Some things in this world should be objective. Objective things can be measured against a standard, recognized benchmark. For instance, we objectively know that a plant is not a person and vice versa. We know that an hour consists of 60 minutes, and a square mile includes 640 acres.
However, issues that should be objective can sometimes be inconsistent or subjective. Real estate is a classic case of something that should be objective but sometimes requires investigation or clarification to become objective and unobjectionable.
The configuration of real estate tracts or parcels is of special interest to landowners in America. Because of private property rights in our blessed country, people’s Constitutional protections are implicated whenever the boundaries of property ownership are affected.
Boundary lines should be easy to measure and objectify. Nonetheless, as late as a century ago, boundary landmarks were inconsistent. Illustratively, some of that era’s property descriptions began with “the Oak tree in front of the Smith house.”
Since then, boundary markers have evolved into metal pins or spikes that are figuratively (previously literally) cotton gin spindles deeply buried and later findable with metal detectors.
Believe it or not, spindles and pins can move, even when buried. Any farmer who tills soil after a very cold winter that included multiple freezes and thaws knows that soil can be loosened very deeply, and stones, rocks and other items can relocate within otherwise solid ground.
Also, pins can be unintentionally removed through building, excavation or farming. However, intentionally relocating survey markers to “change” a property boundary is expressly illegal in Ohio.
Moved pins cause fewer issues than the fact that old surveying used imprecise equipment and was sometimes poorly laid out in the written surveys that the surveyors prepared. As a result, some square mile “sections” of land in our region consist of 645 or more acres, while other square mile sections include fewer than 635 acres.
Whether property lines go through roadways or stop adjacent to roadways differs by roadway and location. Some roadways are owned by the local government. Others are owned by adjoining landowners, with the local government owning an easement (right-of-way) to use a portion of the property for a roadway and adjacent shoulders, sidewalks and grass.
When a property line discrepancy or disagreement is identified, the best first step is usually to employ an attorney to examine the recorded documents involving the property area in dispute.
If an answer is not readily identifiable from that information, it may be necessary to employ a surveyor to locate the markers and further clarify the issue.
Expenses related to identifying property lines are not legally required to be shared. As a result, the person who initiates the investigation usually bears the cost of identifying and clarifying the issue, at least to begin with.
Surveyors make mistakes, but not very often. Usually, the markers are where the markers are. However, other facts (like adverse possession) can affect ownership and property lines, as previously explained in this column in August 2014.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.