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Disputes with Boundary Lines & the Doctrine of Acquiescence

In many instances, where a dispute over use of premises or ownership arises, matters concerning property lines may arise as well.  Under Michigan law, the doctrine of acquiescence applies to issues regarding property boundary lines.  The doctrine of acquiescence for a statutory period provides that where adjoining property owners acquiesce, or accept, a boundary line for at least fifteen years, that line becomes the actual boundary line.

In addition to acquiescence by way of a statutory period, there are two additional legal theories recognized by Michigan courts when it comes to this doctrine.  The second theory is acquiescence following a dispute and agreement.  Under this second theory, landowners are aware of an incorrect or erroneous border line and typically reach an agreement resolving the disputed line. However, for whatever reason the dispute or issue persists (e.g., agreement was never recorded). Furthermore, the third theory, acquiescence arising from an intention to deed to a marked boundary, focuses on the conveyance and identifying the intended location by those landowners and predecessors in interest.

As a result of these theories, Michigan courts have found that where there was some form of agreement pertaining to the boundary location at issue, or mutual mistake between the property owners, acquiescence becomes particularly relevant.  Despite an agreement or mutual mistake, the owner whose land is being erroneously possessed, may bring an action against the other landowner to recover possession. However, after the statutory period of fifteen years, the property owner of record would arguably lose title to the possessed land and the other property owner would have title pursuant to this form of possession.  Notably, when invoking such doctrine, the law does not require boundary lines be established in a precise manner rather, an approximated line is acceptable.

In these types of matters involving properties’ boundary lines, claims of prescriptive easements may come to light as well.  As a property owner, knowing the difference between these two legal doctrines is important when confronting potential controversies over use and ownership rights.  As mentioned, acquiescence for a statutory period is where adjoining property owners are mistaken about the location of their properties’ boundary line and have treated this mistaken line as the true border for fifteen years.  Whereas a prescriptive easement results generally from the useof another’s property.  Establishing a prescriptive easement requires proving such use was open, notorious, continuous, and adverse on the property at issue for at least fifteen years.  Acquiescence not only is specific to boundary disputes but, would apply to possession of land while prescriptive easements pertain to use of another’s land.

The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich have handled complex land use matters for years and are knowledgeable in dealing with these types of property disputes. We would be happy to speak with you and assist you through resolving any questions and/or issues you may encounter with your property boundary lines. Please feel free to contact us at (313) 859-6000.

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