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What You Can (and Cannot) Do about a Bad Neighbor

You love your home—or at least you used to. When you moved into your idyllic spot, the neighborhood was perfect and your neighbors on either side were nice, normal, friendly people, but then “they” moved in. Whether your troublesome neighbor actively seeks out and causes problems, tampers with your property, or impedes your enjoyment of your home, there are some things you can do to alleviate your issues and make your neighborhood a better place for everyone.

Most Neighbor Disputes Can Be Resolved with Communication

A simple over-the-fence chat or visit may be all that is needed to resolve a dispute with troublesome neighbors before things get antagonistic. Your neighbor may simply not realize that the dog he adores is barking at you all day while he (the neighbor) is at work. That fence you think is an eyesore may be the height of fashion for your new neighbor, who also thinks they have done a good job by enclosing their yard with a fence to keep their pets and kids off your property. Even the way the home is used could cause misunderstandings. Your new neighbor may not think that using the home as an Airbnb when they travel is a problem, but they do not have to live with the late-night partiers who rent from them.

A simple conversation can clear up some misunderstandings and ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to handling disputes. Since you actually have to continue to live next door to your neighbor and see them on a regular basis, jumping into a legal dispute when you do not really need to can cause additional strife and issues.

Obviously, criminal and/or dangerous activity needs to be treated more seriously, but other disputes can start with a candid talk and kindness. If you start out aggressively or even with a legal stance, you may end up causing more strife and discomfort than the initial issue created in the first place.

Legal Issues Depend on Where You Live

If you live in a community with a homeowners' association (HOA), then you may have some additional resources. Most HOAs have clear guidelines for everything from landscaping to the height of fences or the color of the home. If your disruptive neighbor is not caring for his lawn, has erected a horribly ugly fence, or has painted his home bright orange, the HOA will step in and has more authority than you do.

If you do not have an HOA, there still may be legal recourse and resources in place. Local ordinances and laws can prevent some types of behaviors. The neighbor who decides backyard chickens are a good idea for your suburban yard and installs a coop is likely bothering more than just you—that 6 a.m. crow could be waking everyone in the neighborhood. If your community outlaws chickens (or roosters), you can hand the problem over to the government.

The laws you can rely on will depend on where you live and the laws your community has in place. Banned dog breeds, marijuana growing operations, and even some home additions may not be allowed where you live and you can turn to the local legal system to help you. In other instances, if all other options are exhausted and you simply cannot live with the terrible neighbor one more day, you will need to hire an attorney to help you to work out your disputes.

Bad Tenants

The problem you are encountering may not be the fault of the homeowners at all. If they rent out their home and the tenants are not caring for it properly or are behaving in a way that impacts you, then a call to the homeowners is a good start.

You can also reach out to your HOA if you are having trouble; most have guidelines in place for renting out homes and can intervene on the behalf of the neighborhood if a tenant is disrupting the peace and tranquility you are used to.

Tenants cause problems in a variety of ways, from noise to simply not caring for the home. Some things can be changed and some cannot. Illegal activity can often be a reason for eviction. In many cases, a landlord is held responsible for the activities of their tenants. If the tenants are selling or manufacturing drugs, for example, the landlord could be held liable. A savvy landlord will know this, so if you let them know there is a problem, it could be resolved by the homeowners themselves.

If the activities of the tenants are not illegal but simply annoying, you can still talk to the homeowners or even the tenants themselves as a first step.

If your neighbor’s problem tenants are of the short-term variety, you have two options:

  • Wait them out – A short-term rental does end swiftly, and while it is not fun, that noisy group is likely damaging the interior of the home too and will not be invited back.
  • Check out your zoning – In many residential areas, short-term rentals are not allowed. Whether you have an HOA or not, that short-term rental could be against the law. Reviewing your local zoning laws can help you determine what to do next. You could file a complaint with code enforcement as a last resort if talking things out does not help.

