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Issue Date: June 2007 Issue


So your neighbor’s fence is on your property. Now what?


Heide Aungst
Hire a lawyer! Actually (and this surprised us), when we asked Bill Hunt, an attorney with the Westlake firm Hunt & Cook, for his advice, that wasn’t his first response. He got there eventually, but only after some less costly alternatives.

>Check the deed with the county recorder’s office and get the land surveyed. This will give you the correct information before you confront a neighbor.

>If the neighbor is just starting a project near your land, ask yourself if you care. If the neighbor is planting a tree near the property line that might offer nice shade, then you might not want to fight her. Or, if the fence has been up for 20 years, you might not want to force her to remove it. (In such a case, Hunt says, you need a letter granting a “revocable license” — even if you don’t care. See below.)

>If you do care, try talking with her first. Cities usually won’t issue permits for building on another person’s land — so if your neighbor has the proper permits, chances are that a mistake won’t happen.

>Has the structure been there a long time? This can make a big difference legally. If the fence, for example, has been on the property for 20 years, but you just bought the home and discovered it’s yours, then you must claim your property back — or at least make it clear to your neighbor in writing that they’re occupying your land.

>Cut off “adverse possession.” A legal point that involves writing a letter giving your neighbor permission to use your property for his fence. This way, you establish ownership of the land without tearing up the fence, but can revoke permission later.

>If you want the fence removed, send her a letter asking her to vacate your property. Once you’ve given your neighbor permission through a “revocable license” for her fence to be on your property, you can change your mind. Write a letter telling her to remove the fence.

>Find a good attorney. The attorney will usually write a few letters to try to settle the dispute out of court.

If she still doesn’t cooperate, you can sue for trespass. This asks the court to establish you as owner of the land. Of course, it involves hiring and paying an attorney. It’s not cheap.

>What if the neighbor accidentally cuts down trees on your property? Her homeowner’s insurance should cover it. If it was malicious, you have the right to sue. But, Hunt cautions, it’s often easier to collect from an insurance company than an individual, so you might want to think that one through before taking legal action.


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