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Navigating Rhode Island Boundary Disputes

Boundary disputes can be difficult to resolve. Longtime neighbors often develop close relationships, which can grow complicated when a dispute arises. Physical boundaries like fences and trees can help separate your land from a neighbor’s, but they do not completely settle the issue. Instead, you can look to Rhode Island law to resolve boundary disagreements between you and a neighbor. The law provides various ways that parties can settle their disputes, whether by themselves or with the involvement of third parties.

First, Rhode Island law contains guidelines for fences and other property lines. RI Gen Laws § 34-10-9 requires two neighbors to place partition fences on the dividing line of their properties. The rules also contain specifications for lawful fences to be considered proper dividing lines. Under serious cases, the law also guards against fences built with a malicious intent to interfere with a neighbor’s property. If someone proves their neighbor constructed a fence with malicious intent, they may be able to receive damages and a court order to remove the fence.

Relatedly, the law also governs trees and other plants near the property line. When a dispute over trees and plants arises, the parties must first determine their ownership. If a neighbor’s tree or plant remains within their property line, the neighbor has the right to maintain it as they see fit. However, if Neighbor One’s tree crosses into Neighbor Two’s Property, then Neighbor Two has the right to trim the plant back to Neighbor One’s property line. However, if a neighbor alters any trees that are entirely within the other neighbor’s property, that neighbor has engaged in unauthorized tree cutting. Rhode Island statute § 34-20-1 imposes penalties for unauthorized tree cutting, which could result in jail time in extreme cases.

To resolve property disputes, a party can appeal to a county fence viewer. The role of a fence viewer is to resolve disputes that arise from partition fences or other dividing lines. According to § 34-10-17, the viewer may settle contested property lines and assign each party their section after providing 10-days’ notice to the parties. Notably, their decision binds both present and future occupants of the property.

Another mechanism to enforce Rhode Island property line disputes is the boundary by acquiescence rule. Unlike other property laws, the boundary by acquiescence rule is a court-made rule rather than a statute passed through the legislature. Under this rule, even if a survey places the property line elsewhere, the court can enforce longstanding boundary markers that property owners recognize as their boundary. For example, if neighbors have long recognized a fence as their dividing line, but a later survey determines that the actual line is somewhere else, the court can enforce the fence as the legal dividing line.

Speak with A Rhode Island Real Estate Attorney Today

Property disputes may fail to settle on their own. Often, the parties may need to seek the representation and advice of a real estate attorney. Fortunately, the Rhode Island real estate firm of Biloudeau Capalbo, LLP are here to assist with favorably resolving property disputes. If your neighbor has contested the line between your property or acted maliciously, our attorneys can help pursue a court order helps you resolve the dispute and enjoy your property. To schedule a free initial consultation, call our office at 401-300-4055.

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