Landowner Fails to Prove Ten Year Requirement in Boundary Dispute

September 12, 2023 | Kitt Tovar Jensen

After disagreements over the boundary line between two neighbors occurred, the plaintiffs brought this lawsuit alleging boundary by acquiescence and adverse possession. The trial court found that the plaintiffs had maintained the 8.5-foot strip of land and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. On appeal, the court found that the plaintiffs only began maintaining the disputed area six years earlier when the defendants purchased the adjoining parcel. Because the plaintiffs did not meet the statutory ten-year requirement for either claim, the Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling.


In 2013, the plaintiffs purchased the parcel of land north of their own property. The next year, the plaintiffs sold the northern lot to the defendants. The two neighbors had a cordial relationship until the defendants decided to build a fence in 2020. The defendants hired a surveyor who placed the surveyed boundary line 8.5 feet onto the plaintiffs’ property.

The plaintiffs disagreed with the boundary line and brought claims for boundary by acquiescence and adverse possession seeking declaratory judgment. Relying on surveys of the property performed in 1992 and 2002, the plaintiffs argued that they owned the disputed property. The trial court determined that the plaintiffs maintained the disputed area until 2020. The court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for declaratory judgment holding that the plaintiffs “had a right to rely on the [1882] city plat as well as the 1992 survey in determining what portion of land he was purchasing.” The defendants appealed.

Acquiescence and Adverse Possession

The boundary line between two properties can be established if there is clear evidence that both landowners mutually recognized a definitively marked line as the boundary for ten years. Iowa Code § 650.14. Similarly, to establish adverse possession, the proponent must provide evidence of “hostile, actual, open, exclusive and continuous possession, under claim of right or color of title for at least ten years.” C.H. Moore Tr. Est. v. City of Storm Lake, 423 N.W.2d 13, 15 (Iowa 1988).

On appeal, the court noted that the plaintiffs only testified to mowing and maintaining the disputed area since 2014. They did not offer any evidence that the previous owners maintained the 8.5-foot strip. This fell short of the ten-year possession requirement. Additionally, no physical marker identified the alleged boundary. Thus, the Court of Appeals held that the plaintiffs did not prove their claims of acquiescence and adverse possession.

Reliance on 1992 Survey

The court next considered whether the district court erred in granting declaratory judgment. The plaintiffs argued that the 2020 survey incorrectly identified the survey starting point compared to the previous surveys. In general, “lines of a senior plat survey will prevail over conflicting lines in a junior survey.” Pearson v. City of Guttenberg, 245 N.W.2d 519, 527 (Iowa 1976).

During the bench trial, the plaintiffs called an abstractor who testified that the 1992, 2002, and 2020 surveys did not start from the correct point. However, she did not personally view the area like the surveyor had. The court found the surveyor to be more credible and declined to credit the abstractor’s opinion that the pin marking the starting point had moved. As a result, the Court of Appeals held that 2020 survey to be the most accurate and reversed the district court’s judgment.