Neighbor v. Neighbor: Boundaries, Fences, Dogs and Noise

Over the years, in Southern California I have represented clients in countless lawsuits involving neighbor disputes.  I like to refer to these cases as “little wars.”  They are always expensive, both financially and emotionally, especially if the parties can not resolve their dispute early on.   Imagine the horror of being embroiled in a lawsuit against someone you must see every day because you live next door to them.  It is very stressful and upsetting to be reminded of the conflict every day.

Neighbor disputes often center around boundary line location issues (i.e., a disagreement as to where the actual line is that separates the two properties), easements (often go hand-in-hand with boundary line disputes, especially where one side claims the need or right to use property which may not actually legally belong to them or be included in the “legal description” of their own property), and nuisance (where one person claims that the other person is doing something that interferes with their ability to use and enjoy their property).

Sadly, these cases often take on a “criminal law” dimension, such as where one neighbor assaults the other by driving his car at them on a narrow street, or allows their vicious dog to attack the neighbor’s dog, or even the neighbor.

Dogs Can Be A Nuisance. Dog bites can start it all, especially where the owner of the biting dog does not pay the other side’s medical expenses.  Neighbors also often fight (especially in condominiums) over dog poop, leashes and barking.

Elder Abuse and Neighbor Disputes. Our population is aging, so it is no surprise that I have handled cases where elder abuse allegations were made because one of the parties was over 70 years old.  Elder abuse allegations add an interesting layer to a neighbor dispute which is already fraught with high emotions.

Boundary Lines and Easements. Many boundary line legal issues arise in the hills of Southern California where you have thousands of homes built on non-conforming, curve-linear lots.  Often people don’t even know the true location of their boundary, especially when their properties include hillsides and ravines.  But a good surveyor can usually sort this out.  If there is a dispute, you will need a good and reliable surveyor.

Diplomacy or Litigation? This is the six-figure question (what it often costs to take a neighbor or boundary line dispute through trial).  My advice to anyone who is involved in a neighbor dispute is this:  diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy.  Exercise it whenever possible.  Try to control your emotions (I know it is difficult).  Hire a lawyer to write a letter and to help you deescalate the conflict.  Consider that litigation is time and energy consuming, expensive and nowadays could take years to resolve.  Sometimes you need to turn the other cheek.  If that idea is unacceptable, then find an experienced litigation attorney who can help you put up a good fight.

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