Historic Surveys, are boundary lines unmovable?

  • Historic Surveys, are boundary lines unmovable?

    Posted by louella on February 16, 2023 at 3:44 am

    My home was built in 1900, I own 2 parcels, 8 lots in a township. My subdivision was platted in 1890. My home was built according to plat survey. In 1906 a surveyor placed a set point in township.  This monument has been changed, and point has been moved. Over a century of survey records in our township have documented countless surveyors, re- establishing corners to what they perceive to be accurate, with movement being over 12 feet. Monuments have been lost, destroyed, or moved. I recently hired a surveyor to mark my boundary corners. As corners were marked, it was clear that original boundary lines were now moved, some distance, over 10 feet. Current boundary lines as marked, go through my septic and 2 buildings, with City ROW now possessing. I now have boundary lines going through my neighbors septic, and heat pump. My neighbors now have boundary lines in the middle of  City street. My surveyor has told me that property lines move, and I must accept this. The City has commenced to hire an independent surveyor. My question is: if my home/barn/ buildings were built according to the original survey plat, and subsequent surveys have moved and reestablished Monuments, can my original boundary lines from original survey be legal?


    Edit: City is Oakville Wa., Gray’s Harbor County, Fitzgerald’s Addition. 

    RADAR replied 9 months, 1 week ago 21 Members · 43 Replies
  • 43 Replies
  • bill93


    February 16, 2023 at 4:22 am

    The poster’s profile indicates Washington. For many issues the state or even city will affect the responses.

    In general once a boundary is marked and the adjoining parties accept it by acting based on that boundary, it should not move.

    When corner monuments get disturbed or destroyed, surveyors need to gather available evidence to replace them, and it may not be possible to get them back in the exact same spot. The evidence may include measured distances from the nearest found reliable monuments, occupation, and other facts.

    There are surveyors who place too much reliance on the theoretical numbers for one or a few lots instead of giving weight to what has been accepted by the adjoining owners around the neighborhood. If all your lines are shifted in the same direction such as to cross multiple occupations like your and neighbors’septic, this may be the case here,

    There’s often more to the story than someone puts in their first post, so we don’t know what additional circumstances may be involved in a given case.

    If you feel it is wrong and important enough, you may need to get another local surveyor for another opinion.

  • Norm


    February 16, 2023 at 3:19 pm

    if my home/barn/ buildings were built according to the original survey plat, and subsequent surveys have moved and reestablished Monuments, can my original boundary lines from original survey be legal?


    My surveyor has told me that property lines move, and I must accept this.

    Even if true it doesn’t apply in the situation described. If all else fails, estoppel can be a legal remedy. If the neighbors like where the boundaries are, they can agree to that first and foremost. Surveyors have no authority to place lines where they never were. 

  • Norman_Oklahoma


    February 16, 2023 at 5:25 pm

    Boundary lines do not move, but with evidence of their location being repeatedly lost and restored their true location can, sometimes, be difficult to recover.

    The location of improvements is frequently evidence of the location of boundary lines, but it isn’t proof. It is not at all unusual for things to be built in ignorance of, or indifference to, the location of lines.

    Long term unchallenged occupation of land not within that land described in your deed may result in certain unwritten rights to continue to do so. Your surveyor should be able to discuss these matters with you, but if you wish to claim title to such land you will probably need to get an attorney involved.     

  • FairbanksLS


    February 16, 2023 at 8:49 pm

    You don’t have to accept anything based solely on the opinion of a surveyor.

  • chris-bouffard


    February 16, 2023 at 9:22 pm

    Property lines, if laid out in the original subdivision, do not move, especially 10 or 12 feet.  Markers can be placed in the wrong spot or even moved by a landowner who doesn’t like where they are.

    Given the age of the original survey that you note and the fact that the recent surveyor notes property lines going through long standing improvements, that surveyor should have noticed the 10′ + shift and paused to figure out what was going on instead of just relying on numbers that were potentially measured from an incorrect starting point.

