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Old 05-04-2008, 07:37 PM
cmac2012's Avatar
Renaissance Dude
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Berkeley, CA
Posts: 19,324
Property line dispute in the suburbs

One of my clients is an editor in El Cerrito, a little burg north of Berkeley. I’ve been doing various remodeling jobs for him for 3 years, with a little jewel box like Gazebo in the backyard as an ongoing project.

About 7 years ago, two of his next door neighbors got into a squabble about property lines. They share a driveway, I guess that had something to do with, not sure of the details. In the Google earth shot below, their houses are labeled “Nut Job” and “Shared Driveway.” My client is labeled “Paul.”

Nut Job hired a surveyor and he informed them they “had” some property they weren’t aware of. According to him, it went within a few feet of the window wall of one of Paul’s bedrooms, and included part of a front yard that Paul, and the previous two owners, had been watering since the 50s with an underground sprinkler system.

Nut Job’s now deceased husband had stakes with orange plastic ribbon tied on staked all over the portion of the yard that Paul had assumed for years was in his province, and left them there for months, with no other action.

Paul finally pulled them out one day – the man came over demanding they be put back in, Paul refused, adding “Are you mad?!”

The man died a while back, uncertain when, and the woman has been stepping up her efforts to claim this land and do something with it. She’s interrupted me a couple of times in my work to criticize something I was doing on the house that had nothing to do with the disputed piece of land, and both times gone into a lengthy description of how the particular bit of ground in question is hers.

A week ago, some men were working on Paul’s new air conditioning unit (photo below) which is just outside the disputed line, up against Paul’s house. It doesn’t help that she’s Chinese, with poor English skills. Her refrain is “my property – you try steal my property.” She was getting into the workmen’s face about it, when the AC unit isn’t even on the bit of land she wishes to claim!

She and her son recently tried to get a restraining order on Paul after he called her a moron for pulling out two shrubs he had planted (photo), about 2 feet from his house – this a few weeks ago – on the disputed bit of ground.

She brought her attorney with her to court, and her son, a guy who once told Paul that he (Paul) had “been misled” when he told him of the original sale agreement when he bought the house about 10 years ago. The judge read Paul’s account, looked at the photos, and then said: “I have one question, whose house is this?” (pointing to the photo of Paul’s house and the shrubs). All involved said it was Paul’s house. The judge said “I can’t believe you pulled up those shrubs,” and further upbraided the woman and her son before denying their request.

A few days ago, Paul got a letter from the woman’s attorney, apparently unbowed by the judge’s rebuke, saying that the woman was going to have another survey done and then have the sprinkler system ripped up and a new driveway put in.

A lawyer once told Paul about something called a prescriptive easement (I think), which means that since the property had been unused, abandoned essentially, by the “owner” and cared for by Paul and previous owners, that neither party could change it, it would remain as lawn.

To make matters stranger yet, the woman has a nice backyard which is completely overgrown with weeds and uncared for (photo). I don’t imagine this had much legal bearing but it does point to some instability, in that she has some yard space that is poorly cared for and appears obsessed about seizing a small portion of ground that is not that close to her house and not of that much use to her. She and the woman she shares the driveway with are both single, the traffic on the shared driveway is seriously light.

To make a long story short (too late for that) Paul is thinking he should hire an attorney – I’m trying to tell him that no way does he need to shell out thousands to beat this frivolous bit of crap. I’m thinking the Pre-Paid Legal thingy can get him enough advice to beat this on his own.


The black lines are pretty close to what the deed shows for property lines. I can get the real thing in a couple of days.

The Bushes that were pulled up (replanted) and the AC unit.

In the last shot, the little triangular part in front is the only bit that they may have a claim to, if one honors the letter of the original property lines. They are under the impression they have claim to land within a few feet of the window behind there, and the son actually parked his SUV a few feet from the house once, no picture, unfortunately.

