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Commentary and Analysis Regarding Colorado Law

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors … Until They Don’t.

fence
boundary marker

Some of the most contested lawsuits pit neighbor against neighbor, arguing over who owns what small strip of seemingly valueless land. Sometimes one neighbor argues the fence is a foot over the lot line; other times, a neighbor puts up a fence in the middle of the night. Tensions flare, and weeks later, everyone is at the lawyers’ offices armed for bear.  Many months and thousands of dollars later, a District Court Judge decrees where the true lot line rests.  Maybe a fence moves, maybe it doesn’t, maybe a deed gets recorded.  Whether you win or lose, everyone spent a fortune and no one is happy.  

From the outside, boundary disputes seem like the most petty, unreasonable lawsuits you could imagine. However, sometimes they’re legitimate. Most Colorado towns were founded in the 1800’s.  Original surveys were often made using large, heavy chains to measure distances. Old surveys frequently marked boundaries as starting at the “large cottonwood tree” or “the stone fence post,” features that have long-since vanished. Survey chains were particularly bad at measuring over uneven  terrain, let alone foothills or mountains. Further uncertainty comes with modern surveying tools, such as GPS and laser scanning, called lidar.  Applying such accurate modern techniques to the verbiage of legal descriptions from the 1800’s is sometimes comical. Some towns, such as Leadville, find errors so great that one person’s house might be located on another person’s lot.  

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