I have lectured on the multi-dimensional topic of neighbor disputes at the USC Gould School of Law and we have dealt with these turf wars extensively at our law firm. They cover a wide range of topics, with some of the more common controversies involving:
• Boundary lines
• Remodels and/or additions
• Shared driveway
• Second-hand smoke
• Waste (including poorly maintained home, delayed construction, unkempt yard)
There are a number of reasons why property owners should consider consulting a lawyer as soon as possible when a difficulty arises with a neighbor. First, the law requires any unresolved neighbor problem to be disclosed to a prospective buyer. If the problem is significant, it could have an impact on how much a buyer is willing to pay for your property or, in serious cases, make your property unmarketable (buyers usually don’t like to step into the middle of a hotly-contested unresolved neighbor battle or buy a property with a neighbor nuisance that has not even been addressed).
Second, these neighbor quarrels tend to be driven more by emotion and principle than logic. There seems to be a “How dare they?” factor in almost every neighbor dispute. An experienced lawyer can help you defuse some of the emotion, deal with the situation more rationally and, if appropriate, prevent your “molehill” from turning into a “mountain”.
Third, the laws in these disputes can be deceptively complicated. Depending on the issue, you may have applicable laws and ordinances at the state, county and/or city level. Then, there are court decisions that interpret and apply those laws and ordinances. All of those authorities need to be identified, understood, evaluated and applied to your unique facts just to determine who’s right, who’s wrong, and what the strengths and weaknesses are in your respective positions. You need a lawyer to make sure you’re analyzing the situation clearly and correctly.
Finally, you need to understand your legal rights and remedies in each situation. Those rights and remedies could translate into bargaining power you didn’t even realize you had and make all the difference in how your problem gets resolved.
We had one client, a very nice lady named Elvera Ralph (who kindly gave her permission to allow us to use her story and name), who had a boundary dispute with her neighbor. That neighbor had built improvements decades earlier that had gone over the boundary line or “encroached” on Ms. Ralph’s property by almost two feet (two feet may not sound like much, but when you multiply it by the length of the encroachment, it was a big chunk of land that was appraised at a significant value). As a result of our involvement, we resolved the dispute through mediation and Ms. Ralph was quite pleased, as she wrote in her kind letter below*:
"My case, by most accounts, was just about a lost cause from the very outset. You took me seriously, did not give up on me, did your best to inform me of all the obstacles without discouraging me. All your hours of research and planning did lead to exactly what I hoped for, the acquisition of a 22.5 inch strip of land.
Many, many thanks and my most sincere and best wishes for more successes in the years to come."
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We can help you with your neighbor problem, too. If you would like to discuss this topic further, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Testimonials or endorsements do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter.