Boundary question–stone walls & trespassPosted by Patrick Garner on June 26, 2019 at 2:38 pm
I’m embroiled in a trespass case that hinges on ownership being to outside face of walls versus centerline. I’ve submitted that in glaciated northern states farmer’s walls built from scattered field stones (rounded) were typically built by or okayed by both adjoiners. In other words, farmers got together and agreed to the wall marking their common line, and that therefore surveyors almost always honor the rough centerline of these walls when running a boundary.
On the other hand, at some point–particularly in urban settings–in the late 19th and then the 20th century, when walls were built by a single property owner (say a conc retaining wall), ownership did not go down the center but rather the outside face of the wall. I’ve also argued that many more modern walls offset from the P/L by inches or a foot to avoid trespass issues.
All of that said, I can’t find any written documentation supporting this practice. Opposing attorneys are demanding treatises or references from “learned” texts. I’ve checked all the usual suspects (Wilson and Robillard etc) without success.
Can anyone point me to a source? Thanks!
- 68 Replies
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 3:15 pm
How would you prove which owner built the wall? This would be good reason to use centerline along shared party stonewall.
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 3:23 pm
Have you checked Clark, Skelton or Mulford?
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 3:29 pm
I’m assuming this is in New England and I am by no means an authority but this is a fairly common form of boundary delineation in the UK with stone walls forming many boundaries, some of which can be traced back to the days of the Romans. Being that much of common law in this country is based on British common law maybe there are some references here that might be of benefit. Good luck, interesting subject.Willy
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 4:00 pm
Yes, New England. Thanks.
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 4:01 pm
Yes, to all three. Silence, somewhat to my surprise.
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 4:08 pm
Further detail. The wall in question was built about 1932. It also has side or perpendicular wings that attach directly to the 1932 house. The house owner has always maintained the wall. Now the owner of an adjoining, undeveloped lot, claims to own down the center of the wall. The house owner is claiming adverse possession to the outside face of the wall.
I’ve taken the position that his claim is reasonable. Possession is open, notorious and far older than the required 20-years (in this state). The opposing surveyor says, no, his client owns down the centerline.
And for the life of me, there appears to be no discussion of these issues in the literature. I had high hopes for Mulford (“Boundaries”) or Wilson (“Boundary Retracement”), but no…
And I’m not referring to a discussion about adverse possession. Rather, I’m seeking some expert guidance about walls specifically. ????
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 4:24 pm
Mulford, Alfred Cornell, BOUNDARIES AND LANDMARKS, A PRACTICAL MANUAL 1912: Chapters IV, V, and VI.
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 4:52 pm
Chap’s IV and V not relevant. VI has a single, somewhat ambiguous paragraph. And it does not acknowledge the shift in assumption over time between centerline ownership and outside face of wall. Centerline was a pre-20th century practice; wall face ownership was a modern practice.
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 4:58 pm
Is the wall a loose rock type that would typically be the same as adjacent farmers would create or a more defined wall with mortar or at least a more vertical section? Proving the solo maintenance may help your side so if they have evidence of that. If it looks like every other loose rock stone wall in the region then the judge will likely rule the centerline is the line. Aerial photos may help you too, especially if the adjacent land has been vacant and not farmed for most of that period.—Dan MacIsaac, PLS
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 5:01 pm
Great question. Unlike typ farmer’s walls in this area (always rounded, loose stones) this one is chunks of fractured rock that are cemented together from end to end and top to bottom… unlike any farmer’s wall, and clearly, to me, an urban construction.
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 5:13 pm
That last statement is in your favor.
The City of NY has acquired thousands of acres for watershed. Most have a stone wall built by the City at the property line. It is a dry wall without mortar, but there are (or in many cases, were, due to theft) large cap stones to hold the wall together. The “outside” face of the wall is the boundary. This is recited in many deeds and most maps. Sometimes there are monuments at the bends, but most times it is just the face of the wall.
What is the wording of the two deeds? Sometimes you have to dig in the title to find it, but the deeds may have been stripped of details over the years. Keep searching.
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 5:17 pm
Yeah, that sounds more like an estate wall rather than a joint wall. I would try and reason with the adjacent PLS. I don’t ever recall seeing anything written down about this. I think most of it would just come from standard practice in which case your side is likely to need a tie breaker in the court room. Might also be worth some time to research a little case law to see if someone else has had similar fights. If it’s in MA then the MALSCE Law book may have some precedence for you to help the legal side out.—Dan MacIsaac, PLS
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 5:26 pm
Thanks, Ken. Deeds are a metes and bounds recitation only. Of course. ????
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 5:34 pm
Would appear you need to do research the way attorney’s should. Try http://guides.ll.georgetown.edu/cases/lexis-westlaw as a starting point. Then scroll down the page to:
State Court Cases
Provides cases from all 50 states (1950-). To limit your search to a specific state, use the advanced search option.
Select the Google Scholar link, then check case law and select courts. You will be presented with a list of states and appeals and supreme courts within each state. Check your state and all courts with in your state will also be checked. Click on DONE at the lower right and fill in the search box with “Land boundary wall” and hit enter. For example Massachusetts courts returned 127 results. Now your reading begins. You need to find two or three cases that may apply to your situation. All you need to supply to the attorneys is the case citations usually the first five or six lines. This will allow them to find and read the cases themselves.
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 5:39 pm
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 8:00 pm
It sounds like you are looking for a spaghetti recipe in a baking text. Follow the suggestion from Dallas, but do yourself a favor first.
List the facts related to the wall. Do not allow any assumptions on the list. Extract the same list from cases that appear to relate. Don’t pass on any half-matches as citations…
- MemberJune 26, 2019 at 8:54 pm
You might also contact local historians, including those within historical societies and universities.
- MemberJune 27, 2019 at 1:22 am
I would think there’s enough detail in the distance calls of the deed to tell if they’re talking about the center or face of the wall. How wide is the wall?
- MemberJune 27, 2019 at 2:19 am
Hard to say without seeing the wall,looking at the research, etc… Here in CT, most boundary walls are to the centerline. Not all, but most.
- MemberJune 27, 2019 at 11:40 am
Most jurisdictions recognize that when all evidence of original monuments are gone, the improvements built at or nearer the time of creation/first sale of the lot are best evidence of original lot lines. The wall you describe is an improvement, and presumption would be it was built entirely on the lot which house it’s connected to. Common walls are mostly in urban areas and support two buildings, one on either side.
So, your texts should have examples of common walls that are evidence that yours is not one. And they should have reference to improvements indicating location of lot lines when no better evidence is available.
Field stone walls were not improvements but rather discard of waste that got in the way of farming. Common practice to stack them roughly on the line between the corner markers, hence they become accessories to the original monuments when original deeds call for straight line.
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