The woman's back yard, FWIW:


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Last edited by cmac2012; 05-05-2008 at 03:12 PM.
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Old 05-04-2008, 08:19 PM
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The phrase you are looking for is adverse possion, I think. I'd probably get a lawyer at this point.
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Old 05-04-2008, 08:22 PM
300SDog's Avatar
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Yep buzzword: "Adverse Possession": This applies to land apparently abandoned that's cared for, maintained and improved upon by Paul (and previous owner of Paul's house) in this case. And if no dispute is filed within 15 yr time period (probly varies among states) then land rightfully belongs to whoever's improved it and maintained it. Since 1950's ye say?? Above all else, tell Paul to continue mowing the grass and keep the sprinklers on. Get him some gunrange ear muffs to deaden the noise when neighbor lady starts *****in.

Another buzzword: "Res Adjudicata": Judge already ruled on this case and decision has been rendered.
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Old 05-04-2008, 08:40 PM
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Hmmmm . . . .thanks. Paul's sorta heading in the direction of "freak out phase" and thinking he needs to hire an actual, in person, lawyer to get this lady to back off.

I'm thinking of how sweet it would be to beat these loony tunes for pennies to their dollar. Going by how the first judge dismissed these people while shaking her head, I can't imagine they'll do too well. I just wish he'd managed to snap a picture of the SUV parked 3 feet from his house on the yard.

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Old 05-04-2008, 10:36 PM
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no sense of responsibility at the other'
- Ronald Reagan
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Old 05-04-2008, 11:16 PM
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Yes. If she prevails and access to the driveway is lost, it will put a nice ding in the property value.
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Old 05-04-2008, 11:38 PM
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I can remember my grandparents house having a shared driveway. Neighborhood was probably built about 1910, before everybody had cars. I sometimes wondered what would happen if somebody decided to sell.

I never found out. The state bought out the whole neighborhood and put a freeway through it. Problem solved...

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Old 05-04-2008, 11:44 PM
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Man some people really need to be beaten, or at least a STFU. Reading about that woman actually angered me a little, hope it works out for Paul.

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Old 05-05-2008, 12:53 AM
cmac2012's Avatar
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Thanks ya'all -- I'm afraid you're probably right -- lawyer is what is needed. I have this fantasy that's hard to shake -- going with Paul to the hearing, whatever, and after he wins, saying to the son, who Paul says is a first class prick -- probably got it from his mother -- "yo dude, we spent $28 for legal advice, how much did you spend?"

My thought on it is that the facts speak for themselves. Our guess is that the original developer squeezed the house Paul now owns onto the lot pretty close to the actual property line and put the shared driveway deal together. So for some 50 years, no one complained about the arrangement -- the people in question bought their house in '75 and only found out about this incredibly valuable parcel of land in 2001.

I have a hard time imagining a judge is going to allow them to put in a driveway 3 feet from the front of his house. It's completely out of character for the neighborhood.

Another interesting tidbit -- about 5 years ago, Paul had his yard man put in an extension to the sprinkler system into the disputed bit, about which nothing had been said for a year or two. The man (RIP now) came out and threatened to get his gun if he didn't stop. The cops were called and said the minute they heard the street name, they had a feeling it was that couple.

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Old 05-05-2008, 03:01 AM
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I'd say with a judgement already rendered Paul has a good chance to recover his legal costs.

Adverse possession is pretty hard to claim....folks try for it all the time and fail. The list of conditions that must be met to have such a ruling is as long as my arm.

I'd say he has an excellent chance to recover legal fees and perhaps punitive damages (I'm not a lawyer though).

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Old 05-05-2008, 03:19 AM
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Today, I'm heading for a meeting of a local zoning board to take care of a "few" overlooked items dating back to when our station was granted a Conditional Use Permit for the transmitter building and tower...

Item #1.) No recorded minutes of the original zoning board meeting can be found that granted the original CU Permit...

Item #2.) There is some "cryptic notes" that were located in the county's lawyer's office (at the time) that showed who voted for the CUP to be accepted...

Item #3.) At the County Clerk's Office, there was no record of the original CUP being issued, but subsequent CORRECTIONS to the easement and property surveying descriptions were accepted, recorded and registered...

Now, after almost 22 years of "whatever" - we're having to straighten this all out - and to make it more "official" - the driveway easement that was a "verbal agreement" between our now-retired Business Manager and the original seller/property owner (back in 1986) and subsequently, verbally passed onto me and then to the current property owner/easement holder, is being "firmed up" by getting EVERYTHING ON PAPER - Notorized - Filed - so that there's no question as to what, who, where, when and why things are as they are...

