Court Says Fence Was Not the Boundary Line

April 1, 2020 | Kitt Tovar

On March 18, 2020, the Iowa Court of Appeals issued a ruling regarding a boundary-line dispute. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s denial of the plaintiff’s petition to quiet title because the plaintiff failed to meet his burden for either adverse possession or boundary by acquiescence.

Background

The plaintiff’s parents purchased land in the 1940s. In the previous deed from 1887, the property included the following description:

The Northeast Corner of the Northwest Quarter of the Northeast Quarter of Section 31, Township 99 R 6 West, containing five acres more or less bounded by the brink of the bluff.

(Emphasis added). The “more or less” language was not included when the plaintiff’s parents purchased the land, but instead stated “five acres of land in the Northeast corner of said described forty acres, being bounded by the brink of the bluff.”

In 1988, a new neighbor purchased the land next to the plaintiff’s parents. The neighbor paid for a survey which found her property included a five-acre square cut out in the northeast corner of the property. The plaintiff acquired his parents’ property in 1995. In 2008, the plaintiff and his neighbor disagreed over timber rights and went to court. In that case, the court relied on the survey and found in favor of the neighbor. The court also stated it did not have the jurisdiction to determine boundary lines or correct a survey if it is proven to be incorrect.

In 2014, the plaintiff brought an action to quiet title for approximately eight acres of land, in addition to the five-acre square, claiming the true boundary was a fence line on the property in question. The district court found the plaintiff did not meet his burden of proof to acquire ownership of the land. The plaintiff appealed.

Adverse Possession

To prevail on a claim for adverse possession of property in Iowa, a party must show hostile, open, exclusive, and continuous possession of that property under claim of right or color of title for a period of at least 10 years. Here, the plaintiff failed to show the elements of exclusivity, openness, and under the claim of right.

Both parties used the land and allowed others to use the land. Therefore, the use was not exclusive. Secondly, the neighbor was not aware the plaintiff claimed any ownership of the land until the logging dispute. Therefore, the use was not open.

Finally, to satisfy the element of claim of right, the plaintiff’s conduct must clearly indicate ownership, such as taking and maintaining the property to the exclusion of the true owner. The plaintiff did made several improvements to land, such as fixing the fence and removing brush in order to protect his cattle. He did not know who originally built the fence and only fixed it when necessary. The court found this is insufficient to establish substantial maintenance and improvement which is required to establish adverse possession. Additionally, the neighbor’s husband testified that the fence was a “courtesy” fence that was placed in the most convenient area to keep the livestock from getting out.

Boundary by Acquiescence

The plaintiff also claimed title to the land through boundary by acquiescence. Boundary by acquiescence is defined as the mutual recognition of a dividing line by two adjoining landowners for a period of at least ten years. The dividing line must be clearly marked in some way. Acquiescence may be inferred from silence when there is notice of another party’s claim.

In this case, neither party treated the fence as a boundary line. The neighbor believed the five-acre square was the boundary line, not the fence. The neighbor and her family believed the fence was placed at this spot as the most convenient location due to the rock formation on the property. Therefore, the parties were not in agreement about the boundary line being the fence.

Additionally, the neighbor did not silently agree to the boundary. After the timber dispute, the neighbor realized the plaintiff disputed the boundary line and filed a suit to determine who owed the logging proceeds. Therefore, the claim for boundary by acquiescence was not met.