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What is encroachment in real estate?

Find out how encroachments can present challenges to homeowners

Encroachment is when a neighbor enters your property or builds a structure on your property without your permission. Encroachments can be a source of conflict and liability. Serious encroachments can also affect your ability to buy or sell a property. Examples of encroachment include:

  • Entering a property without permission
  • Parking a vehicle on the wrong side of a driveway
  • Allowing tree branches or shrubs to grow over a property line
  • Building a fence over a property line
  • Building a structure like a garage over a property line
  • Building a structure too close to a property line (also called a setback)
  • Building a structure like a balcony or deck that extends over a property line

Encroachments can be unintentional as well as intentional. Unintentional encroachments can happen when a person is confused or mistaken about the location of property lines. When you are thinking about making improvements to your home, a professional property survey can help make sure you do not accidentally encroach on a neighbor’s property. Learn more about how to find property lines.

Can encroachments affect the sale of a house?

Yes, encroachments can discourage buyers from making an offer on a house. Minor encroachments usually don’t influence a buyer’s decision. For example, a hedge that has grown over a property line or a slightly misplaced fence is unlikely to affect your ability to sell a home.

Major encroachments, such as permanent structures built over a property line, could discourage buyers, however. They may be unwilling to accept the encroachment or the need to deal with the problem and look for other homes instead.

What can you do about encroachment?

If you notice an encroachment on your property, you should address it right away. That’s because an encroachment that you allow to continue for a long enough period of time can become an easement.

For example, say your neighbor builds a new garage that is located over your property line. If you allow that garage to stand, the land under it can become your neighbor’s legal property and not yours. Here are ways to handle an encroachment.

  • Have a talk. The first step is to communicate with your neighbor and express your concern. If you discuss the issue calmly and fairly, the result may be more favorable to you.
  • Make it formal. If they ignore you or do not agree, then you may have to file a Notice of Claim, which is an official document where you ask your neighbor to remove the encroachment from your property within a certain period of time.
  • Negotiate a solution. If the structure is necessary, you could negotiate compensation for the use of your land or sell an easement to your neighbor. That way, it will be documented in the official records.
  • Go to court. If none of these actions result in a resolution, then you may have to file a lawsuit. This is not the best path because lawsuits take time and money, and the court may not rule in your favor.

What is the difference between encroachment and easement?

Encroachment is when a person enters or builds on your property without your permission. An easement is when a person has the right to enter your property or use your property under certain circumstances with your permission.

Easements are often legal understandings permanently associated with a property. If you buy a home with an easement, you will be required to follow its terms. Learn more about easements.

Last reviewed and updated October 2023 by Freedom Mortgage Corporation.

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