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Property line disputes can be tricky business for all partiesProperty line disputes can be tricky business for all parties

Profit Planners: Make sure legal issues are steeled before you buy property.

Tom Bechman 1

August 16, 2016

3 Min Read

The person who doesn’t believe that buying a farm or piece of land will involve at least one legal hitch along the way is one who hasn’t ever bought any property. Here’s a rather involved situation, but it’s based on actual cases.

Providing advice are Profit Planner panel members: David Erickson, farmer, Altona, Ill.; Mark Evans, Purdue University Extension ag educator, Putnam County; Steve Myers, farm manager, Busey Ag Resources, Leroy, Ill.; and Chris Parker, retired ag educator and hay and livestock producer, Morgan County.


Question: A neighbor wants to sell his 160 acres at a reasonable price, but our lawyer found a property line dispute. The seller claims two 10,000-bushel grain bins within feet of another neighbor’s property line are his. They were there when he bought the farm, and he uses them. The other neighbor lives in town and recently inherited the property. When the seller’s attorney contacted the seller’s neighbor, the neighbor contacted his attorney. The neighbor’s attorney says the bins are on his client's land, and his client is due payment for the bins and that strip of land. Should we walk away from the deal, or help resolve it?

Erickson: The current owner must be able to provide you a clean title to the property that he wants to sell. If the disputed strip of land must be purchased, then you could agree to reimburse the current owner for that purchase in order to clear the boundary and the concerns. This is a problem that can be solved, but it should be done before you purchase the property.

Evans: Your legal counsel can best and should answer this question! It would seem logical that with abstract and title, this should be able to be cleared up, and title insurance would be highly important. If the deal is a good deal and you position yourself legally, it may be good to move forward, if you are willing to do the leg work and count in the legal fees for the cost of the acquisition.

Myers: Why did the seller’s attorney contact the neighbor? Was it possibly because there was some ambiguity in the existing line? A licensed surveyor using the seller’s legal description from his title might be helpful in resolving this dispute. Are the grain bins the tail wagging the dog? How important are they to the purchase of the 160 acres, plus or minus? Continue to consult your attorney for guidance and options.

Parker: It is very treacherous territory to get involved in these neighbors' feud. You can end up being the bad guy for both sides. If you see this acreage as critical to your long-term farming enterprise, you could make known your wish to purchase and to arbitrate the dispute. Do your homework if you go that route. Nothing short of total preparation will suffice in this case. 

Summing up: Proceed carefully, staying in touch with your attorney as much as possible. The panel believes it should be possible to clear up the dispute, but you want to avoid pitfalls along the way. One big pitfall to avoid is getting caught in the middle between the seller and his neighbor. If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, make sure this dispute is resolved before you complete the deal. 

Property line disputes can be tricky business for all parties

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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