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Crossing the line

It can come as a surprise to some homeowners: What they thought was their property really isn't. For those who are out of bounds, there may be financial consequences.

February 12, 2006|Michelle Hofmann | Special to The Times

Paterson, whose home overlooks the same trail, got a land survey when he and his wife, Julie, bought his 3,400-square-foot, five-bedroom home in 2003. The survey showed an unauthorized encroachment extending about 30 feet beyond the actual property line.

"We decided to put our fence right on our side of the property line," he said. "It wasn't a big deal."

For Hawley and others, though, it's not that simple.

"It goes without saying that all of us are going to take some kind of value loss," he said.

One city's solution

Although homeowners are frequently on the losing end of an encroachment issue, Manhattan Beach has found a compromise on residential use of city-owned land.

Bob Holmes' corner lot faces the ocean and is bounded by a "walk-street" -- a broad concrete pathway of city-owned property that allows pedestrian traffic to access the beach and has sidewalk-size portions of land running along either side. Without a need for that additional sidewalk space, Manhattan Beach has allowed owners with properties adjacent to the walk-streets to apply to use the land.

After paying a one-time city fee of $176, homeowners can get creative. And they have, developing a colorful landscape mixed with paved patio areas, planter-filled retaining walls, decks, lawns and decorative gardens.

City standards do, however, prohibit unwanted improvements such as hot tubs or walls more than 42 inches tall.

Holmes' 12-foot city-owned sideyard features a gated entrance, a walled patio area with planters punctuated by decorative brickwork, flowers, a sprinkler system and night lighting.

The city's goal is to preserve the view corridor along the street without disrupting access to city services.

David Caskey, a broker with Shorewood Realtors in Manhattan Beach, said a corner lot on a Strand walk-street with the option of an encroachment permit could sell for 15% to 20% more than an interior lot. "It can be a real advantage," Caskey said.

Manhattan Beach has found a solution to residential use of city property, but some municipalities have been known to let go of the land completely.

While conducting a real estate appraisal for a bank in 2002, Bryan Riggs, president of Riggs & Riggs Inc. real estate appraisers and consultants in Simi Valley, noticed that the loan applicant, a local church, had built an additional facility with parking adjacent to the county flood channel that used about 600 square feet of public property. Riggs alerted the bank and the church to the problem. The city, county and proper municipalities worked to redraw the plot lines and deed the land to the church. The price tag? The cost of administering the paperwork, which was less than $500.

"This was a case where it has worked out favorably, but that doesn't always happen," Riggs explained.

"It can go good, it can go bad," he said. "But ultimately, taking a trip to the city, getting title reports and surveys gives people the tools to make sure they are not making a huge mistake."

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