Neighbors always seem to get along better on TV: smiling and waving at each other, borrowing a cup of sugar, going fishing, etc. Unfortunately, in real life, this is often not the case. Disputes arise between neighbors all the time. Sometimes it's just small grievances and other times it's a full blown family feud. The best case scenario is when the neighbors are able to work it out themselves, but sometimes that's not possible.
Boundary disputes are a common occurrence among neighbors. No one wants to pay property taxes for property they are not enjoying. When a neighbor encroaches on your property, it can be a frustrating situation. Sometimes fixing the problem can be as simple as talking to your neighbor, but sometimes a court order is required, especially if correcting the problem would be of great cost to your neighbor. Areas where boundary disputes arise include:
- Part of your neighbor's house, or another structure, is partially on your property
- Your neighbor's fence encroaches on your property
- Shared driveways and roads (perhaps your neighbor is parking on your side of the shared driveway)
- Trespassing by your neighbor or his guests over your property
- Landscaping issues (i.e., falling tree branches or bushes that extend over the property line)
How to solve these issues will depend on many factors, including any prior agreement you made with the neighbor, the nature of your relationship, and the cost of the fix. The key is to make sure you address the problem as soon as you become aware of it. If you don't defend your property rights, you could lose ownership of that part of your property.
It's usually best to start by talking to your neighbor or sending a letter explaining the problem. If that doesn't work, it might be time to talk to a lawyer. An attorney can evaluate your rights and, if necessary, you can have a survey done to determine the true boundaries of the property. Armed with the survey, chances are your neighbor will be more willing to negotiate.
If your neighbor still does not comply, you may have to seek help from the courts. The court has a variety of options available, including issuing a court order requiring your neighbor to remove the encroachment, or allowing it to stay but requiring that you be compensated.
An easement refers to the right to enter onto or use someone else's land. Easements may grant different types of rights to the easement holder (such as a right of way to the beach or access to the highway via a road on neighboring land) and be created in various ways. This is another common area for disputes to develop for a variety of reasons:
- Once they are granted, they can be difficult to terminate.
- Easements are subject to ambiguity if the limits are not made clear through proper drafting. For instance, if a new neighbor moves in, she might try to claim the easement, even though you did not intend for it to pass to the next owner.
- You might not have even intended to grant an easement, but someone has been using your land for so long that they have gained one by prescription.
- Sometimes a neighbor will abuse the privilege by exceeding the scope of the easement.
Not everyone is as careful as they should be when granting an easement, and often end up compromising their property rights more than they intended.
California is a beautiful state and home to some of the finest views in the country. No one wants to pay for a good view and lose it because of a bad neighbor. Your view can be blocked by trees, structures on your neighbor's property, or additions made to their house.
There are a few ways you might be able to defend your property rights to your view:
- CC&R's: If your community is governed by a homeowner's association, your remedy may be contained in the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions agreement. CC&R's commonly have rules addressing the blocking of views, in addition to other rules.
- Zoning regulations: Location zoning ordinances may regulate landscaping and the construction or modification of buildings, both of which might affect your view.
- California's Coastal Act: If you live near the beach, you may have further protection from this law, which contains provisions regulating buildings that block ocean views.
There are numerous issues that can cause a dispute between neighbors. In addition to the common problems above, you may have additional issues with your neighbors:
- Children trespassing on your property
- Criminal activity by your neighbor
- Unsightly use of property (i.e., abandoned cars, trash lying around, etc.)
- Neighbor's trees or property preventing sunlight to your solar panels
Disputes between neighbors can be difficult to resolve. They often involve complex areas of the law, and can be exacerbated by emotional responses and other drama. It's important to keep a level head and try to work it out amicably. After all, chances are you'll still be neighbors after the dispute is resolved. However, sometimes it is not possible to resolve the dispute without help, and that's when you should seek legal advice.
Helix Law Firm can help resolve your neighbor dispute
A dispute with a neighbor can be much less intimidating when you are represented by experienced counsel. Our real estate attorney, Tom Parashos, has many years of real estate experience, both as a lawyer and also as a licensed California Real Estate Broker.