How does the consentable lines doctrine affect boundary disputes?

On Behalf of | Nov 16, 2023 | Real Estate Law

Pennsylvania’s Unified Judicial System reports receiving over 1,000 real estate cases every month. Among these trials are various property disputes.

Such disagreements often stem from unclear boundaries or mistakes in property descriptions. Resolving these disputes can be particularly challenging for long-held properties. However, the consentable lines doctrine can add clarity to a case.

What is the doctrine of consentable lines?

The doctrine of consentable lines says an agreed-upon line can become a legal boundary. The neighbors must agree in word or in practice on where their properties end and begin. Then, they must act accordingly for at least 21 years.

The courts clarified how this law can apply to residential properties in Rosborough v. Carmel Developments in 2022. The decision stated that the neighbors, Rosborough and Bateman, could claim part of what was originally Carmel Developments’ property as their own.

The plaintiffs argued that for over 21 years, they used a wall as their property line. The court agreed and recognized the structure as a “consentable line.” The plaintiffs thus had grounds to use an area in dispute beyond the wall that adjoined their properties.

How does one prove consentable lines?

A property owner must provide solid evidence that neighbors agreed on a property boundary for at least 21 years. Possible evidence could include documentation of:

  • Land use practices: Present evidence of how owners used, maintained or improved each side of the supposed boundary
  • Boundary markers or structures: Identify physical markers, such as fences or walls, that the owners treated as the agreed-upon boundary
  • Correspondence or agreements: Provide any written or verbal agreements, correspondence or communication acknowledging the recognized boundary
  • Witness testimonies: Include statements from witnesses attesting to the long-standing acceptance of the boundary
  • Property surveys or maps: Utilize historical surveys or maps supporting the recognition of the claimed boundary

Property disputes can disrupt relationships and result in lengthy legal processes. Clarifying property boundaries through proper documentation and communication can prevent or minimize these complications and maintain peace in neighborhoods.