What You Need to Know about Property Lines?

Did you know that there may be locations on your property where you can’t build a garage or other type of permanent structure? Find out what setbacks and easements are and how they can affect your project.

One of the first things I had to figure out was where to locate the garage on my property. I wanted it a fair distance from the house as it was going to be a place where I could work on my machines while enjoying a little peace and quiet and maybe even have some friends stop by from time to time. I had a rough idea of where my property lines were as that’s where I stopped mowing and my neighbors started, but wasn’t really sure of their exact location.

My wife, thinking she’s a builder or something, suggested checking the plat that was given to us at settlement several years ago. Of course, I had no choice but to act as if that was what I had planned on doing all along – I just hadn’t gotten that far yet. As it turned out she was right (as she usually is), the plat shows several items that are of importance when locating your building:

  • Property lines – all of your property lines should be shown on the plat and depending on how long ago you settled on the property, there’s a good chance there are actual pins in the ground at the property corners. Mine had been pushed down below the grass so you may have to look closely. If your pins are gone, a surveyor can reestablish the points.

  • Setbacks – most jurisdictions have restrictions on how close a permanent structure can be built to a property line – the actual distance can vary depending on whether it’s a rear, side, or front boundary. The setback distances should be shown on your plat. It may be possible to get a variance if there are special circumstances, but apply for it before you start construction or you may be moving a garage.

  • Easements – these are areas on your property that someone else controls – it doesn’t make sense, but that’s just the way it is. The most common types of easements are drainage and utility and if there are any on your lot, they should be shown on the plat. They’re normally designated by dashed lines. If you have a utility easement down the side of your property, that means the power company can have access to that area at any time and in most cases, that a permanent structure can’t be located within its boundaries.

Copies of plats are normally on file at the City or County if your copy happens to be filed away in a place where it can’t be found. If your property corner pins are in place and you’re reasonably sure they haven’t been disturbed, it is often possible to use string lines and a tape measure to determine the locations of setbacks and easements. However, if there is any doubt in your mind, it may be better to spend a little at the beginning of the project for a professional surveyor rather than possibly spending a lot later to relocate your building.