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Dealing with Encroachment: What California Property Owners Need to Know

By: LS Carlson Law August 31st, 2023

As a property owner in California, it is useful to understand the concept of encroachment. Encroachment occurs when a neighboring property or structure intrudes upon your land, causing potential boundary disputes and legal complications. This article describes what encroachment entails, its possible consequences, and the necessary steps to address it effectively.

Understanding Encroachment:
Encroachment refers to the unauthorized or wrongful intrusion of someone else’s property onto your land. See Christensen v. Tucker, 114 Cal. App. 2d 554, 555 (1952). Encroachment can take various forms, such as a fence extending beyond the property line, a neighbor’s tree branches overhanging into your yard, or a building structure reaching onto your land. Encroachments can arise due to boundary disputes, unclear property lines, or negligent actions by neighboring property owners.

The Consequences of Encroachment:
Encroachments can create a range of problems for property owners:

Boundary Disputes: Encroachments often lead to disputes between neighbors regarding property lines and ownership rights. These disputes can escalate and require legal intervention to resolve.

Loss of Property Value: Encroachments can negatively impact the value of your property, as potential buyers may be hesitant to invest in a property with unresolved boundary issues. Furthermore, an encroachment has the potential to become an easement, especially if not addressed promptly.

Legal Liability: If someone injures themself on an encroaching structure, the property owner may be liable for injuries and damages, even if they did not erect the encroachment.

Resolving Encroachment Issues: If you discover an encroachment on your property, consider the following steps:

Gather Evidence: Document the encroachment with photographs, surveys, or other relevant documentation that clearly establishes the encroachment and its extent.

Review Property Documents: Examine your property’s deed, survey, and any relevant easement agreements to determine your rights and establish the correct property boundaries.

Communicate with the Neighbor: Approach your neighbor in a calm and respectful manner to discuss the encroachment issue. The neighbor may be unaware of the problem and willing to cooperate in finding a solution.

Consult an Attorney: If all other efforts fail, or the encroachment poses significant challenges, consult an experienced real estate attorney. An attorney can evaluate your situation, review the applicable laws, and provide guidance on legal strategies to protect your property.

California Laws and Precedents:
California courts typically use a principle called the “Relative Hardship Doctrine” to determine whether to grant an injunction to enjoin an encroachment. This principle helps the court determine the fairest solution for both parties involved. See Hirshfield v. Schwartz, 91 Cal. App. 4th 749, 758 (2001). Under the reasonable hardship doctrine, the court looks at the situation and considers whether it is fairer to tell the encroaching party to stop what they are doing, or to compensate the affected property owner instead. Id. at 759. If the court chooses not to grant an injunction, the encroaching party in some cases may obtain an easement, or even title to the land. Thus, it is imperative to address any encroachments immediately and seek professional help from a real estate attorney if self-help measures fail.

Dealing with encroachment requires a proactive and informed approach. By understanding the nature of encroachment, its potential consequences, and the steps necessary to address the issue, California property owners can protect their property rights and maintain a peaceful coexistence with their neighbors.

If you are facing encroachment issues or need assistance resolving boundary disputes, LS Carlson Law and our experienced real estate attorneys are here to help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step toward resolving your encroachment matter effectively.

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