Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

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Bad Fences Can Mean Bad Neighbors

From: Tania - Sonoma, California

Question: My question is this....My neighbor built a fence encroaching 4 inches on my property without permission. His response is we need to see his vision. I do not like it.  I do not want it. He did not get our permission and he put a stucco/plaster surface the color of his house — facing our house. What are my rights? What can I do? What would be the neighborly thing to do? He knows he is wrong and he is taking the defensive road of a bad neighbor.  This is the oldest situation in the world and I can't believe I am experiencing this firsthand. Please help!!

Response: Thanks for your question.  I am a bit surprised that your neighbor was able to build a fence/wall without going to the municipal government for permission.  However, let us deal with the facts on the ground:

If you have exhausted your conversational options with the neighbor, it is time for you to do some homework:

  1. Are there municipal ordinances/regulations that apply to this sort of situation?  What do they allow you to do after construction is finished?  Has the time for remediation run out, or can you still do something?  You may even have the right to demolish that portion of the fence that is on your property.  
  2. What legal options are open to you to protect you from the neighbor effectively taking land owned by you by what lawyers call adverse possession?  What proportion of your total property has been ‘grabbed’ by this fence?
  3. Have this neighbors other neighbors suffered similar incursions onto their property, or are you the only one who has had land taken by the neighbor?  If other neighbors have lost land in the same way, it could make sense to talk with them about working together to resolve the issue.
  4. Are there any things the fence-builder can do to make his ‘invasion’ worth your while: change the color of the stucco, give you rights to other bits of his land, give you an easement for use of a part of his property you would like, purchase the land he’s taken at a price you would find favorable?
  5. Since the fence is on your property, you might want to check to see how you can modify its appearance to make it look more attractive: painting, planting, resurfacing, or other possibilities.  You should make sure that local laws allow you to do this.  Can you change the use of the fence — for example painting bulls-eyes on it and using it for target practice?  This latter thought is likely to be a very bad idea — but perhaps you can think of more creative ways to enjoy the new fence. . . Maybe your dog needs a new place to walk.

Once you have done your homework you have a better idea of what you can do on your own and what you can use as bargaining chips.  If you learn that you have the law on your side, that you have allies (among your neighbors), or that other things are favorable to you it will make you feel more confident and comfortable renewing conversation with the fence-builder.

As you review the situation, be careful to consider what’s the best that can happen — and the worst — for both you and your neighbor.  That will tell you how far you can go, what you are risking, and what you could gain.

Neighbor disputes are about the most unpleasant one can face, so think hard about your long-term goals and make sure that any negotiation you undertake serves you in the long-term and isn’t simply a short-term fix that can ultimately make things worse.

Good luck,

Response:Thank you so much. You have given me power I knew I had but I wasn't sure just where to start. I certainly don't want a bad neighbor feeling especially having to raise my 4 children here for years to come. I will keep you posted. Thank you again,Tania

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