Property Lines are Your Friends

by Doranna

Or, how I spent my summer vacation.

Or, since I didn’t have a summer vacation, how I spent my weekend.

We live in a rugged area of the Sandia Mountain foothills, in a bowl that’s surrounded by a distinct continuous crest.  You would think we’d have some protection from the wind and weather, but no.  We’re well protected from cell signals, though.

The central area of the bowl is fractured by a series of arroyos.  Our property backs up to one of these arroyos (with a minor swale in between; we call these Arroyo Major and Arroyo Minor).  In the back north corner, the property line slices through the second prong of Arroyo Major.  On the back south corner, where the arroyo sides are gentler, the property rises up on the other side to a small but pleasant flat.

Looking down into Arroyo Major. It's hard to see the true bottom from any given camera angle.

When it comes to property lines, there are certain unspoken–and spoken–rules.  One does not develop right up to the property line; even with fencing, there should be a buffer zone.  That’s a given.  In this community, the buffer zones are defined by CCRs that require buildings to be set back a certain amount, fences to be set back a certain amount…improvements to be set back a certain amount.  (Also, do not throw your garbage onto someone else’s property, even if you think they won’t see it.)

There’s a reason for all this.  For one, in this area we need to make sure we leave access zones in case of fire.  But it’s also to keep us out of each others’ faces.

Say, for instance, if the neighbor along the back property line has built a large outbuilding way too close to the property line, and then defined a gravel area that not only goes up to the line, but goes over it.

Dear Neighbor: When you take a leak behind that building, maybe your family can’t see you, but I can.

The outbuilding and the gravel area were established before we moved in.  We chose not to make a fuss.  The newly surveyed property stakes were in place, and that should have been enough to put Neighbor on notice.  And maybe Neighbor has no reason to wander the arroyos and therefore doesn’t expect me to be clambering around back there (tracking, hunting wildflowers, identifying birds), but I do.

So I noticed when a collection of rusty garden wire cages ended up over the line and on its way down into the arroyo.


I nudged the trash closer to the defined gravel area–still mostly over the line–and made a phone call to Sister, who also has an interest in this property “We need to re-stake the line with T-posts and bright yellow post caps.”  That, I thought, would make a statement without being too confrontational.

An undisputed (front north) corner of the yard. I track along this line with the dogs sometimes, and off into the arroyos.

If you want to feel middle-aged, clamber around steep arroyos while hauling T-posts and a post-pounder, ramming the posts into hard adobe ground.  That’ll humble you right quick.  (And for those of you who are aware of my injured foot…yes, I did this anyway–!)

The view down into Arroyo Minor--a continuation of the line in the corner photo.

So we did that thing, having our adventure.  Beautiful day, a bit of a breeze, the sun a little too hot, the junipers scenting the air, little birdies fluttering around…

Across Arroyo Major; the second corner post that finishes the line shown so far

Moving south along the point that divides two branches of Arroyo Major. Hellooo over there--!

Then we came to the wire trash–which, as it happens, had been shoved back over the line to some small degree.  We pondered it.  “If we put it back into his graveled area (which is right up to the line even where it’s not actually over), will that be too confrontational?”

And then I wanted to kick myself.  As well as kicking Neighbor.  Because someone tosses crap onto our property on top of pushing property improvements over the line, and yet it seems awkward to return it to him?

That’s the way it goes, it seems.  People who respect others are concerned about such things, and that means such trespasses become more than just looking for ways to remedy it.  It becomes a stress of conflicting responses–the offense of being trespassed upon, the stress of finding the right way to deal with it that feels non-confrontational even if Neighbor hardly showed the same concern.

Property lines are definitely your friend.  Especially if you PAY ATTENTION TO THEM and I’m talking to YOU, Neighbor!

(Oh, sorry…shouting.  Oops.)

Do you have Neighbors like this?  And how do you handle them if you do?

In this case, we carefully created the more obvious property line stakes…and then we piled the stuff back over the line, infringing on the defined gravel area as little as possible.  Anyone want to take bets on whether it stays put?



About Doranna

My books are SF/F, mystery, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense. My dogs are Beagles, my home is the Southwest, and the horse wants a cookie!
This entry was posted in Land Keeping, The Arroyo and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Property Lines are Your Friends

  1. So true. I am lucky with my neighbors. The trash stays on their property, but the downed trees makes it harder and harder to walk the outside of my fenceline. My previous neighbor was better about clearing when trees came down, which they do frequently here in East Texas.

  2. Mare says:

    Silly as it is, I would also consider mailing them a formal letter, and maybe posting No Tresspassing or No Dumping signs on the property line posts. (you might detail your objection to their “peeing in the wild” that is unfortunately visible as well – sometimes a touch of embarrasment can emphasize a smack on the nose)
    I wish you the best of luck with your annoying neighbors!!

    • Doranna says:

      Mare, the No Dumping signs have potential… (maybe they should be “No Peeing!” signs!)

