Over the Line: Property Disputes in South Carolina

Disputed boundary lines have been an issue facing South Carolina courts for generations. The issue typically arises when one neighbor believes a portion of the adjoining property belongs to them and begins to treat it as their own. When problems like this occur, often the Courts must become involved to determine the actual boundary line. This raises the question of what factors the Court will look at to make this sort of determination.

Acquiescence

The Bouvier’s Law Dictionary defines acquiescence as consent that is implied from any inaction when action is possible, and the acquiescing party has any knowledge required to consent, and the acquiescing party might reasonably expect action if consent were not intended. This translates into four main elements:

1. occupation up to a visible line marked by monuments, fences, or buildings

2. mutual acquiescence in the line as a boundary

3. for a long period of time

4. by adjoining landowners

While this is not cited law in South Carolina, courts will often look at these elements to determine if acquiescence is permissible. However, South Carolina courts have made some alterations to these elements through case law. For example, the Court went further in S. Ry. v. Day. It established that if a party stands by and sees another dealing with property in a manner inconsistent with his rights and makes no objection, he cannot afterward have relief. S. Ry. v. Day, 140 S.C. 388, 138 S.E. 240 (1926). Therefore, this suggests that by remaining silent regarding the use of the property by the other party, their silence can be construed as acquiescence, and it stops him from seeking relief in Court.

South Carolina Courts have also acknowledged that the mere existence of a fence or a structure between the properties is not enough to establish a boundary line by acquiescence. The Court argued that fences could be built for reasons that have nothing to do with fixing a boundary, and therefore it is important to examine the intent behind building the structure. In addition, acquiescence requires that there must be mutual consent that the line is the boundary between the adjoining properties. South Carolina Courts have also rejected the idea of a “long period of time” and said in McClintic v. Davis that acquiescence could be established within a short time frame because it does not require the length of time necessary to establish adverse possession. Therefore, for a boundary line to be established through acquiescence, the key is for both parties to recognize a particular line constituted as the true property line.

Adverse Possession

Although similar, adverse possession differs significantly from acquiescence. The term “adverse possession” refers to a legal principle that grants title to someone who resides on or is in possession of another person’s land. The property’s title is granted to the possessor as long as certain conditions are met, including whether they infringe on the rights of the actual owner and whether they are in continuous possession of the property. According to § 15-670-210 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, to support an adverse possession claim, you must prove the possession was:

1. actual

2. exclusive

3. open and notorious, and

4. continuous for the statutory period of ten years in South Carolina, under S.C. Code Ann. § 15-67-210).

The elements of Adverse Possession significantly differ from acquiescence as it focuses on the mutual consent over a boundary line between adjoining landowners. In contrast, adverse possession allows anyone who fulfills these elements to preserve a claim against the property. The elements of adverse possession focus more on how the property was used and how long the adverse party used it. They must have had actual, exclusive, open, and continuous use of the property for a period exceeding ten years. It is important to note that adverse possession is typically a question of fact for the jury to decide and is often an affirmative defense. Thus, the person relying on the defense has the burden of proof.

 

Should you have any questions about a property dispute you are facing, please give Henderson & Henderson a call at 843-212-3188. You can also visit the firm’s website for more information: HHLawSC.com.

Note that this is distinct from my law practice. If you are searching for personalized legal advice for your business in South Carolina, please contact me, Wesley Henderson, directly at wesley@hhlawsc.com or check out our firm’s website for more information.

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