It’s 2 a.m. and you are wide awake, stewing. Today your new neighbor had your shared boundary line surveyed – from the look of the metal pins, your neighbor is claiming about two feet of land you’ve always understood to be your property. You feel the urge to get out of bed, march out there and rip out all of the survey pins – why should you make it easy for him to try and take part of your property?
What do you do?
While removing the survey pins might give you instant gratification, it is also illegal. Under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code section titled “Destruction of a survey monument” – sandwiched between more exciting-sounding sections titled “Ecoterrorism” and “Illegal dumping of methamphetamine waste” – it is a summary offense to intentionally remove, destroy, or otherwise interfere with a permanent survey monument such as a pin that was placed by a professional land surveyor. That is just if you had no additional motive for your intentional act. If it is determined that you removed or interfered with a permanent survey monument in order to call a boundary line into question, this could earn you a second-degree misdemeanor.
The potential penalties and costs for removing or interfering with survey monuments are stiff. In addition to whatever criminal penalty is imposed for the offense itself, the Crimes Code also provides that you are liable to your neighbor for the cost of re-establishing the survey monuments by the surveyor. Worse still, the Crimes Code provides that you are liable for “all reasonable attorney fees” – if you think it is expensive to pay your own attorney, just wait until you are also paying for your neighbor’s attorney.
If prosecuted under this section of the Crimes Code, you may argue the affirmative defense that the survey monuments were “improperly placed” by the surveyor. However, it is almost certainly not worth removing the monuments thinking that you will succeed on this defense. First, the surveyor may of course be correct in their placement of the monuments. Second, it is easier and far less expensive to simply not remove the monuments in the first place and, therefore, not be in a position where you are defending against a criminal prosecution while at the same time engaged in a civil action that may need to be filed in order to resolve the underlying boundary line dispute.
So, let’s go back to you stewing in bed at 2 a.m. Instead of marching outside to take out the survey monuments, take a deep breath. Then, once you get some sleep, call a land use attorney. Depending on the circumstances, the attorney may advise you to start by hiring a licensed surveyor to perform your own survey. A civil action may ultimately be necessary to resolve the boundary line if you and your neighbor cannot reach an agreement. However, at least you will not be also be defending against a criminal prosecution for a decision you made while sleep-deprived at 2 a.m.
If you have questions about your rights concerning your property lines or other land use or zoning issues, you may contact Matthew McKeon at [email protected], or by telephone at 610-840-0225. This article provides a general overview of the law. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice for any particular fact situation.