One of the most common sources of litigation involving real property is that of disputes between adjoining property owners. Of these disputes, many involve a disagreement regarding where the property line between the two parcels of land is actually located, and one party’s objection to his neighbor’s use of the property beyond the legal boundary between the properties. Pennsylvania has a well-developed practical approach to such disputes where a line between the properties has been respected and acquiesced to for a requisite period of years.
Pennsylvania Law disfavors hyper-technical, rigid determinations of real property rights where the facts and circumstances warrant a departure from the broader rules of general application. When an actual, de facto boundary between two adjoining properties exists apart from the legal descriptions of both properties by deed, Pennsylvania Law provides that property lines which are respected and mutually acquiesced to for a statutory prescribed period of twenty-one (21) years become the legal boundary between the properties. In a reported case as early as 1817, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recognized the doctrine of “Consentable Lines” to settle issues concerning mistakes as to the boundary between adjoining properties. Sometimes referred to as “boundary by consent and acquiescence,” the Doctrine of Consentable Lines permits the passing of title to property where adjoining landowners establish a mutually respected boundary either by mistake and inadvertence or dispute and compromise, each landowner claims and occupies the land on his side of the boundary as his own, and the occupation continues uninterrupted for a period of twenty-one (21) years. This twenty-one year requisite can include “tacking” of years from one owner to his successor in order to aggregate to a twenty-one year sum.
As a matter of judicial policy, the doctrine functions as a rule of repose to quiet title and to discourage vexatious litigation, where no real dispute as to the validity of the boundary existed for such a period of time although the actual metes and bounds of the property may have varied from the boundary as respected by each property owner. Consentable Lines may be used to quiet title and reflect a respected boundary as a legal boundary when, after the period has passed, one property owner (or his successor) objects to the other property owner’s use of the property up to the respected boundary – which often includes the erection of a structure – and demands that such use be ceased or the structure removed.