The advent of satellite and GPS technology has unexpectedly increased property line disputes. Now that we can map property line descriptions with incredible accuracy, many land owners are discovering that the “old fence line” is not on the “real property line.” This has led to neighbors, and even whole neighborhoods, fighting over who owns what and where the real property lines are.
One Utah legal doctrine that helps resolve these issues is the doctrine of “boundary by acquiescence.” Under this legal doctrine if you can show that a fence, monument, building, or other visible marker has been accepted as the boundary for a period of at least 20 years, that marker becomes the property line as a matter of law. In fact the Utah Supreme Court recently ruled that title to disputed property automatically vests, based on the marker, once all of the elements of boundary by acquiescence are met. In other words, no document need be drafted or filed to memorialize the “new” property line. Once the 20 year period and other elements are met, the fence, building, or monument automatically becomes the property line, as a mater of law, regardless of what a prior legal description or other document says. See Q-2 L.L.C. v. Hughes, 2016 UT 8, ¶ 24, 368 P.3d 86, 96, holding modified by Anderson v. Fautin, 2016 UT 22, ¶ 24, 379 P.3d 1186.
The idea behind this legal principle is that if everyone has accepted the marker as the property line for at least two decades, then there is no cause of action because the parties have established the property line by agreement. So before you tell you neighbor that his fence is on your property, be sure to do a little historical research!