Monday, July 15, 2013
A Lesson in The Law -- California Style
Today, Big Ag was outside working on the property when he spotted a family looking at the lot next to us. We didn't know it was for sale, and while we were walking around on it, we realized our septic leach lines run across the top of the property, on the same hill our house is on, but definitely on the other property, not ours.
I can't believe we never noticed it before, nor did anyone else who helped us buy our home, including the previous owner. So we did what anyone does when they realize there's a potentially huge and complicated legal issue relating to their land, which was 1) panic, and 2) begin research in earnest.
To make a long story short, it turns out we have a legal right to have our leach lines running across the neighboring property due to something called a "prescriptive easement." It's a strange thing, good for us but not for absent land owners.
Basically it goes like this: If someone encroaches on your property by putting something like a sewer line or septic system on it, or if they just walk across it every day to get to the grocery store, if you haven't put a stop to it within 5 years of it happening regularly, you're out of luck. That's right, if its been done for 5 years, innocently, with no push-back from you, it's a done deal that it can legally continue to happen into perpetuity, without you being able to do a thing to stop it. In fact, if you try to stop it the courts will rule against you, and you may be liable for damages.
Hard to believe, but true. It's true in other states as well as California, but the number of years it takes for the encroachment to become legal can differ. In Tennessee, for example, you have 9 years to complain before its too late for you to do anything.
I'm not sure how this is possible or if its even a law that I like, but in this case it works in our favor. Our house was built in 2005, with the leach lines being put in place in that time. That's 8 years ago, meaning it's now been legal for 3 years.
I'm thankful, but also a little perplexed as to how and why this law exists. But mostly thankful. It also means that our lovely 180 degree view of the Coast Range will probably remain the same, as it would be impossible to build on the other side of the hilltop without disturbing our leach lines or violating the laws that demand leach lines stay a certain number of feet away from any residences.
A victory for us, albeit a strange one.
And it turned out the real estate shoppers were on the wrong lot, anyway. The lot next to us isn't even for sale, and possibly never will be.
And so panic turns to relief as we watch another sunset from the back patio.