It was reported last week that a European farmer recently grew tired of farming around a stone that was several feet from the property line of that farmer’s field. To avoid continued hassle in farming around the stone, the farmer moved the stone about eight feet from its original location, which relocation made it easier to make best use of the farmer’s field.
However, the farmer did not realize that that particular stone was one of many stones and markers that were identified 200 years ago to define the border between Belgium and France.
Today, particularly in our country, most property lines are defined as a straight line between two marked points or a series of straight lines between marked points. Those marked points are legally called boundary or reference monuments.
In the United States, reference monuments were historically often stones or large trees, due to a lack of any more reliable and available monuments. However, as we all know, trees can die, and distinguishing one tree from another, particularly between trees of the same species, is difficult to impossible for non-professionals.
Believe it or not, even large stones can and do move. This most frequently happens in our region due to changing temperatures that freeze and thaw the ground, moving stones along the way.
Eventually, cotton-picking machines (gins) that used long metal spikes called spindles came into use. As spindles became worn in cotton gins, the spindles lost the texture necessary to continue to be used in gins. Thus, a supply of used cotton gin spindles that were about a half-inch in diameter with larger metal heads measuring almost an inch in diameter started to become available. Thus, used cotton gin spindles began to be pounded into the ground to serve as permanent reference monuments. The length of the spindles meant that they seldom moved very much, were generally easy to find with metal detectors (invented in 1881) and did not usually deteriorate.
Surveyors now use metal rods (commonly called “pins”) with similar dimensions to spindles as reference monuments. Only licensed surveyors can place pins to define property boundaries. In Ohio, pins must generally be made of metal and must be at least 30 inches long. The head of every new survey pin is required to have information identifying the surveyor who placed the pin at that location.
If a new reference monument is to be placed at a location with concrete, utility cables or large stones that preclude pin placement, the surveyor can mark the location with an “x” chiseled or drilled into the concrete, stone or other surface above the utility cables.
Construction contractors and farmers can sometimes inadvertently dig up boundary markers as a part of undertaking their work. In such instances, the removed pins should not be replaced, because the relocation will necessarily be legally imprecise.
If a person intentionally tries to remove or relocate a property reference marker, that person can face to up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
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.