no man's land between lots, can it be fenced?

blip01June 27, 2006

This isn't a disaster, I'm just curious if anyone knows how this commonly works.

Can a homeowner get legal right to some undeveloped property that sits between houses in a subdivision?

Behind the houses on my street there is an area that is basically just trees, with lots of brush and leaves, pretty overgrown. It runs the whole length of the block, varies in width in some places, and based on the lot sizes in our neighborhood, doesn't appear to belong to anyone.

Most of the lots have a fence at the end of the property line, that runs along the edge of the undeveloped area. One nieghbor however, right behind me, cleaned the area of brush and debris, and erected a fence around the area, extending his lot depth by maybe 20-30 ft. His fence is now up against my property line, and runs along the property line of my next door neighbor also.

This was in place when we bought our house, and I never would have known of the situation, but he told me what he did one day. He didn't mention whether he got any permission to do it, or if he thought it was legal or not.

It doesn't bother me, although it would have been a plus to have the wooded buffer between houses intact. It also would make our lot look much bigger than it is. They are very nice neighbors so I don't want to inquire about it with them and have them think I'm PO'd about it or anything.

Anyway, just curious if anyone has run into a situation where you can get legal ownership of that extra property. For all I know he asked the previous owners, and my next door neighbors if they minded and they said no.

I mistakenly told a coworker about the situation and he now calls the guy "the land baron", and says I should call the township to see if it's legal. LOL.

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"doesn't appear to belong to anyone" the land belongs to someone. just do a title search.

"where you can get legal ownership of that extra property" how about buying it?

    Bookmark   June 28, 2006 at 1:54AM
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Obviously, the land belongs to someone. Can you get legal ownership to it without buying it? Yes. Occupy it for about 10 years and then take title to it through adverse possession, assuming no one contests you occupying the land.

You say "It doesn't bother me...." - so, does that mean you are just curious, or are you looking for a way to change the current situation?

    Bookmark   June 28, 2006 at 8:08AM
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I assume the land still belongs to the builder technically, and was just left as a buffer between the houses. I don't want to go to the county and ask about it and potentially cause any issues. It's not that big a deal.

"Adverse possesion", that's the term I was trying to remember. Since the previous owners of our house never bothered to put stairs outside the rear sliding glass door until they went to sell, I don't think they cared much about the backyard and wouldn't have objected to someone clearing that piece of land.

"It doesn't bother me", yeah really just curious. That's how it was when we bought the house, and we're happy with our yard the way it is. If the land had been still overgrown and not fenced in when we bought and then someone attempted to "claim" it, I would have a problem.

I do actually worry a little, cause they are nice neighbors, that if someone complains, or the township discovers it and has a problem with what they did, that they spent a lot of money on clearing, fencing, shed, etc. and it could be a hassle for them.

It's actually beneficial to us that the fence is up along our property line. When we go to fence in our yard in the future, we won't have to pay for a section of fence there. :-)

    Bookmark   June 28, 2006 at 8:55AM
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It may be a road allowance for a future lane, as my parents had at the back of their property when I was growing up.

Or, as the housing area near us has, it may be a buffer on which the local HOA has developed walking trails.

In either case, if the owner (municipality or HOA) decides to use their rights to it, that fence will have to come down.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2006 at 10:37AM
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If it's a nature strip or buffer or whatever, it would have been mandatory when the subdivision was designed, and, unless you're on a strata type or other sort of title, where you don't actually 'own' your land, it'll be owned by your local council or whatever.

I think it would be a good idea to clarify the position of it, personally if it's a nature buffer, I think that's what it should be, why should one person hijack their part of it?

On the other hand, if you don't mind, then perhaps you ought to consider doing the same, as mentioned, if you can prove continuous occupancy for long enough, you can often apply to have the land granted to you formally.

Whilst you may be happy with the current situation, if the neighbour sold and you ended up with jerks buying it, you might not want the boundary the same, so for your own peace of mind you should investigate further.

