Border Wars - The Continuing Saga

September 21, 2007 | Erin Herbold


The Iowa Court of Appeals has decided still another boundary dispute case. This time, the court’s opinion illustrates the peril of relying on neighborly accommodation to establish a boundary. 

In 1985, plaintiffs purchased a rural acreage. At the time, plaintiffs simply assumed that the southwest property line was somewhere “at the bottom of the hill,” and mowed grass to that point for six years. No fence indicated where the true property line was, and though there was a survey done at the time of the purchase the plaintiffs claimed not to have reviewed it. The survey indicated that there was an indentation in the southwest corner of the property belonged to a large parcel south of the plaintiffs, and that an easement existed south of the gravel drive on the property to access the tract. However, plaintiffs continually disregarded both the true property line and the easement. In 1989, the land south of the plaintiffs’ property was again sold. The adjoining landowners became friends and the precise boundary line and easement were never disputed. In 1997, after the property south of the plaintiffs again sold, the new landowner constructed a fence at the point where the plaintiffs had been mowing since 1985, assuming that was the true boundary line.       
In 2003, the defendant, a land development corporation, purchased the property. The fence was removed and the land divided for purposes of a subdivision.  The plaintiffs sued, claiming that the practical location of the property line had been established between themselves and prior owners. The trial court disagreed and the plaintiffs appealed. The appellate court noted that, under Iowa law, establishing a boundary according to practicality requires clear intent supported by evidence- the boundary line must be clear, such as with marks on the ground, fences, or improvements made on the property. The court determined that the plaintiffs didn’t meet that test. 

The plaintiffs also claimed that the boundary line was established by the acquiescence of prior landowners. The court again disagreed, noting that a boundary by acquiescence may only be established if the evidence shows that, for ten years or more, the boundary has been recognized and permanently established. The court determined that there was no clear and convincing evidence that the plaintiffs’ assumed property line was clearly established and located. Jager v. Bracker West Farm Corp., No. 7-621/07-0268, 2007 Iowa App. LEXIS 995 (Sept. 19, 2007).