Noisy Tenants

Dealing with tenants who are simply noisy can be resolved by a call to local law enforcement. Either the visit will deter the tenants from making noise or it will alert the homeowners to a problem.

Right to Views

Your stunning view of the valley is gone overnight thanks to your neighbor’s new fence or other alteration. Unfortunately, you usually do not have a right to a specific view; the only exception is if your neighbors put something up simply out of spite to block your view. It is tough to prove, but it could be cause for removal.

The other exception to a 'right to view' rule depends on where you live. In some communities—primarily those with pricey oceanfront views—there may be legal recourse if your view is obstructed by a tree or structure.

You may have recourse through your HOA or subdivision if that organization has restrictions or covenants in place to protect views. A review of your covenants can reveal what to do next.

Water Damage

Most damage to your home is covered by your homeowner’s policy, but if your neighbor is actually causing the damage by something they have built or the way they are using your property, your local public works or government zoning agency can help. As with other disputes, your community or HOA can also assist with water-damage-related issues.

If your neighbor is legally responsible for damage to your home, then they will have to pay repair and restoration costs. Getting them to do this can be as easy as asking or as complex as taking them to court.

Parking

Driveways and designated parking spots are easy, but who owns the “best” spots on the street? If the street is truly a public road, then you both have equal rights to park there, provided you follow the law. You can attempt to get there first, talk things out, or seethe quietly. There are not really any true legal remedies to resolve parking disputes. If the parking is being done in an area that is illegal or street parking is against your neighborhood HOA covenants, you could have some recourse with that organization.

Pets and Pests

If things are creeping from your neighbor’s yard to yours, simply cleaning up and calling an exterminator can help. If the pests in question are the homeowner’s pets, they have the obligation to control their animals and restrain them. Asking for assistance can help, as can building a fence. As a last resort, you could contact animal control for additional help.

Laws that require people to clean up after pets or control pets (particularly those that have already caused damage or harm) can also help. Your local animal control agency is a good place to start when you have had no luck speaking to a neighbor about their animals or pest problems.

Trees Cause Concerns

The humble, beautiful tree is a surprising source of strife between neighbors. From trees that block views to trees that fall on property, tree damage is a recurring theme and issue when it comes to neighbor disputes.

Ownership matters. The owner of the tree is usually the person whose property contains the trunk, no matter how far the branches or leaves extend onto the adjacent property. In rare instances, a tree can grow exactly on the property line and you can share ownership. The fruit borne by the tree belongs to the owner no matter where that fruit falls, but most neighbors are able to work out compromises regarding fruit ownership.

The owner of the tree is responsible for the damage it causes, unless it falls through no fault of your own. In most states, you are not responsible if a hurricane or snow storm causes your tree to fall on someone else’s property; their insurance company will have to foot that bill.

Negligence

Negligence is a different matter, though. If your tree has not been properly cared for or trimmed and it falls, then you could be held liable for damages.

Fencing and Easements

The location and type of fence can cause a problem for you. If you allow a neighbor to add a fence that extends onto your property, you may actually be giving them a license to use your land. Fences do not grow overnight; if you see the signs that a fence is coming, including property line marks, make sure they are accurate first. Spotting problems early can help prevent disputes later. It is far easier and less expensive to ask your neighbor to move a flag or the projected path of a fence than it is to move the fence once it is constructed.

Illegal Activity

Most neighbor disputes are nuisances, but for actual crimes you can call the police. In some cases, a visit from the local police department will help, but it often will not resolve the underlying issue. Actual crimes should be addressed for your safety and the safety of the community; you do not have to reveal you are the neighbor when you call.

Resolving Disputes

Most neighbor disputes can follow the same resolution path. Talking things out first and reaching a resolution is the most affordable and easiest way to solve most problems. If that does not help, then approaching the HOA (if there is one) and asking them to step in is an ideal next step. In the absence of an HOA, your local government agencies may be able to help with specific complaints in their own domains. When all else fails, you may need to speak with an attorney to settle disputes or find out what remedies are available to you.

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