Unless you live on hundreds of acres of land, you have probably had to deal with neighbors in some capacity. In most cases, neighbors are not family members or close friends. You might live somewhere you're surrounded by people with varied backgrounds. Neighbors' unfamiliar lifestyles, different socioeconomic classes, cultural misunderstandings, and other factors may lead to neighbor disputes. Repeated run-ins make for an unpleasant neighborhood experience.
This section provides information about how to handle neighbor disputes. It includes:
- Practical advice on neighbor relations
- How to avoid becoming an annoyance to your neighbors
- What to do if you believe your neighbor is becoming a nuisance
- The legal implications of disputes and disorderly neighbors
Is Your Neighbor a Nuisance?
Everyone has a slightly different idea of what it means to be a "nuisance." Some find fault with barking dogs or frequent all-night parties. But a "nuisance" may also refer to neighbors who do not tend to repairs, resulting in damage to your property. If a neighbor fails to maintain their property, leading to broken water pipes and water drainage that cause damage to your home, you may be able to file a nuisance lawsuit. Under many state laws, you could recover damages.
If another person's property is causing your own property to fall into disrepair, your best bet is typically to try direct communication first. But if that doesn't work, consider seeking legal help to resolve the issue.
These common issues could cause damage to your property because of a neighbor's failure to take care of their own home:
- Water runoff
- Improperly diverted water
- Gutters so clogged that they overflow and cause water damage to adjacent spaces
When you file a nuisance lawsuit against your neighbor, you essentially make the claim that your neighbor's actions are interfering with the enjoyment of your property. If your neighbor is failing to care for their property, and their conduct fails to satisfy standards for reasonable care, you may need to consult with a real estate lawyer. A real estate attorney can help you remedy these issues as they relate to real estate law. A lawyer may advise you to pursue a nuisance claim.
If your neighbor's conduct also results in physical harm to you or a family member, you may want to consult a personal injury attorney instead. With either type of attorney, you might ultimately need to take legal action against your neighbor. Your attorney's legal advice and the client relationship may prove invaluable.
The amount of money you recover and whether you have a viable claim could depend on the extent of the damage and the cost of repairs. Often, the kind of property damage dictates the amount of civil or punitive damages you can recover against the other property owner. Homeowners may face complicated legal issues as they try to resolve these disputes. If you receive a court order in your favor, the payout will most likely come from your neighbor's property insurance company. Your and your neighbor's insurance policies — or lack thereof — may make all the difference.
It's important to note that nuisance claims are considered either private or public. A private nuisance claim affects just one or a handful of neighbors, such as a loud rooster that crows at dawn every day. A public nuisance is typically much more far-reaching and involves the public in general. For instance, a nearby hog farm that fails to properly treat its waste, thus permeating the community with foul smells, would be considered a public nuisance. A nuisance typically involves non-physical elements, such as odors or sounds.
In order to get relief from a nuisance claim, the offending action must be both substantial and continuous. This means the occasional barking dog or annual all-night party would not be considered an actionable nuisance by most courts. But as a practical matter, it's usually best to work it out directly with your neighbor. Filing a claim should be your last resort.
Does Your Neighbor Have the Right to Farm?
Depending on where you live, you may be surprised to learn that it's completely permissible for your neighbors to keep small livestock or replace the grass on their lawn with crops. Some animals, particularly roosters, tend to be quite loud at odd hours of the day and may be considered a nuisance. Actual farms have "the right to farm," which means nuisance laws typically don't apply as long as the farm follows all laws and regulations.
But if your neighbor's small flock of hens is guarded by a rooster that wakes you up every morning at 4:30 a.m., you may have a valid nuisance claim. Again, talking to your neighbor directly is usually the best course of action. Still, if a loud rooster is causing a serious nuisance, you may have some leverage.
Neighbors and Water Damage
While a nuisance may interfere with your peaceful abode, water damage caused by a neighbor's actions typically requires expensive cleanup work. But it's important to know exactly what your neighbor's responsibilities are before pursuing a claim.
For instance, neighbors typically are not liable for water damage that results from naturally occurring rain runoff. Water will always flow from higher to lower ground, so it's your responsibility to protect your property from such predictable forms of water intrusion.
But if the excess water is the result of an altered landscape, plumbing issues, or some other condition for which the neighbor should have anticipated or corrected, they likely can be held liable for any damage. These claims are often quite complicated and involve questions of physics, alterations, and the "reasonableness" standard.
Disputes with neighbors are never pleasant, but knowing your rights and responsibilities will make for a better neighborly experience. Click on a link below to learn more.
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