama do not fit like one giant puzzle, like the tax maps indicate.

Accordingly, through the years, these overlaps and encroachments get passed down from deed to deed. Then, on top of that, often, people will have their property surveyed which may further alter the contours of the deeded property description.

(NOTE: A survey is not legally binding on a court as to the location of your boundary; it is merely the opinion of that particular surveyor.)

And even if your deed and your neighbors deeds perfectly flush with each other, there is always the most powerful evidence of the true location of a boundary: Adverse Possession.

“‘If a coterminous landowner holds actual possession of a disputed strip under claim of
right, openly and exclusively for a continuous period of 10 years, believing that he is
holding the true line, he will acquire title to that line, even though the belief as to the
correct location of the line originated in a mistake.” Scarbrogh v. Smith, 445 So.2d 553, 556 (Ala. 1984)(emphasis added). “One does not have to be a willful landgrabber or
dishonest in order to acquire title by adverse possession.” Sylvest v. Stowers, 275 Ala.
695, 699, 166 S.2d 423, 427 (1964).

That is why fences make good neighbors even in adverse possession cases. When someone has persistently used the property located on one side of the old fence, in a manner that is consistent with the property’s nature and character; consequently, that use is sufficient to show the adverse claims to it and thus ownership. For instance, pasturing of cattle and maintenance of fences is evidence of open and notorious
adverse possession. Cagle v. Hammond, 57 So.3d 150 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010).