An introduction to New Mexico boundary line disputes

Boundary disputes may be resolved by negotiated agreement or by trial in court.

New Mexican property owners, whether residential, agricultural or commercial, can find themselves embroiled in disputes over where actual boundaries are between their land and neighboring parcels. Each boundary dispute is factually unique and may involve conflicting, ambiguous or incomplete documents like deeds; different understandings of neighboring owners or battling surveys.

Boundary disputes can also bring out strong emotions. People get attached to land, especially when it has been in a family for a long time and is the place where memories have been made.

It is smart for a landowner facing a boundary dispute to discuss the situation in detail with a real estate attorney, who can assess the evidence and determine the likely outcome should the matter end up in court. Armed with that information, it is often a good idea to attempt to negotiate a mutually agreed resolution to the dispute. While coming to agreement over where the boundary is or how conflicting uses of the property may otherwise be accommodated, such as by the granting of an easement or the purchase of a disputed strip of land, will involve compromise, it will likely be cheaper and faster than going to court. Plus, there is an element of throwing the dice to have the matter decided in court, as the outcome is uncertain.

If, however, agreement cannot be reached, one of the parties to the boundary dispute may decide to file a lawsuit in New Mexico state court to quiet title or to adjudicate boundaries. Legal theories that may be part of such a claim may include:

  • Adverse possession: to acquire title by adverse possession, one party openly possesses the land of another for at least 10 years, during which time the possessor must have paid the property taxes on the disputed land
  • Prescriptive easement: similar to adverse possession, but what is acquired is an easement, meaning the right to pass over or otherwise use the land without actually owning it
  • Acquiescence: when a boundary is in dispute, the two owners may agree expressly or impliedly to where the boundary is, even if its contrary to official documents like deeds
  • And others

There may also be additional related legal claims (or counterclaims) like trespass. At trial, evidence may include:

  • Surveys, deeds, plats, maps and other documents
  • Expert testimony such as by surveyors, local officials or title examiners
  • Lay testimony from owners, relatives, neighbors, friends and others

Court proceedings in boundary disputes may involve extensive detail and voluminous evidence. Each boundary dispute is unique and highly dependent on the individual facts and evidence in the case.

From his office in Albuquerque, lawyer Scott E. Turner of The Turner Law Firm, LLC, a Certified Specialist in Real Estate by the New Mexico Board of Legal Specialization, represents residential and commercial landowners, builders, developers and lenders in matters involving boundary disputes and other kinds of real estate litigation.

  • New Mexico Board of Legal Specialization
  • NMLTA
  • Member of Community Associations Institute