Where Does Your Property Line Start?

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If you’ve ever wondered where your property line falls in relation to the street, you’re not alone! Because of the wide variety of ways to define property lines and setbacks, there are almost as many different definitions for these terms as there are municipalities and counties that determine them.

Different Definitions

In some places the property line extends right up to the curb, but has a wide setback for potential public use. In other places the property line might extend all the way out to the center of the street. In instances like that, the property line is a technicality for unlikely events such as complete road removal. Should your property line extend that far, the public setback will range from the center of the road to a predetermined point in your lawn.

Generally speaking, the most common scenario is that the road is defined as wider than the actual curb-to-curb distance. For example, if the street you live on is 30 feet wide but the “plat” (a plan, map or chart of a piece of land with actual or proposed features) shows it as 40 feet, then the “street” technically extends 10 feet into your lawn. This extension usually contains sidewalks, publicly-owned trees and major utility runs.

Making things trickier, each municipality also has its own rules about who is responsible for maintaining sidewalks and trees. It can be frustrating, but in most cases the homeowner is responsible for maintaining everything up to the street, even if it is technically beyond your property line.

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High-Tech Solutions

So given all these methods of determining property lines, how do you find out which one applies to your home? The first step is to visit the website for your city or county auditor. Many sites have maps or satellite imagery that provide a fairly precise location of your property line. You should also be able to discover whether your location has a setback for public usage. Such setbacks mean that while you still technically own that section of land, you aren’t allowed to build on it because the city maintains the right to access your property for public usage such as utility line access, road expansion or sidewalk installation.

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Old-School Style

If your municipality doesn’t offer online versions of lot plans, you can always find your property line using a measuring tape and a metal detector. This Family Handyman article offers a fantastic primer on how to find your home’s survey pin, and from there you can figure out your property lines and setback spacing.

Whether you go high-tech or old-school, remember: Though you can determine a reasonably accurate idea of your property line yourself, if you need this information for legal action, you’ll want to contact a surveyor for an official verification of your lot line.

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