It may usually be true that "good fences make good neighbors," but sometimes the fence isn't in the right place. That can lead to a dispute as to where the property line actually is. If the understood boundary has been in place for a long time, under the law it may turn into the actual property line regardless of what the deed says.
The principle is called "boundary Line by acquiescence." Arkansas law has a detailed process and timeline for "adverse possession," the other way land might pass to someone other than the property owner on the deed. But acquiescence is a much more fluid and simple concept which is used by the courts to settle many property line disputes.
The different kinds of dispute
Property lines are often poorly understood unless fenced off and posted carefully. It is common for owners to suddenly realize that land is or is not theirs despite a long running understanding. Disputes like these often come at the time of the sale, but any time a proper survey takes place there is a chance for a surprise.
Arkansas law says that someone has acquired rights to land through "adverse possession" if they meet a number of strict requirements. These include:
- Open and notorious, or well known
- Exclusive, or a private use and not a public one
- Hostile, or done entirely without any permission
- Continuous for a period of seven years
Many property line disputes do not fall into all of these categories very easily, however. Sometimes, a fenceline or other property indication is off by a few feet. If everyone has long simply accepted this as the boundary, the standard for "acquiescence" is met. The understood boundary becomes the legal boundary.
There is no particular use, intention, or even timeline in for acquiescence. It's simply a well known and accepted mistake that is allowed for a long time. This is a key difference between it and adverse possession.
The other important difference is that property can be subject to adverse possession by anyone. They do not need to be a property owner or in any way a neighbor. Acquiescence is always a dispute with an adjacent land owner and always specifically about the boundary between two parcels of land.
An example is Ode Ward v. Mike Adams, a Craighead County dispute upheld in 1999 by the Arkansas Supreme Court. In this case, the long understood line marked by trees and stumps was off by 30 feet from actual property line as shown in the deed. Adams sued to recover his use of the strip along the property line, but was denied based on the principle of acquiescence.
The court went as far as to rule that the standard of adverse possession didn't apply because Ward could not clearly demonstrate that he had use of this land for seven years. But that did not matter. The line was well understood for a long time and by the principle of acquiescence that was good enough.
Disputes are common
If you have some questions about your own property lines and what your rights are, you may want to speak with an attorney who has experience in real estate. While the principle of acquiescence is straightforward and based on common sense, it is actually carefully described in case law like that cited above.
Property disputes are often more complicated than they appear at first. A good fence may help to make good neighbors, but it can often be the source of very heated arguments just by being in the wrong place.