This is one of the most common misconceptions among landowners today. In an earlier blog I wrote about evidence that surveyors use to retrace a boundary location. Fences certainly can be part of that evidence. That does not mean, however, that a landowner should assume that a fence is built on the property line.
Fences have been built for many reasons, containing livestock or pets, providing a visual barrier, even just plain ol’ decoration. Sometimes a fence may be built to mark a boundary line but my experience says this is more often the exception than the rule. Many properties have utility easements or building setback lines along their perimeter and fences are often built along those lines instead of the actual property line.
If you didn’t personally build the fence in question, it would be better to assume that it is NOT on the property line. At least that way you won’t get yourself into trouble later for building your fence on the adjoiner’s property.
Many landowners build a replacement fence and don’t remove the existing fence first in order to prevent livestock or pets from escaping. After the new fence is constructed, the old fence is removed, thus causing the new fence to be slightly inside the property line.
More times than not a fence is built in a location out of convenience. Hard ground, topography, trees or other obstacles may prevent a fence from being installed directly over the property line.
As you can see there are many situations where a fence can be misleading and cause a landowner to believe it represents the location of the property boundary.
I can’t count the number of times that someone has said to me "doesn’t the fence become the property line if it has been there for 20 years?” The short answer to that question is no. The principle of adverse possession is very complex and involves attorneys, judges and lots of money. It is not as simple as the fence being located in the same place for a certain number of years. I will try to write a future article on adverse possession.
The only true way to be sure of your property line’s location is to have it surveyed by a Licensed Land Surveyor.