Neighbor Disputes: What to Do When Your Neighbor Invades Your Property
There is an old saying “good fences make good neighbors.” For most people, this saying couldn’t be more true. However, for some people, those who do not respect good fences or any other border, there are other sayings that are a little more appropriate. “Let’s get a land survey and find out,” or “I’d hate to ruin our relationship because we had to litigate this.” Which of these saying will roll off your tongue all depends on your relationship with your neighbor and a little valuable knowledge. As such, understanding what to do when your neighbor, their property, or their pets invade your property can save you time, frustration, and money.
What to Do if Your Neighbor Invades Your Property
“The land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for because it’s the only thing that lasts”…..Gerald O’Hara, Gone With The Wind.”
Even if it is your neighbors land, a fence, other manmade or natural structure, or addition to a home that is on or that encroaches on your property line could be enough to start a potential boundary dispute.
The first step to addressing the potential boundary dispute is to speak to your neighbor and then compare deed copies. For individuals living in the District of Columbia, you can obtain a copy of your deed and your neighbor’s deed from the District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds Office. While deeds may contain different types of language for the legal description, in the District of Columbia it is customary for the deed to contain what is called a “meets and bounds” description of the property.
The exact wording of the deeds in a meets and bounds description should layout the dimension and position of your property relative to nearby landmarks like roads. If it is unclear from your deed and your neighbor’s deed who owns exactly what, it may be a good idea to hire an attorney and a surveyor. A professional surveyor can give you a precise drawing of the properties and a determination of who owns what. Finally, who will bear this expense largely turns on the state of your relationship with your neighbor.
Once you have the survey of both properties and know exactly what property belongs to who, the encroaching party should respect the boundaries. If they don’t, you should hire an attorney to create a sternly written letter. If that is ineffective, perhaps an invitation to attend mediation might help to resolve the conflict. Many homeowner’s association’s bylaws offer mediation services as a resolution mechanism for disputes between adjoining property owners. If your association does not offer this service, you can always hire a private mediator to help you work through the encroachment issues. In this case, only one other option is left to use for you to resolve this dispute. Pursue litigation against your neighbor may be the most effective way to resolve a dispute as you have a judge order them to stay off your property, however, this process can be both costly and time-consuming.
Some disputes between neighbors have a naturally occurring root – trees. The limbs hang over the fence you built or break and fall into your yard. Furthermore, maybe the roots of the tree are pushing through onto your property. If the tree is on a boundary, most states will not allow either party to destroy it.
Leaves, acorns, and the like falling onto your property are considered a natural occurrence and are the property owner’s responsibility to clear away. However, if branches fall and cause damage to your property for any reason other than a storm or act of God, your neighbor may be responsible for the cleanup and damage. If the roots from a large tree are pushing onto your property, they are considered an encroachment in the same manner as fences and other physical belongings.
If the roots cross your property line, the tree owner has to remove them. In the District of Columbia, tree cover is a sensitive topic. Removing a tree may require city approval. As such, you can not simply go out and trim branches that hangover to your side of the property. The reason for this is doing so would potentially kill the tree. Likewise, if a tree threatens your home, you must obtain a permit from the city to get it removed. Once you obtain this permit, an arborist will be able to come out and remove the tree.
Perhaps it is not your neighbor’s property that is crossing the line, it is their pets. A wandering cat or dog can leave unwanted ‘gifts’ or otherwise damage property. As with most cases, how you deal with this depends on where you live. The District of Columbia has clear guidelines governing pets. These guidelines include issues such as how they must be kept when in public. Furthermore, they also discuss and when an owner must use a leash. If the pet in question is dangerous or has hurt someone, the owner is liable for any damage.
Last, but not least, is the most egregious and outrageous type of boundary crossing; your neighbor is what is crossing your borders. The person has cut a path through your back yard, or your front yard. If you live in a rural area, you find them hunting, fishing, picnicking, etc., on your land without your permission. Trespassing is the area of law that covers these situations. Many times, it carries a criminal penalty. If the neighbor is on your property doing something particularly offensive or dangerous, calling the police is the best and most immediate way of dealing with them. Understanding different actions to take depending on how your neighbor invades your property is key to your success in resolving this dispute.
Otherwise, document their trespasses and file a police report. Get dates and times. If you can get photos or statements from people who witness the event, that will be of tremendous help. With this level of proof, you can easily have a court fine your neighbor or have the court create an order that requires them to stay off your property.
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For more information on what to do if your neighbor invades your property, schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys. You can also check out our blog for general information on real estate issues.