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Boundary disputes can ruin your enjoyment of life

When Robert Frost waxed poetically that "Good fences make good neighbors," he must never have been involved in a property argument with his next-door neighbor over a fence. But it is just these kinds of boundary disputes that foment discord between neighbors and often spark litigation between the warring parties.

It's obviously easier and much less expensive to avoid a lawsuit than to initiate or defend one. Learning how to resolve these matters outside of a courtroom can be very helpful.

What is the root of the problem?

These disputes have a way of mushrooming into larger problems about extraneous issues that have little or nothing to do with the original complaint by either party. Before you know it, the situation has escalated into a Hatfield-McCoy feud and no one is even sure what originally set off the powder keg.

Do your research

There may be clear evidence that shows who is right and who is wrong. For instance, if the matter is about the ownership of a decrepit fence in need of repair, reading over the deed may indicate which party bears the responsibility for tearing it down or fixing it.

Start with a friendly approach

Don't go in with guns a-blazing. A friendly, neutral approach is usually best. Your neighbor may be unaware of the problem or too old or ill to fix it. You might even offer to help mitigate the problem if that's the case.

If your efforts are rebuffed, your next step is to put your concerns in writing, citing breaches of relevant city or state statutes. Sometimes, a boundary dispute can affect more than just a single other homeowner, so if that is the case, see whether they will sign off on the letter as well. Send it certified.

Loop in a real estate attorney

If your neighbor ignores or rebuffs your efforts at resolution, you will likely need to take further legal action to fix the problem. Never take the law into your own hands, however.

A real estate attorney can research your options and file suit against the offending party, seeking damages and even attorneys' fees in many cases.

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