In 1914 Robert Frost coined the phrase “good fences make good neighbours” and the statement holds true to this day. Historically the maintenance of “good fences” was part of the responsibility of citizenship. It maintained the fabric of the community, as landowners came together to ensure that their bordering interests were maintained. Even if you didn’t get along with your neighbour, you showed up to maintain the border that was a rock wall constructed from the stones of cleared land on either side. By mutually maintaining the wall, the bordering landowners agreed that the land boundary was accurate and protected them both.
Knowing where your property pins are located and having clearly marked and maintained boundaries is one of the most important parts of land ownership and stewardship. Erecting a fence is just one of the reasons you need to know where your exact property boundaries are. Even with established smaller lots, it can be hard to know where the property pins are after landscaping, fencing, vegetation and outbuildings get established. At the time they were placed in the ground, the top of the pin marker was at the surface. Final grading and landscaping buries the survey pins deeper into the soil, so when you look for them, they can be six to 10 inches underground and not easily locatable.
In B.C., if you have a title map with measurements, you may be able to use a handheld GPS and a metal detector to locate the original pins. But, if you have a property with many different angles or property that is split by a road or other easement, you could have 10 or more locations to determine and it may be much easier to hire a survey company to complete a property boundary survey.
A boundary survey crew will triangulate and place highly visible ribbons at all the boundary points of a property with exact accuracy. If a survey crew cannot locate a property pin because it was removed or lost over time, they have the authority to calculate and replace the lost pin and ensure that the new pin coordinates are legally registered with the correct districts’ land title office.
The purpose of land title registration is to protect property rights, and to facilitate transactions in land. A registered title enables land to be used as collateral for lending. A title provides incentives for investment in land and therefore stimulates development.
Many rural and remote acreages are being purchased this year and lots of buyers are discovering they need the professional services of a surveyor to begin the process of securing the land with gating and fencing and to plan out the location of new dwellings and outbuildings. A boundary survey adds value to your title. It allows the title owner to confidently create a land use plan and develop the acreage to add maximum value using the land in the best possible way.
One of my long-time clients, who I will refer to as Lee and Lorraine, relayed a story to me about their recent need for a boundary survey. They had purchased a fairly remote treed 10-acre lot in B.C. that was divided into two triangular pieces of land by a gravel road with hydro easement. The property had been logged over 40 years ago when it was originally surveyed and subdivided and since that time the boundaries had not been maintained. They were completely overgrown.
Lee and Lorraine had walked the entire property several times before purchasing it and had determined the dwelling with services was located approximately 60 to 80 feet from the property line on the upper triangle. They were aware that they had two established full-time neighbours on either side of this property triangle.
They began the task of moving in late April 2021 and erected a soft garage shelter off to one side of the property above the driveway for storage, because there was no garage or shed to keep things dry.
One day while unloading a truckload of belongings, a strange pickup truck came driving up the driveway and two men got out. They introduced themselves as the neighbouring property owners and pointed at the soft garage and said, “So, do you want to buy some land? Because that garage up there is set up on our property!”
Lee and Lorraine tried to explain how they had estimated from the bottom of the driveway, where they knew the general pin area was, to determine they were on their own land before erecting the garage. The neighbour walked over to the edge of the driveway and pointed down as if to indicate that the boundary was right along the side of the driveway leading up to the home. “This is where the property line is,” he said, and pretended he was standing on the line as he flapped his arms up and down, pointing in opposite directions to indicate a line in the air.
Lee and Lorraine remained calm and told the man that the structure wasn’t permanent and if it were on their property, it would be moved as soon as possible. Lee was already planning to fence the entire upper triangle portion for their animals and they had already booked a property boundary survey with a long-standing local survey company.
Lorraine informed the disgruntled neighbours that a legal survey of the acreage was to take place next week, and that the soft shelter would be moved if it were encroaching on their land. The men were gruff, explaining that they had owned the land next door for more than 25 years and that they already knew where the boundary was between the lots. Then they got in their truck and left.
Lee and Lorraine were disheartened and did not want a feud with a new neighbour, nor did they want to move all the things they had already put in the garage if the neighbour was mistaken. How could they have been so wrong in their own estimation of the lot boundaries? If the neighbouring gents were correct, that meant their plan to use that section of land for a permanent garage and garden area would not be possible, and what would they do now if the driveway was right on the boundary line of the two lots? It would ruin plans that they had for yard privacy and other outbuilding projects.
On survey day, the surveyors told them they could not locate the original upper property pin, but they knew where it should be. Lee requested that they put in a new pin to ensure that they could accurately determine the boundary on the disputed side. They paid an extra amount for the re-pinning of the boundary marker. After the new pin was in place and they were able to walk the true legal boundary with a string line. It was evident that the soft garage was well within the boundary line and there were 50 feet or more behind the soft garage before the boundary began.
It meant the neighbour gents had been encroaching on the land by over an acre for many years. The survey crew found an old metal stake with a small metal sign on it, placed in the ground about 20 meters away from the true pin location. The marker had been placed by the neighbour many years ago, showing where they thought the boundary should be, not where it legally was. My clients discovered that even their original estimate had been off and the boundary survey had them gain property that they didn’t know was theirs.
The neighbours stopped by again about a week after the survey was completed, and they did not act surprised when told their property boundary estimate was almost 20 meters off and that the garage was 50 feet inside the boundary and Lee would not be moving it. My clients can only surmise that the neighbour encroached on the property for many years by putting up their own metal stakes that allowed them access to the creek at the back of Lee’s property. In rural areas where acreages border each other and the owners do not fence or use all of the land on a regular basis, this type of encroachment can and does happen.
The survey company told Lee and Lorraine that if the neighbour had any issue with the new pin and boundary markers stakes they had placed, they could call the surveyors’ office for an explanation and they would let them know their options if they had an ongoing issue.
My client was able to immediately settle the dispute with his neighbour and increase the value of his property. It took one afternoon and cost them about $2,500. The acreage can now be fenced with confidence and they know exactly where to position future outbuildings while maintaining a buffer of trees and privacy greenery between the two bordering acreages.
Lee and Lorraine did the right thing in booking a survey crew as one of the first action items when purchasing their new property. The survey is an invaluable part of their property documentation for planning future structures to beautify and create the acreage they always dreamed of living on. The value of the property boundary survey to Lee and Lorraine is priceless!