Here are a couple original images of the property.
Here's my take on this. My opinion is free so take it for what it costs. I DO have a law degree and have worked on a few survey crews. I have also done title searching for several attorneys. I do not and never will practice law. I have also been involved in several land boundary disputes in the state of Michigan and New York (which is even more screwed up then New York!).
The issue of where your deeded boundaries are may not matter anymore. I suspect the farmer knows he's been encroaching and does not care. I suspect he feels entitled because he's done it for so long.
The fear about him getting land by "adverse possession" is kind of ridiculous. It won't happen if things have happened as you've explained.
I also doubt he can get an "easement by prescription."
However - in Michigan - you've got another legal problem that we don't have in New York. The "doctrine of acquiesence." With that, he would never own your land but could get a right to use it. Here's a simple definition for what it means in Michigan:
The doctrine of acquiescence provides that where adjoining property owners acquiesce to a boundary line for at least fifteen years, that line becomes the actual boundary line.
You've only been there a couple of years, yet this farmer has been "crossing the line" much longer.
If you cannot reach agreement with him - you can either give up, or fence it. If you fence it -and he cuts the fence down, you can call the police and have him charged. Michigan has very strong fence-cutting laws. Then the burden of proof will be on him to prove his case and it will cost money (which he might have). If he can persuade a judge that he's been using that land for at least 15 years and the prior owners never complained or tried to stop him - he has a case. Your only chance would be to track down some prior owners and maybe find out a few gave him permission to use it. If they gave some sort of temporary permission, he has no case.
Going back in time and trying to prove these sort of things can be very difficult and extremely expensive. Again though, the burden of proof would be on him. - mostly. You already have the "preponderance of proof" showing you are the owner. At least I assume you do. If the actual deeded boundary lines are in doubt - check and recheck. If your one neighbor has a survey done - read it and find out what establish baselines were used. You DO know for sure what your width but you need to verify that the survey is correct. You can also go the the county clerks office and get copy of the farmer's deed. Read it and see what his measurement are and from what baseline. Farmland often is not well described.
I've been in similar situations. I'd do a lot more research and try to establish what went on with prior owners before you. If you don't or can't - I suggest this. Talk to the guy and try not to act like you want to kill him (like I tend to do). See if you can work out a compromise OR see if he will accept a written permission slip from you. If you write a slip indicating he may farm up to a certain line with your permission for the time being - and he accepts - it might void any future chances of him trying any legal tricks. If he scoffs at it? Well - I don't know the guy. He might be fool enough to spend thousands of dollars on a 20 foot strip of land he doesn't need. You never know. I did this recently with 100 acres I have in northern NY. I had so much trouble with people using a road on my land to get to other lands - I sent out five permission slips to all adjacent owners. And I did it again every 5 years. They all accepted the slips and I did it for 15 years. I finally sold the land and the new owner was able to enforce his ownership rights - because of the record of those permission slips.
Any judge (if he's sober and sane) will hear the evidence and then refer to prior case law. Here's an example of where a guy with a situation like your's won his case. But I'm sure it cost him a lot of time and money. Read if closely if interested.
S T A T E O F M I C H I G A N
C O U R T O F A P P E A L S
FRED BAKI and JUDITH BAKI,
January 29, 2002
v No. 226780
Genesee Circuit Court
PATRICK KELLY and WENDY KELLY, LC No. 95-040507-CH
Before: White, P.J., Whitbeck, C.J., and Holbrook, Jr., J.
Defendants Patrick and Wendy Kelly appeal as of right from a judgment settling a
property line in favor of plaintiffs Fred and Judith Baki. We affirm.
I. Basic Facts And Procedural History
The Kellys and Bakis own adjacent pieces of property in Fenton, Michigan. The Bakis
own what is known as lot 7 and the Kellys own what is known as lot 8, with lot 7 situated north
of lot 8. Margaret Drive sets the western boundary of the two lots and Lake Fenton serves as the
eastern boundary. Around 1965, the Kellys’ predecessors in title, Arthur and Virginia Phelon,
installed a split-rail fence at a position they believed to be about two inches south of the
boundary between the lots. The fence, which was subsequently replaced, runs approximately 50
feet, with bushes and shrubs marking the remainder of the boundary. The Phelons, their
successors in title, as well as the owners of lot 7 and their successors in title, cared for the
property on their respective sides of the fence.
A dispute arose between the parties in May or June 1995 when the Kellys claimed that
landscaping ties the Bakis were installing in the ground encroached on the Kellys’ land. Though
the trial testimony is conflicting about what occurred next, it is clear that Wendy Kelly and
Judith Baki began to fight and, eventually, the police had to intervene. Each woman blamed the
other for the scuffle.
In October 1995, the Bakis filed this lawsuit, asking the trial court to settle the line
marked by the fence and tree line as the legal boundary between lots 7 and 8. The Bakis set forth
three grounds for establishing title to the disputed property: adverse possession, easement by
prescription, and acquiescence. The Kellys later filed a counter complaint alleging intentional
trespass, but this claim was dismissed at trial and is not at issue on appeal.
At trial, the past and present owners of the two lots testified concerning the property line
and the fence line, as well as the trees, bushes, and flowers on the disputed area. Arthur Phelon
testified that he built the split-rail fence in the 1960s to support grape vines, not to mark the
property as a boundary. In fact, Phelon indicated, there never was any specific agreement about
where the fence line was, and he never intended the boundary between the two lots to be
anything other than the surveyed line. In what would later prove to be significant to the trial
court’s ruling, Phelon said that after the fence was installed, he would mow the grass on his side
of the split rail fence and Mr. Smith, who owned lot 7 at that time, would mow the grass on the
other side of the fence. Phelon also noted that he did not store anything on the Smiths’ side of
the fence. Although Phelon stated that he occasionally mowed on the Smiths’ side of the fence
and that he sometimes picked grapes from that side of the fence, the Smiths and Phelons
essentially stayed on their respective sides of the fence. After selling lot 8 to the Rowlands in
July 1977, on the occasions he drove or walked past the fence, Phelon observed that the
Rowlands and Smiths also stayed on their respective sides of the fence.
At the close of the Bakis’ case, the Kellys moved for a directed verdict on all three of the
Bakis’ claims. The trial court took the motion under advisement and proceeded with the Kelly’s
case. In early May 1999, the trial court issued its opinion in the case, ruling that the Bakis had
failed to establish a right to the land based on adverse possession because they failed to show
that the “Kellys, Phelons or Rowlands understood their property interest was being invaded.”
Further, the Bakis failed to satisfy the 15-year statutory period for adverse possession. The trial
court, however, found that the Bakis had established a right to the land under their theory of
acquiescence. The trial court noted that the testimony showed that after the Phelons erected the
fence, the various property owners “through their conduct alone, accepted, recognized
acquiesced in and used the fence line . . . as the boundary between Lots 7 and 8.” The trial court
was careful to distinguish between the fence line and the vegetation between the two pieces of
property, which the trial court found had not been respected as a boundary between the lots. In
the end, with it unnecessary to address whether an easement existed, the trial court adjusted the
legal boundary between the two lots to reflect the position of the fence for its length and the
original survey line where the fence ended and the vegetation continued.
On appeal the Kellys challenge the trial court’s decision that the Bakis demonstrated
possession by acquiescence. They claim that the trial court erred by construing the property
owners’ decision to say on their respective sides of the fence as a tacit agreement that the fence
was a boundary line in light of the testimony that the fence line was never intended to set the