One of the most frequent questions that property owners ask of the Assessor is the location of the boundary between their property and that of a neighbor or the location of their property line in relationship to the edge of a public right of way such as a street. The issue often arises because of a dispute over the location of a fence, contested use of a piece of land or clarification of setbacks for new construction. When two different owners are involved, boundary disputes can be very traumatic and often create tense situations and bad feelings.

    While the Assessor does maintain maps of properties for assessment purposes and Public Works Directors of municipalities and Napa County review and approve subdivision and parcel maps and the County Surveyor does the same for Records of Surveys, these reviews are for quality control only. None of those officials establish the boundaries of properties. Property boundaries are established by the private sector in two primary ways. They are based on filed subdivision and parcel maps or records of survey prepared by engineers or land surveyors, i.e. Lot 5 of Bueno Park Subdivision filed at Book 12 of Recorded Maps Page 15 Napa County Official Records. Metes and bounds descriptions contained in deeds also establish boundaries. Metes and bounds descriptions can refer to a land mapping system from pre-American California using Ranchos or a different system developed by the Federal Government after California jointed the Union consisting of Townships, Ranges and Sections i.e. the Southwest one-quarter of Section 15, Township 5 North, Range 3 West. Metes and bounds descriptions are also created by surveyors or engineers describing property by a series of bearings and distances, i.e. commencing at a large oak tree and then bearing South 28 degrees 58 minutes 45 seconds East 146.7 feet to a rock pile, thence bearing North 60 degrees 27 minutes 2 seconds East 205.46 feet to the center of the creek, etc.

    Property boundaries are exclusively a private matter and cannot be determined just by referring to subdivision, parcel or assessor maps. Where the question involves the location of a private property line adjacent to a public street or other right of way, the municipality or county can be contacted regarding the centerline and width of the right-of-way. Property owners wishing to determine a boundary have to refer to the private sector using title companies or individuals who locate boundaries, surveyors or engineers. Disputes over boundaries that cannot be mutually resolved by the property owners with the help of the title companies, private experts, attorneys or mediators have to be referred to court since the only outside party who can settle a contested boundary dispute wears a black robe.

    Modern technology has added another twist to the issue of boundary locations. With the advent of more precise surveying equipment and satellite-guided location finders, the old image of the surveyor crawling through the brush dragging a chain from one tree to another has changed. A new coordinate grid system has been developed which allows precise location of a point on the earth’s surface to within a few feet. These more precise measurements often show discrepancies in surveyed lines established even 25 or 50 years ago that would move significantly change the location of property boundaries. However, until a new system of property description based on this more accurate system is recognized by the courts and replaces the current boundary description system, courts often uphold the old established boundaries regardless of the more primitive technology used in determining their location.

Should you have any questions please contact Napa County Assessor-Recorder John Tuteur
at 707.253.4459 or by e-mail


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