What Is An Encroachment?



It's a word that can strike fear into the hearts of buyers and sellers everywhere, and quickly sabotage a property sale. But what does it mean?

In real estate, an encroachment is defined as when "A structure from one property extends over the property line of another."Seems pretty simple, right? Well, encroachments can be real deal breakers even if they don't adversely affect anyone's quality of life. There's actually a statute of limitations on how long someone has to claim an encroachment on their property and what the consequences are if they're proven correct.

So, how do encroachment's happen? Usually as a result of an improperly-performed survey or incorrectly drawn property lines. They can also be caused by unpermitted or "lazy" building work that simply assumes where property lines lie. Sometimes encroaching structures can be as large as a house, garage, or shed, and sometimes they can be a superfluous structure like a driveway or a fence. In most cases, homeowners don't even realize they're encroaching on their neighbors' land until they try to sell their home and a property survey reveals the issue.

And did you know, for example, utility companies (like Duke Energy) are allowed under certain circumstances to "encroach" on your property with things like power lines for utility easements? 

What should you do?

First and foremost, you should have a property survey done on any property you own before making external improvements. If you're looking to buy, you need a property survey done before closing on the home in question as well. If an encroachment is found, immediately bring it to the attention of your real estate attorney. 

You should also talk at length with your real estate broker about encroachments. They can help you understand the nuances of NC's many laws and statutes surrounding these issues and give you direction on how far to push a specific issue. An encroachment doesn't have to break a sale - but it is something that should be addressed early on.

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