    The platted subdivision of 1890 documents the original intent.  Evidence that existed in 1890 may no longer exist but it is our job as surveyors to follow in the footsteps of the original surveyor.  Being told that lines move and that’s something that you should accept is the wrong answer, especially with long standing lines of occupation not in harmony his/her most recent determination.


  • rover83


    February 16, 2023 at 10:56 pm

    The lines as run on the ground for the original survey are to hold, absent any modification by actions of landowners, the public, etc. as mentioned above.

    If the original monument from which your subdivision was laid out was moved from its original position, or was destroyed and reset in a different location, it can indeed be difficult to reconstruct where that original position was.

    As a general rule, however, if the position of that monument has been lost and/or cannot be reestablished with certainty, it cannot control any more. If I’m not certain of that original position, I’m not going to be making a guess and then calculating an entire subdivision from it. This known as “slapping the math on the ground”.

    This is especially a problem when applying such a solution clearly conflicts with long-established lines of possession. When no other evidence can be applied with better certainty, those possession lines are often the best available evidence.

    Again, I could be wrong here, and there might be more to this than your surveyor is telling you. But screwing up entire subdivisions by simply running math from a theoretical point is poor practice.


    Occupation, especially if long continued, often affords very satisfactory evidence of the original boundary when no other is attainable; and the surveyor should inquire when it originated, how, and why the lines were then located as they were, and whether a claim of title has always accompanied the possession, and give all the facts due force as evidence.

    Unfortunately, it is known that surveyors sometimes, in supposed obedience to the State statute, disregard all evidences of occupation and claim of title and plunge whole neighborhoods into quarrels and litigation by assuming to “establish” corners at points with which the previous occupation cannot harmonize.

    “…people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” -Neil Postman
  • Jed


    February 16, 2023 at 11:10 pm

    How much did you pay for your survey?

    You get what you pay for.

  • Williwaw


    February 16, 2023 at 11:33 pm

    This illustrates why sometimes the cheapest survey is far and away the most expensive to fix.

  • Murphy


    February 17, 2023 at 1:48 pm

    I performed a survey similar to what you’ve described and ended up deciding that there was no better evidence than the house.  I had parol evidence from multiple disinterested parties stating the house had been the first built on the block and second in the subdivision all during the same year the plat was recorded.  I said to myself, “Self, what’s the difference between a witness monument and a house that was said to have been built to the plat while the laths were still wet?.  Can an improvement be a quasi-monument?  What better evidence exists as to the intent of the original surveyor or subdivider?  Is it more or less likely that a given house is built over the boundary line?”  In my particular situation, the neighbors also independently noted that the old man who built the house used to joke about the unbuilt street being three feet off his front doorstep.

    Ask one of the surveyors why a house built in 1900 is not better evidence of the original boundary location than a corner set in 1906.  Ask more about when the ROW was formerly established and why it would push closer to you and not the opposite direction.  Washington may have strict rules about ROWs that supersede any boundaries established through long occupation.  If it becomes necessary to get a lawyer, ask it what the consequences are ($$$) if you do nothing and force others to bring a lawsuit against you for refusing to accept the updated boundary.  

  • Dave Karoly


    February 17, 2023 at 2:58 pm

    I have a feeling the unknown surveyor was being sarcastic about accepting moving boundaries.

  • Norm


    February 17, 2023 at 3:01 pm

    What better evidence exists as to the intent of the original surveyor or subdivider?

    Absolutely agree. Retracement requires finding the evidence nearest the time of the original conveyance when the original survey lines were known and that evidence generally isn’t on paper. I might add that far too often the evidence that disagrees with the paper is viewed as evidence of unwritten rights when its actually evidence of the first survey. 

    “Nothing is better understood than that few of our early plats will stand the test of a careful and accurate survey without disclosing errors. This is as true of the government surveys as of any others, and if all the lines were now subject to correction on new surveys, the confusion of lines and titles that would follow would cause consternation in many communities. Indeed the mischiefs that must follow would be simply incalculable, and the visitation of the surveyor might well be set down as a great public calamity.” Diehl v. Zanger, 39 Mich 601, 605

  • Norm


    February 17, 2023 at 3:02 pm

    @dave-karoly We can only hope so. Went back and reread the post a couple times. It’s just sad the results of a survey can cause the question to be asked. We may not know all the details or what was said but the results as explained say a lot.