The surveying alone ran about $8200.00 - God knows what the attorneys are costing...-

The best thing for Paul?

#1.) Have him get a city-certified and backed-up surveyor to shoot his property as it's listed on his deed...then have the surveyor ALSO survey the property that Paul has been maintaining for "X" number of years...

#2.) Have him make sure everything matches all past and current transitions and updates that surveying has had to take into account (surveying techniques, databases and related materials to correlate (sp?) past and current readings...-

#3.) Have him file all this stuff PROPERLY with the appropriate authorities that handle these things and finally...

#4.) Have him make sure an attorney is involved and is double-checking every step/everything in the processes...

I've read someplace that cul-de-sac disputes are the bane of property owners and looks like this one is a doozy...

Good Luck to Paul...

P.S.: One thing I noticed about the property lines that have been drawn in...I'm wondering if that little bit of "jerry-mandering" was done to appease a requirement (many years ago) that allowed the area to be developed ONLY if each parcel of property had "x" amount of square footage in order to be developed...cause it looks like Paul has, literally, only 20 feet for his driveway and the rest of the frontage in the cul-de-sac belongs to Mrs. Chinese Nutcase and son...

Adverse possession may be the only way he can go, but if it puts Mrs. CN&S below the minimum square footage for lots in that area, he may have a hard time getting that strip of land...the only other way would be for him to buy her out and bulldoze their eyesoure under...doesn't look like that would be a viable option for him at this time...


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Last edited by mgburg; 05-05-2008 at 03:30 AM.
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Old 05-05-2008, 03:45 AM
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He oughta also invoke neighborhood support. What do neighbors think of grass bein paved to needlessly widen an existing easement? Would they be willing to rally behind Paul and sign petition? Another question: Who owns the lampost in the picture and pays the electrical bill for it?

Meanwhile the kid one-time parkin his car on the grass asserts "use" of the property. If the kid had done this constantly over the past 15 yrs then it would weaken Paul's case. I suspect nutjob's attorney advized the kid to park there to demonstrate use of the land. Hence do NOT mention in front of judge that he parked there at all. No doubt nutjob's attorney wants to say the land's been used for parking by nutjob's son. Paul oughta play stupid at this and say he's never seen it. You takin pics of nutjob son parkin there woulda screwed Paul's case.

(edit: Dog's remedy to this situation would be hosting a July 5th barbecue block party with rack of ribs and keg of beer on that strip of land, invite all neighbors to attend and sneak petition around to keep the land clear.

Cul de-sacs constitute virtual neighborhood associations doncha know? And evil lady nextdoor has snowball's chance in hell of overturning an existing easement thats been in place more than 50 yrs.

Of course what you aint showin in yer pics is where driveway easement actually serves Paul's house. Heck, if he's got 3 old MB's aint bein driven that's cloggin up the place.....

Last edited by 300SDog; 05-05-2008 at 04:24 AM.
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Old 05-05-2008, 08:03 AM
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Although i am not expert in this are it seems logical the easement arguement is viable.

Just a thought, is there a local policy on impervious land development? In my area it is 18%, however, variances are often granted when reasonable.

Impervious surfaces are mainly constructed surfaces - rooftops, sidewalks, roads, and parking lots - covered by impenetrable materials such as asphalt, concrete, brick, and stone. These materials seal surfaces, repel water and prevent precipitation and meltwater from infiltrating soils. Soils compacted by urban development are also highly impervious.

It appears "nut job" has little pervious land to start with and plans to increase impervious land (extend the driveway) may not be permitted.
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Old 05-05-2008, 08:09 AM
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This reminds me of the phenomenon that occurs in divorces in which two people fight tooth and nail over stuff that neither really cares about. This woman is probably pissed off about something else and this just happens to be a convenient "vehicle" for venting that anger.

There's a woman in my neighborhood like that. She's a widow, too. My older daughter is friends with her daughter, so I hear alot about the goings on at their house. She's the most litigious individual I've ever seen. She is, of course, also a very devout, fundamentalist Christian woman. She doesn't make a very strong case for her religious views, needless to say!
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Old 05-05-2008, 08:09 AM
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