Who owns my front yard?

What a silly question!  I paid for my land, I pay taxes on it, I maintain it, I will do whatever I want with it!  I paid a landscaper a lot of money to put that zoysia sod up to the curb and I have babied it for three years, now the city wants to dig a bunch of it up to see if a gas line is in good shape or not.  I don’t think so!

Over the years, I have worked on property surveys for landowners in rural and urban settings and most of the properties lie adjacent to some type of road.  When you are outside of town, you may live on a county or a state road.  When you are in town, you may live on a city or state road.  No matter what type of road people live on, they always want to know how close to the pavement do I own?  I will go over some of the different situations you may see as a landowner and what to expect.

In a rural area, you may live on a private road.  In this case your ownership in the road goes to the extent of the deed.  Wherever the deed goes, if it is at the edge of pavement, centerline or wherever, this is where your ownership stops.  If you live on a county road, it may have what is called a prescriptive right of way.  In this case, the county only owns what is claims and is maintaining, usually to the back or top of the ditch.  Sometimes they may stop at an existing fence, or some other object.  Your ownership stops at the point where the county stops its maintenance.  Another possibility if you are in a rural area is living on a county or a state road with a deeded right of way.  In this instance, the road has a deeded width, for counties it may be 50 or 60 feet.  If the road has a 60 foot right of way, it will normally stop 30 feet off each side of  centerline of the road, no matter where it hits in your yard.  The same holds true for any width of right of way, whether it be county or state.  These widths can be found from county and state construction and right of way maps and plans.  Do not depend on the tax assessors map being accurate.

In the city, we do not have the prescriptive right of way, it is normally deeded.  You will have the same type of setup with the right of way coming off the centerline regardless of where is hits in your yard.  However, we have another set of issues once we get into urban areas that have planning and zone laws: minimum setback lines and easements.  The minimum setback lines define what type of buildings and objects can be put in your yard in relation to the road and the other property lines.  They may not allow you to put some things in your yard according to the zone in which you reside.  The setbacks will also have different widths depending on the zone in which you reside.  Easements come in many different forms and may be for utilities, drainage, access, or some other purpose.  These easements may be very laid back or very strict as to what you can do inside them.  For instance, if you have a 20 foot wide drainage on your side yard, even if there is no ditch, you may not put a structure (storage building) in that easement.  The entity who owns the easement has the right to access and maintain that easement, even if it means driving that backhoe through and digging up some of your yard.

We have an innate instinct to protect what is ours, especially the place where we live.  When someone comes in and claims they own what we believe to be ours, we immediately bristle our hair.  The fact is, Others may have interest in our property or we may be maintaining property, such as road right of way, that does not belong to us.  When we must come to that inevitable realization that we are incorrect, it is a hard pill to swallow.

When these situations do arise, call a licensed land surveyor in your area, and let him or her define your property boundaries.  This will save you a lot of headache and wasted money from incorrect assumptions.  Till next time, keep your lines straight!