Another Boundary by Acquiescence Established

October 28, 2015 | Kristine A. Tidgren

The Iowa Court of Appeals issued another boundary by acquiescence case today, affirming a district court order establishing such a boundary between two residential properties.

The case originated under the oft-applied Iowa law, Iowa Code § 650.14:

If it is found that the boundaries and corners alleged to have been recognized and acquiesced in for ten years have been so recognized and acquiesced in, such recognized boundaries and corners shall be permanently established.

“Acquiescence” is defined under the statute as follows:

The mutual recognition by two adjoining landowners for ten years or more that a line, definitely marked by force or in some manner, is the dividing line between them. Acquiescence exists when both parties acknowledge and treat the line as the boundary. When the acquiescence persists for ten years the line becomes the true boundary even though a survey may show otherwise and even though neither party intended to claim more than called for by his deed.

In this case, a fence had not separated the adjacent properties for a full 10 years. Instead, the various historical owners of the properties had for decades appeared to recognize an invisible line between a phone box and a red post as the boundary line between the two properties. Neighbors and prior owners testified that the respective owners of the adjacent properties had always mowed up to that "line" and maintained the property on their sides of that “line.” They testified that each boundary line in the neighborhood was established in a similar way. A split-rail fence had separated the properties on the same “line”; however, the fence had been in place for fewer than ten years.

The case arose because new owners purchased one of the properties. After conducting a survey, the new owners discovered that the supposed boundary fence encroached six feet onto their property. They also discovered that the neighbors' swimming pool encroached 3.2 feet onto the property.

The new owners promptly removed the “boundary” fence, and the neighbors filed a petition seeking to quiet title in the disputed six feet of property under a boundary by acquiescence theory.

The district court sided with the neighbors, and the Iowa Court of Appeals agreed. Although the new owners argued that a boundary by acquiescence could not be established without a “line or fence having physical properties,” the court found that “marked posts through which a boundary line runs can provide the ‘basis of a sufficiently definite boundary line’ where the posts ‘represent a distinct division of the parties’ property.’” The court stated that “a fence or some other consistently solid barrier is not necessary to establish the boundary line.” The court did note, however, that “the boundary must be definitely marked ‘in some manner.’”

In this case, the neighbors’ claim was bolstered by testimony from prior owners and other neighbors. The witnesses supported the theory that the accepted boundary line between the two residential properties had always been the invisible line between the two markings. Without this testimony, the outcome of the case would have been different, given the lack of a distinct physical division of the parties' property.

Mapes v. Eledge, No. 14-1770 (Iowa Ct. App. Oct. 28, 2015).