For Arkansas farmers and ranchers, there is a significant emotional and financial tie to the land upon which they operate. One of the most concerning issues that many farmers and ranchers may face is when a boundary line on a piece of property that they are buying or selling is not where they thought it was or when the fence line does not match the legal description.
Boundary law in Arkansas is shaped by three main legal principles, adverse possession, boundary by agreement, and boundary by acquiescence. Recent developments in the law requiring payment of property taxes or other evidence of title have resulted in a shift away from the commonly accepted practice of relying on adverse possession for the resolution of boundary disputes. Now, Arkansas landowners are relying on the principles of agreement or acquiescence to move boundary lines from what is written in deeds.
When adjoining landowners decide to allow some line to serve as the boundary between their properties, they are said to have a “boundary by agreement.” To establish that a boundary by agreement exists, the landowner claiming a deviation from the record or written boundary line must prove four essential elements:
1. that there was uncertainty or dispute about the boundary line
2. there was an agreement between the adjoining land owners
3. the agreement fixed a definite or certain line
4. possession followed the agreement. There is no requirement that the agreement must be in writing and the fixed line must serve as the dividing line between the properties. By way of example, adjoining property owners that agree to a ridge as a dividing line have made a boundary by agreement, but adjoining property owners that put a fence up to simply keep cattle out of the trees have not.
Along the same lines, but with a slightly different twist, adjoining property owners can move a boundary line if the neighbor does not object in a timely fashion. Boundaries by acquiescence are created when something in nature or the actions of the adjoining landowners symbolize a dividing line between the properties. If no objection is noted or the physical demarcation is not moved for a “number of years” or a “long period of time,” the adjoining landowner is said to have acquiesced, or consented to the demarcation of the property line. It is not clear how long an adjoining landowner has to object, but the sooner the objection is made, the less likely acquiescence occurred.
Ultimately, Arkansas boundary law revolves around the actions of landowners. Knowing what is being conveyed in the deed or contract is the first step in avoiding problems. An accurate survey can let buyers, sellers, and neighbors know what is changing hands and where the boundaries are suppose to be located. To address concerns with boundary by agreement and boundary by acquiescence, it may be a good idea to walk the property lines with the neighbors so everyone is clear on the property being conveyed and where the boundaries are located.
Eric Pendergrass is with Smith, Murras, Cohen Redd & Horan PLC, and Bryan Redd clerks and is a research assistant at this Fort Smith, Ark., firm.