NOLO's Encyclopedia of Everyday Law (Neighbors)

Posted by Chris Morales on Wed, Jul 17, 2013 @ 11:15 AM

Years ago, problems between neighbors were resolved infomally, perhaps with the help of a third person respected by both sides. These days, neighbors - who may not know each other well, if at all - are quicker to call the police or head for court. Usually, of course, lawsuits only cost everyone money and exacerbate bad feelings, which makes it even harder for neighbors to coexist peacefully. But knowing the legal ground rules is important; it can help you figure out who's right, who's wrong, and what your options are - without having to call in a judge. 

How can I find the exact boundaries of my property?

You can hire a licensed land surveyor to survey the property and place official markers on the boundary lines. A simple survey usually costs about $500; if no survey has been done for a long time, or if the maps are unrealiable and conflicting, be prepared to spend $1,000 or more. 

My neighbor and I don't want to pay a surveyor. Can't we just make an agreement about where we want the boundary to be?

You and the neighbor can deide where you want the line to be, and then sign deeds that describe the boundary. If you have a mortgage on the property, consult an attorney for help in drawing up the deeds. You may need to get the permission of the mortgage holder before you give your neighbor even a tiny piece of the land.

What can I do if a neighbor starts using my property?

If a neighbor starts to build or otherwise encroach on what you think is your property, do something immediately. If the encroachment is minor- for instance, a small fence in the wrong place - you may think you shouldn't worry.But you are wrong. When you try to sell your house, a title company might refuse to issue insurance because the neighbor is on your land.  

How high can I build a fence on my property? 

In residential areas, local rules commonly restrict artificial backyard fences to a height of six feet. In front yards, the limit is often four feet. 

My neighbor is building a fence that violates the local fence law, but nothing's happening. How can I get the law enforced? 

Cities are not in the business of sending around fence-inspection teams, and as long as no one complains,a nonconforming fence may stand forever. 

Can I trim the branches of the neighbor's tree that hang over my yard? 

You have the legal right to trim tree branches up to the propery line. But you may not go onto the neighbor's property or destroy the tree itself. 

Do I have any legal recourse against a noisy neighbor? 

You bet. The most effective weapon you have to maintain your peace and quiet is your local noise ordinance. Almost every community prohibits excessive, unnecessary, and unreasonable noise, and police enfoce these laws. 

Most laws designate certain "quiet hours" for example from 10pm to 7am on weekdays and until 8 or 9am on weekends. 

It's always possible that you"ll get an apology and the noise will stop if you approach your neighbor in a friendly way. If all else fails you can also sue and ask the court to award you money for the noise damages or to order the neighbor to stop the noise. For money damages alone, you can use small claims court. For a court order telling somebody to stop doing something, you'll have to sue in regular court. 

My neighbor's dog barks all the time, and it's driving me crazy. What can I do?

Usually, problems with barking dogs can be resolved without resorting to police or courts. IF you do eventually wind up in court, however a judge will be more sympatheirc if you made at least some effort to work things out first. 

1) Ask your neighbor to keep the dog quiet

2) Try medication

3) Look up the Law 

4) Ask animal control authorities to enforce local noise laws

5) Call the police if you think a criminal law is being violated

For more information the following sites are good resources for dealing with neighbors:

www.nolo.com: Nolo offers information about wide variety of legal topics, including neighbor law. 

www.statelocalgov.net: Piper Resources maintains State and Local government on the Net, a comprehencive index of websites for states, counties, cities and towns.

The Morales Law Firm would like to thank NOLO's Enclyclopedia of Everyday Law for sharing this information with us. 

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Tags: violations, Fines, know your rights