  • JPH


    February 17, 2023 at 3:12 pm

    As usual, there’re probably some missing details and some things lost in translation.

    Boundary lines don’t move or change, other than water boundaries, which move with the meanderings.

    Generally, it’s the measurements which change with each survey.  12 feet seems like more than a measurement change/difference, so there’s another explanation out there.  Your surveyor, or another local surveyor should be able to explain it better than how you related above.

  • jered-mcgrath-pls


    February 17, 2023 at 4:19 pm

    @louella, As you can see by many of the comments, you have us all intrigued with your situation. Land Surveying has a lot of General Rules and regulations and Standards that we follow, but there is a lot of “It depends” and case-by-case details that need to be reviewed along with the evidence weighed to formulate an opinion that focuses more on a specific solution to your problem. It would be great if you could provide more details like a location for a start. If in Washington, as your profile indicates, there are a lot of Publicly available records we can look up to get a better understanding of your local situation. Best regards. 

  • ontarget1


    February 17, 2023 at 4:32 pm

    Got into a dispute on a survey of a lake property years ago. I found at least a dozen or more corners that checked well with the research, 1950’s and newer. All the houses were basically parallel with my lot lines. Everything tied to a non-existent section line that was never run in a state forest. Maybe fence line which seemed to agree. New guy comes in with GPS and runs today’s section lines in from over a mile away and creates new lot lines that disagreed by at least 10′ at the shore line, but pretty close at the road.  When I told him that my lines paralleled at least five houses within tenths, and followed found corners his response was that you can’t use houses to establish lot lines. I agreed with him but added that you can use them as darned good evidence that you’ve put them in the right location and at the correct angle to the road points.

  • holy-cow


    February 17, 2023 at 5:45 pm


    That reminds me of a situation nearly 30 years ago involving a county seat town and a “perfect” surveyor.  A significant portion of that town for residential purposes sets on what was a quarter section.  Individual tracts are described as being so far south and so far west of the northeast corner of that quarter section or as described similarly commencing from the southeast corner of that quarter section.   Just north, south, west, whatever.  No parallel with statements.  The tracts are where you find them.  Mr. Perfect came to town and chose his own definitions of north/south/west to survey a rather oddly shaped tract that abutted something like a dozen other smaller tracts.  All H E double hockey sticks broke out.

    So, then I come into town to do one simple tract with plenty of nearby survey bars that all agree quite closely and follow those bars to my solution.  Then, the neighbors all start to appear and tell me about Mr. Perfect and his folly.  They want to know if I am a follower of Mr. Perfect and, if so, how soon I can get out of their neighborhood.

  • ontarget1


    February 17, 2023 at 6:41 pm

    Yup Mr. Cow that is correct. The new guys never learned how things were done years ago before any electronics entered the picture. Way back when in olden days, well not so long ago that I can’t remember them, it was common practice to just use fence lines and not even look for the section corners a 1/4 or 1/2 mile away knowing that there was probably nothing there anyway. Chain and transit through the thick woods most likely wouldn’t have been that accurate as well.

    Just like lot and block subdivisions where the street lines and rear lines were all run separately and prorated. Plat says 90° angles and they just don’t exist in the real world.

    But coordinate cowboys are here today and wont be going away any time soon I’m afraid.

  • Louella


    February 17, 2023 at 7:09 pm


    The City is Oakville Wa., Grays Harbor County. Subdivision is Fitzgerald’s Addition 

  • Norm


    February 17, 2023 at 10:41 pm

    I see indian lands touching Oakville. Possible Fed. resurvey might explain why a monument would move 12 feet. Wouldn’t explain why established private boundaries would go with the monument. All just speculation at this point. 

  • Louella


    February 17, 2023 at 11:53 pm

    @norm , Yes, another complication. I do, for fact know that the North Monument for bearing was moved located on Newton Street. My Grandfather showed it to me daily on our walks. It was moved North from it’s previous location.The South Monument has been replaced, as it was a 1 1/2 inch pipe, but unsure if it was moved.

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