First step would be to get a copy of the subdivision plans, ask about the status of the reserve, also get your place surveyed- that's the only part that will be a little expensive, and usually it's not too bad.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2006 at 11:24AM
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thanks for the advice pjb999. I guess if new people moved in that could be a situation where I'd really would have preffered that the buffer remain intact.

I'm not sure if I would refer to it as a 'nature buffer' though, LOL. More like an odd shaped area that the builder just left untouched, probably to keep all the lots a similar size and shape, and of course they dumped lots of concrete and construction debris there too!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2006 at 1:10PM
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Where does your utilities, like power and water come from, the front street, or from the rear no mans land. Could be a utility easment that you may actually be required to upkeep or remove a junk car or something and someday codes enforcement sends you a letter to clean up your neighbors yard within x days otherwise pay $500 per day fine while you are in noncompliance.
You really probably are off the hook with the neighbor claiming it but should investigate to be sure its not your responsability to maintain half of it.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2006 at 1:00AM
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Adverse possession is not recognized in my state, so that really does vary. The true owner of the land can come through and rip that fence right up. While I realize it doesn't bother you right now, how would you feel if you owned that land? It is the owner's responsibility to check on the property (and someone does own it!), but I'm not sure I would call someone a nice neighbor who just decides to take over other people's property for their own personal use.

We lived in a HOA which had numerous greenbelt areas which were suppose to be for everyone's use. Over the years, various homeowners moved their fences onto that property and those of us who moved in 20 years later found out we didn't get to use that property at all! Since as homeowners, we were all paying the property taxes, some legal wrangling happened and those spaces opened back up.

Since the property does connect with your's, you would be wise to find out who the owner is anything. It doesn't mean you have to do anything. But being forwarned is always better than a headache in 10 years.


    Bookmark   July 3, 2006 at 10:47PM
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good advice and suggestions, thanks. I'll check with the township when I get a chance and see if I can find out who has legal ownership of the strip of land.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 7:22PM
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It helps to know what state you live in if you are asking legal stuff. Adverse possession has lots of rules. I think you will find that since the property goes the length of many lots that it is an easement on your property. That gives the utility company or the country roads people the right to do what they want with it.(depending on who holds the easement) So you cannot get adverse possession of an easement on your own property.
The title company or the assessor or whoever you ask (even a local realtor) is not going to say--wow lets make trouble. They will give you the answer. Some cities reserve blocks of land like that so they can put in alleys later, or hiking trails.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2006 at 3:24AM
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There was a 10 foot strip next to my property that used to give access to a landlocked piece behind me. The owners had stopped paying taxes on it, so I bought it from the County, who had aquired it due to non payment. A lot of times, a developer will just abandon odd shaped surplus pieces, and they ultimately are owned by the County. The County where I live auctions them off from time to time, with preference given to adjoining owners. Yours sounds like a buffer, though. Start with the subdivision map, which you can look at for free.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2006 at 2:57PM
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Are you sure it is NOT yours already? Just because it was left undisturbed, does not mean it is not deeded... Check the survey.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2006 at 2:29PM
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I have a friend who bought in a development where there is a broad strip of brush and trees buffering the backs of houses, as you describe. In her case, the land is all owned by the different homeowners, but the city, in giving permits, required that twenty feet in from each property line be left as conservation land. The homeowners are forbidden to even cut or remove dead wood, even though they own the land. Also, all the homeowners in the development have a right of way to use that area for hiking, or whatever - so no fences.

Within about five years, many people had cleared the land, landscaped, and put up fences. A new homeowner, reading his deed, however, contacted the town. The enforcement division made them all remove their fences and fined the ones who'd done the clearing.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 1:34PM
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Whatever the ins and outs of it are, I do believe the original poster should act, after all, the neighbour freely admitted to taking over and squatting on land, which, if it was up for grabs, ought to have been divvied up between the surrounding parties.

I also believe this situation - basically, a disputed boundary, would have a negative impact on your home value and might even be a barrier to selling legally say, if there's any court action etc pending over boundaries.

You never know what you want to do next year, best resolve it now. I'm sure there's a discreet way of starting the city's ball rolling without letting on who did...

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 5:26PM
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