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Boundary Disputes and When to Hire a Lawyer: An Interview with Michael W. Kelly, Attorney at Law

Tell us a little about your firm and the areas of law you practice.

I opened my own office in 2009, though I have been practicing law for over ten years. My practice began with an emphasis on construction law and mechanics liens, and it has evolved to include more general real estate litigation and transactional work.

I handle mechanics lien and mortgage foreclosures, construction claims, landlord/tenant cases, and disputes over real estate purchase contracts. I also represent buyers and sellers of real estate.

Can you briefly describe what a boundary dispute is?

A boundary dispute involves owners of adjacent real estate that disagree as to:
(a) the location of a property line;
(b) someone's right to use the land on either side of the property line.

The location of the boundary impacts the size, location and type of any improvements or construction, whether it's a wooden fence or a new sixty-story building. Boundary disputes often involve someone claiming an easement (the right to use another's property) or the doctrine of adverse possession (hostile ownership through extended use).

What are the most common boundary disputes that you've seen arise in your area?

In Chicago or the suburbs, boundary disputes tend to come up when someone purchases real estate and/or decides to renovate their property. The new owner comes in and wants to change something, and a neighboring owner (or a municipality) wants to limit those plans. Examples include disputed ownership of a small strip of land, portions of a driveway, the location of a fence, limits on access to the front or back of a lot, or the location of a new buildings walls and foundations.

When is it advisable for someone involved in a boundary or property line dispute to consult a lawyer?

Property owners should speak to an attorney as soon as they think there might be an issue with a neighbor over the property line. Your statements and actions, and your failure to act, may impact your ability to resolve this type of dispute.

Are there any actions that can or should be taken before property owners hire an attorney?

In reality, most homeowners should consider whether there might be an issue with a boundary before they even purchase the property. The attorney that handles your closing can help explain the survey and any possible exceptions to title.

Also, owners should always pay attention to any notices regarding construction permits or zoning variances related to neighboring lots. These notices should arrive by mail or be posted on the adjacent property.

What advice do you have for homeowners with a neighbor who is wrongly claiming to own part of their property?

Talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. It should be easy to determine whether there's a possibility that your neighbor might have a valid claim. Most lawyers offer a free consultation.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your firm?

People can contact me through my website: or by calling me at my office, 312.662.1716.

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