  3. Mona Karel says:

    One of the properties I looked at before moving here was a very attractive modular house with large rooms, a nice sized chain link yard and a lovely three stall barn. The driveway was asphalt instead of dirt (nice) and the views were stunning. Two problems: a steep arroyo cut through one part of the property, reducing actual available land by quite a bit. And that lovely asphalt driveway went right on into the next property. Seems the “nice” person who lived there let his neighbor use his driveway to get to her property in bad weather. The real estate agent tried to tell me I could fence off that access…guess she hasn’t read up on proscriptive rights. You allow access across your property, you could be giving up rights to that part of your property. It seems petty when we all want to be friends but it can get nasty. Clearly establishing your property lines is a great idea.

    • Doranna says:

      Mona–yeah, the arroyos cut out quite a bit of our real estate. But they have awesome personality! ;>

  4. Tina says:

    I am very lucky in my neighbor (and doubly lucky to have a river and undeveloped property on two sides of me.) I know it’s easy for me to say from the safety of the east coast, but it sounds as if this neighbor will need to be confronted in order for him to understand that he is transgressing. Tell him you see him peeing. Tell him you don’t want his trash on your property. And tell him you understand the gravel was there when you bought the property, but that you are quite aware that it is on your property, and you fully expect it won’t expand. Because if you don’t say these things he has plausible deniability, and he sounds like the sort of neighbor who will take advantage of that. Can you ask other neighbors for advice?

  5. Elizabeth says:

    If you have a community management agreement, then if his building is too close to the line (and does not grandfather in) the community (not just you) can require it to be moved.

    Due to various things in the past, the yard fence defining our east side was not on the property line (original builders owned what are now two adjoining lots. We were “nice” to the old guy living next door and did not move the fence to the property line when we moved in. Then ye gods did troubles develop, which I won’t enumerate. Lots of them. There were confrontations at times, very unpleasant ones. Finally, after many years, when he moved into another one of his houses and left this one vacant, we negotiated with his equally difficult nephew to move the fence to the property line (regaining a narrow triangle) and put up a board privacy fence just in case the unpleasant person and his unpleasant “friends” came back. It cost us a new survey (nephew wouldn’t believe the pins from the older survey.)

    Around here, fences not on property lines cause trouble and the legal advice is to build them right square on the line, pin to pin. But people do encroach, and those who encroach are usually of the “junkyard dog” personality.

    Behind the house my mother had bought, there’s a garden area. At the west end, there’s a sort-of fence on that side of a cow lot. Cows kept escaping and trampling our vegetable garden (and other peoples’ too, but ours had veggies in it.) Owner kept saying he’d fix the fence when…this, that or the other. Finally we fixed the fence as far as the garden went, but cows got over the fence beyond that point, and then came in the garden another way. My livestock’s never gotten out. (I did have a dog that escaped twice, decades back. Twice.)

    Your neighbor? A letter, after consulting with whoever’s supposed to be enforcing community standards. “Please note the yellow-capped posts that define the property line and ensure that your trash stays on your property.” Or some such. Letting things go just lengthens the agony.

  6. Linda C says:

    I definitely think that notice needs to be given to the neighbor about his encroaching; letting that sort of thing slide, as others have said above, can result in losing your rights to your land. But if it’s just barely possible that the wire garden cages could be reused, might it be plausible to send a note saying “hey I noticed your garden stuff blew down the hill onto my land so I put it back..” or something of the sort?

  7. Doranna says:

    Unfortunately, the community agreement has no teeth. Apparently it’s all words, no true legal backing. But the next step would be to bring this to the attention of the community committee, I suppose.

    The challenge with communicating over the situation is that there isn’t a casual way to do it, even to gather input from nearby neighbors. The lots are 3-5 acres and the arroyo is between us; we’ve never met these people and we’ve definitely never met the neighbors on either side of them. I should probably note that the developed gravel area is only over the line by under a foot at the most intrusive point–I can easily see them claiming that the survey is off by a few inches at one or the other stakes, and that’s all it would take to change that line. But that’s why you don’t freaking develop right up to the line! Heck, what if it’s off an inch or two in our favor? Then suddenly they’re *really* over that line!

    Linda, I like your approach. “I notice that your garden wire has a tendency to blow into our arroyo…” It’s not accusatory, but it makes the point.

    Elizabeth, I was thinking about those cows and your garden! I wondered what recourse you had.

    There’s a lot to be thoughtful about in all of these comments. I suspect we’ll end up acting on the situation one way or the other; the current response is really about establishing a foundation to do so.

  8. KarenJG says:

    Advice from a friend in real estate many years ago – may or may not apply to the laws in your state. Draw up a simple contract for the “use” of the area they’re encroaching on, and make ’em pay a dollar “rent” for it. (Or a dime, or a nickel or a loaf of bread – whatever. Just so something of value is exchanged.) The idea being, you can prove they knew that the encroached area was actually your land, and they will not have a “adverse possession” claim. (I’m not sure it’s the same in all states, but in Michigan, if people have the use of your property for a certain number of years without your objection, they can gain title to the property they’ve been using.)

  9. doranna says:

    Karen, interesting advice! Definitely something to keep in mind.

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