Neighbors may share the same fence, the same trees, the same views and the same right to peace and quiet in the neighborhood. When neighbors disagree on how to maintain their shared property and ideals, disputes may arise. Often these disagreements are settled by a phone call or a friendly chat. At times, however, the parties are forced to take to legal action. The following summary provides an overview of the rights and obligations of neighbors in the most common types of disputes.
Boundary disputes typically occur when neighbors both claim to own the same piece of land. Boundary disputes may be resolved by hiring a land surveyor to survey the property and establish official boundary lines. Neighbors who are able to agree on boundary lines may enter into a "lot line agreement" and bypass the expense of hiring a land surveyor.
If a neighbor has been using a piece of land in a certain way, for a certain period of time, the neighbor may gain ownership of the property through adverse possession. Adverse possession typically requires that the land be used in a way that is open, hostile and continuous for the state's statutory period. The statutory period for adverse possession may range anywhere from five to twenty years. If a person believes that his or her property is being encroached upon by a neighbor, the person should take legal action immediately to avoid losing the property to adverse possession.
When neighbors share a common fence, they typically split the costs of repairing and maintaining the fence. If one neighbor does not want the fence, and chooses to let the rest of his or her property lie unfenced, the neighbor may be relieved of the obligation to pay for repairs. If a person feels that a neighbor has built a fence that is too high, he or she should consult local zoning laws. If the fence does not conform to the law's height requirements, the person should first discuss the problem with the neighbor. The person may alert the city of the violation if the fence remains unchanged after a reasonable period of time.
A noisy neighbor or barking dog can prevent a person from enjoying his or her property. Noise may only be prohibited, however, if it is unnecessary, excessive or unreasonable. Local noise ordinances typically set forth guidelines for what type of noise is acceptable. If a neighbor violates a noise ordinance, other neighbors are entitled to call the police or the animal control center. In the interests of neighborliness, however, a person may wish to first discuss the problem with the noisy neighbor. The neighbor may be unaware that they are breaking the law. If noise continues to be excessive and disruptive, the noise may qualify as a "nuisance." A person may sue a neighbor to abate the nuisance and receive money damages for any inconvenience he or she has suffered.
Disputes over trees may arise when a tree is shared by two neighbors. If the trunk of a tree is on a person's property, the tree belongs to that person even if its branches or roots extend over the boundary line. A neighbor may trim the branches and roots located on his or her property, so long as the tree itself is not harmed. If a tree's trunk is located on a boundary line, the tree belongs to all property owners. All owners are required to maintain the tree and one property owner must obtain permission from the others before removing the tree.
While specific laws vary between states, tree owners may be held liable if their trees cause serious damage to a neighbor's property. For example, if a tree falls on a neighbor's car or house, the tree's owner may be sued for negligence if he or she was aware that the tree was potentially dangerous. Neighbors are not held responsible, however, for damage caused by unforeseeable acts of God. Local authorities should be notified if a neighbor will not remove a tree that threatens to damage another's property
A neighbor may obstruct another's view by refusing to trim trees or by erecting a building or other structure. Unfortunately, property owners have no legal recourse unless a view or zoning ordinance applies. People who feel that their view has been unfairly obstructed should check their city's view and zoning laws to determine whether they may proceed with a legal claim.