Iowa Supreme Court Says Common Ownership Ends Boundary by Acquiescence

June 14, 2024 | Kristine A. Tidgren

In a case of first impression in Iowa, the Iowa Supreme Court today ruled that common ownership of adjacent parcels eradicates otherwise existing claims of boundary by acquiescence by subsequent purchasers. The case is Sundance Land Company, LLC v. Remmark, No. 22-0848, (Iowa Sup. Ct. June 14, 2024).


The case concerned two adjacent parcels of land: an 80-acre north parcel and a 60-acre south parcel. For many decades, the parcels were separated by a fence that ran just north of the actual boundary line of the properties. The adjacent landowners on either side of the fence treated the fence as the boundary line for more than 10 years. In 2004, a machine shed was built along the south side of the fence.

In 2014, a married couple bought both parcels, which remained separated by the fence. Around the same time, they installed a grain bin along the south side of the fence. The couple’s ownership of the two properties continued until 2017, when they sold the south property to the appellees. The sales brochure listed the grain bin and the machine shed as included in the sale. In 2018, they sold the north property to the appellant. Before the sale, the appellant secured a survey showing that the legal boundary between the north property and the south property ran south of the fence line. The survey thus revealed that the machine shed was encroaching onto the north property by “18.73 feet to 20.07 feet” and that the grain bin pad was encroaching onto the north property “at its maximum by 21.16 feet.”  Despite knowledge of the encroachment, the appellant went through with the purchase.

Lower Court Action

After buying the property, the appellant attempted to work out the encroachment issue with the appellees, but they could not resolve their differences. In 2020, the appellant filed an action against the appellees, asking the court to quiet title to the survey boundary lines and requesting a temporary injunction against the appellees’ entry on the north property. The appellees asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that a boundary by acquiescence had been established.

At trial, the court ruled that a boundary by acquiescence had been established long before the time that the couple who sold the properties to the litigants had owned both parcels. The court rejected the appellant’s argument that the couple’s common ownership of the parcels in 2014 to 2017 had extinguished the boundary by acquiescence. The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that once a boundary by acquiescence was established, it was permanent, and common ownership could not eliminate it.

Supreme Court Opinion

On review, the Iowa Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals decision and reversed the judgment of the district court, holding that a boundary by acquiescence determination requires the properties to have been held by separate owners for the 10-year period leading up to the ruling.

Summary of the Law

In reaching its holding, the Court first reviewed Iowa’s boundary by acquiescence statute, Iowa Code chapter 650. This provision, the Court explained, allows a boundary other than the legally described boundary to become the official boundary between two parcels of land. It requires that the proposed boundary has been “recognized and acquiesced in by the parties or their grantors for a period of 10 consecutive years.”

The Court then summarized the applicable common law: “[A] boundary-by-acquiescence claim arises from the conduct and consent of two adjoining property owners.” Vaudt v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 4 N.W.3d 45, 52 (Iowa 2024). “[I]t is the law in Iowa that where two adjoining property owners mutually acquiesce for 10 or more consecutive years in a line definitely marked by a fence or in some other manner, it then becomes the true boundary although a survey may show otherwise, and neither party intended to claim more than called for by their respective deeds.”  Dart v. Thompson, 154 N.W.2d 82, 84 (Iowa 1967). “Both parties must be aware that the asserted property line is being treated as a boundary.” Ollinger v. Bennett, 562 N.W.2d 167, 170 (Iowa 1997). “Determining whether acquiescence has been established requires an inquiry into the factual circumstances of each case.” Id. at 171.


The Court began its analysis by recognizing that the record would have supported a boundary by acquiescence along the fence line if either adjacent owner had gone to court prior to 2014, when the couple became the owner of both parcels. The Court said that it was clear the prior owners believed that the fence line was the boundary. The Court explained that while this was an issue of first impression in Iowa, courts in other jurisdictions have held that where two adjoining parcels come under common ownership, any potential boundary by acquiescence is eradicated. The Court also noted that established Iowa law holds that common ownership extinguishes easements.

The Court then reviewed the statute to see if this interpretation was permissible in Iowa: 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. Iowa Code § 650.14. The Court rejected the possible interpretation that this provision was “self-executing,” requiring only a 10-year period of acquiescence at any time in the past to establish a permanent boundary by acquiescence. The Court believed this interpretation could lead to the “absurd” possibility that a 10-year period from the 1800s would suffice to establish a boundary line today.

The Court instead found that the statute must be read “as a whole.” Iowa Code § 650.6 requires a plea and Iowa Code § 650.14 requires a finding that the “boundaries have been recognized and acquiesced in for 10 years.” The Court found that the choice of the phrase “have been” implied a continuous time leading up to the present. The Court distinguished the present facts from those in other Iowa cases where the Court ruled that one party cannot unilaterally repudiate a boundary by acquiescence after the 10-year period has passed. The Court found that those cases did not involve the issue of whether subsequent events—specifically common ownership—can defeat what would otherwise be a boundary by acquiescence. The Court held that just as parties can jointly acquiesce in a boundary, they can jointly engage in conduct—such as transferring their properties to a common owner—that unwinds the acquiescence. Without such a rule, the Court opined, a landowner invoking Chapter 650 could reach back and grab any 10-year period to establish an acquiesced boundary, even if that boundary was in the distant past.

In reaching its holding, the Court emphasized that the “doctrine of practical location” was not before it because it was not raised by the appellees. This rule of estoppel, the Court explained, prevents a party that purchases property while knowing and accepting a clearly marked boundary from later contesting that boundary. See Schauland v.  Schmaltz, 107 N.W.2d 68, 71 (Iowa 1961). The doctrine of practical location does not require 10 years of continuous recognition of the boundary by adjoining landowners.


Justice McDonald agreed with the result, but wrote a special concurrence—joined by Justice May—urging that where a common grantor conveys adjoining properties, the relevant inquiry should not be whether there had been a boundary by acquiescence previously established, but rather what boundary the seller conveyed. This inquiry, Justice McDonald wrote, requires looking at the representations of the seller, determining if there were discrepancies, and analyzing contract law, the common grantor rule, the law of estoppel, and easement by implication. Because the parties did not raise these issues, Justice McDonald agreed they could not be considered.


Justice Oxley, the lone dissenting justice, argued that the majority opinion reinterpreted the Iowa law that had been in place for more than 100 years. The dissent asserted that because a boundary by acquiescence is self-executing, it should require affirmative action by adjoining property owners to repudiate it.