Neighbor Property Owners Should Not Rely Upon Fences to Determine Legal Boundaries

A California court of appeal has essentially held that a property owner cannot rely upon fences used by adjoining property owners for many years to determine property boundaries  (see Martin v Van Bergen (2012) 209 CA 4th 84, 146 CR3d 667).

fence as boundary

Plaintiffs and defendants owned adjoining parcels of land with a common boundary between them.  A fence ran over plaintiffs’ parcel parallel to the boundary.  In 2005, three surveys were performed to establish the boundary between the parcels.

Two of the surveys concluded that the defendants’ almond orchard encroached on plaintiffs’ parcel in the area between the boundary and the fence.  The third survey placed the boundary in a different location.  The fence was not on any of the surveyed boundaries.

In a quiet title action after the boundary dispute, the defendants wanted to rely on the fence as the boundary line.  The trial court concluded that defendants did not establish the fence as the boundary under the doctrine of boundary by agreement, that the two agreeing surveys accurately established the true boundary, and that the third survey was in error.

The trial court quieted title in favor of plaintiffs based on the boundary established by the two agreeing surveys.

The court of appeal agreed and said the “doctrine of agreed boundary” should not be applied when there is no evidence that the neighboring owners entered into an agreement to resolve a boundary dispute and when the boundary is ascertainable from a legal description in an existing deed or survey.

So proof of acquiescence in the existence of a fence does not establish an agreed boundary (according to California case law).  There must be evidence of a specific agreement to take the fence as a boundary.

Neighboring property owners should not rely upon fencing or “doctrine of agreed boundaries” to determine legal boundaries between two properties.


This is for information only and is not the providing of legal services.  If you are a landowner in California and have a question about this case or “doctrine of agreed boundaries”, you should consult with an experienced real estate attorney.
Harrison K. Long – REALTOR® and broker associate, GRI – Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage949-854-7747 (phone) – – CA DRE 01410855 – SFR short sale and foreclosure resource certified by the National Association of REALTORs® – now serving as an appointed director at California Association of REALTORs® – attorney member of the California State Bar Association #69137

Professional REALTOR® agent representation and help for property owners, home sellers, private trust estate representatives, estate administrators, executors and heirs, probate and trust attorneys, estate planners, income tax professionals, public guardians, fiduciaries, investor group managers, bankers, and individuals, with listing and sale of properties at Orange County, CA.

About Harrison K. Long

Real estate and business attorney. CA State Bar Association attorney member #69137. Professional real estate representative, REALTOR®, GRI, Real estate broker, CALBRE #01410855. Broker associate, HomeSmart Evergreen Realty, Irvine, CA. Providing real estate legal information and services for property owners, estate trustees, executors and administrators, fiduciaries, bankers, investor group managers, with their best decisions about homes and real estate. Orange County REALTORs® (member and prior service on its board of directors). "Realtor of the Year 2016" award by the Orange County REALTORs®. California Association of REALTORs® (now serving on its board of directors). National Association of REALTORs® member. Contact by cell or or text at 949-701-2515.
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