Many people consider property boundaries, whether between neighbors or states, an area of law subject to minimal litigation. Boundaries, once determined, tend to remain fixed. A nearly 200-year-old court decision concerning Tennessee’s western boundary illustrates the point. A property owner’s interests, however, can shift just like the flow of a river.
While most people assume the border lies along the Mississippi River, the Supreme Court decided back in 1836 that it does not. The court ruled that the border remains where it was set back in 1821. The channel of the river has moved since then, but, officially, the border has not.
Different property uses do not change property borders
Routine transactions such as closings on the sales of homes have underlying boundary issues that often go unmentioned. Property often undergoes changes, both natural and man-made. Fences provide protection and privacy, yet they must align with the actual border. Trees naturally extend over a legal boundary and remain a source of contention for property owners on issues ranging from maintenance to liability.
Changes in ownership alter the course of property rights. Some property ownership does not guarantee exclusive ownership to all that lies on the property. Rights to water underneath a proper owner’s land, for example, fall subject to regulation. Those in possession of the right to limited use of another’s property maintain that right, with some exceptions, even when the owner relinquishes his rights to another.
Understanding the limits of boundary representation
The shifts in the Mississippi River did not change the legal border between western Tennessee and the states of Kentucky and Arkansas. The duties and benefits of property ownership change over time; the specific boundaries very rarely change. An attorney familiar with boundary disputes can help answer any questions.