As property lawyers, we see many disputes between neighbors. What may have started as a minor inconvenience grows over time and develops into a real problem. But what do you do? How do you fix the problem? While there are a number of different ways to handle a neighbor property dispute, they can generally be placed into one of three categories.
Let me be clear, doing nothing is almost never the correct approach to a neighbor property dispute. However, this is the approach most people try first. Why do people choose to do nothing about their problem? The first issue is cost. Many people believe they cannot afford to pay to have their issue fixed. Others dislike the idea of paying anything to resolve what they view as a minor issue.
A second issue is that many people don’t know how to approach an issue with their neighbor. Regardless of how the problem is resolved, your neighbor is still likely to be your neighbor. How do you resolve a property issue without permanently damaging the neighborly relationship? Another issue could be that the relationship is already poisoned to the point where neither party is motivated to work toward a solution.
Finally, many people are simply unaware of the consequences of ignoring a property issue. Ignoring an issue can lead to the forfeit of some of your property rights. It can also lead to others gaining rights over your property. All of these outcomes have financial consequences as well. An unresolved issue can significantly impact property values.
As should be obvious from the above, doing nothing is almost always the wrong approach to a neighbor property dispute. The consequences are too serious to ignore.
Negotiate a Resolution.
This is usually the most cost effective and permanent method of resolving an issue. Negotiating a resolution out of court allows the parties to own the solution and keeps expense to a minimum. This process typically starts with obtaining a legal opinion on the issue from an attorney. The conversation is then initiated with a letter or possibly a phone call if the relationship is still good.
Once the conversation is started, it is up to the neighbors how to proceed. Bringing in a neutral mediator to help with the resolution can be valuable. The goal is to agree on any issues and record the agreement on a document. The document should then be recorded with the county register of deeds, so it runs with the properties.
Negotiating with a neighbor is not always easy. But engaging both parties without the pressure of a pending court case allows for buy-in from everyone. If both neighbors can have a say in the solution, they are that much more likely to abide by the final agreement. Done correctly, this is the preferred method of neighbor dispute resolution.
File a Court Case.
The final option is typically the last resort for resolving a neighbor dispute. It is usually employed when the first two options have failed to resolve the issue. While a lawsuit can be costly and unpleasant, it is sometimes the best course of action.
It is true that a lawsuit results in fees and costs to the parties. But in many cases, the recovered property values after a property issue is resolved can lessen or even overtake the costs of the lawsuit. For example, resolving a lake access issue can add many thousands of dollars to the value of a property. Further, an experienced attorney can attempt to minimize the fees associated with a lawsuit, depending on the case’s circumstances.
Finally, a well-written court order is likely to bring final resolution to most issues. It’s true that most court orders can be appealed. But barring an appeal, a court order will typically have enough teeth to prevent the other party from violating it. It should also be noted that an experienced property law attorney will be able to assist the court with crafting an order specific enough to end the problem. As always, it is best to consult with an attorney before deciding to proceed with a lawsuit.
While there are several ways to handle a neighbor property dispute, you should always begin with consulting a property lawyer. The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich, PLC have years of experience with various property issues. If your rights are being violated, please do not hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to speak with you.