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CWOTUS's avatar

How can my sister work with a stubborn neighbor to improve her own property?

Asked by CWOTUS (26067points) February 25th, 2017

My sister, in another state, purchased a piece of distressed real estate which is, essentially, the shell of a duplex house which she will renovate and upgrade to a single-family dwelling ready for occupancy, and then resell. She’s obviously hoping to flip the house for profit over a short term. (She tells me that aside from the fact that it had already been gutted and more or less abandoned, it’s a beautiful structure, and the improvements that she plans will make it look even better outside than it does now, which is “not bad”.) She has a fair amount of experience in doing this, so this is not her first endeavor of this type.

But here’s the problem: Over time, and perhaps as long ago as fifty years or more, the neighboring property was broken up so that her new house has a zero-line with the neighbor’s property. That is, his property exactly abuts the foundation wall of her house. That wouldn’t be so bad, except he has refused to allow her to even step onto his land to make necessary repairs to her foundation (mostly cosmetic) and to upgrade the siding on that side of the house. And he has been energetic in enforcing his refusal.

It turns out that he is a landlord, and that he doesn’t even live in the house next to hers. He rents it out to a family that my sister says is very welcoming (they bring her construction guys doughnuts every day), but he himself has a friend who drives by several times a day and if he even sees anyone approaching the property line he tells them, “Cross the line and you’ll be arrested for trespassing.”

I’ve suggested to my sister that she could probably make any legal agreement with the current tenants to perform her work – as long as they don’t violate any lease agreement – and the property owner would have no recourse. (This assumes that the tenants are current with their rent payments, legally occupying the house and that there is no lease restriction against allowing neighbors onto the lawn.) But she’s reluctant to involve the tenants because that could put them in bad with their landlord and he could then turn around and make life difficult for them.

Apparently this is a new thing to the town’s Building Department; they didn’t know that such a condition existed and don’t have any advice on how to handle it. (Of course, this is the same Building Department who refused to give her a building permit for two days because they said “the house has to be in livable condition” – but it had no furnace and no running water, so without repairs it could never be “livable”, and without a building permit that condition could never be remedied. It actually took them a couple of days to realize that error in logic.)

What would you do or suggest?

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9 Answers

Pandora's avatar

Is his property in bad shape and maybe bringing down property value? Then they can petition the neighbors to have him do something about it.
Or she can hire a lawyer that deals with property law and sue him for everyday the house deteriorates because he doesn’t want her to improve the property.
Seems to me he is afraid of his property going up in value and having to pay taxes or he is just a donkey butt.

jca's avatar

Whether or not she gets arrested is up to the police, not the guy. He can call the cops but they’re likely to have a conversation with her and she can explain and they’d probably just tell her not to do it again. Cops don’t enjoy frivolous reports so they’re not going to humor the landlord.

funkdaddy's avatar

The default is that you cannot trespass and they’d have to find another way.

But many local laws cover repairs if there isn’t an easy way to do them without going into the neighbors property. (example I found quickly) You might do a local search for “laws on fence repairs” as those are going to be the most common time it will come up. You can’t really completely repair a fence without at least a few feet of access. This would seem to be the same.

If she wanted to get nasty, she might be able to look at where the property line was historically and try to walk that back arguing that it shouldn’t have been granted at that time. We had a huge neighborhood dispute with a builder where they sued half the neighborhood to try and get a statute rolled back for the area.

If she really wants to get in and out though, a simple letter quoting a local law is probably easiest.

CWOTUS's avatar

Good answers so far. Let me address them in order:

@Pandora I asked about that, because that was one of my first reactions, too. But she says that his place looks fine, although he does have a drainage issue that has also eroded the driveway on his property. (It looks like the proximate cause of the issue between them was that his roof drains were directed straight onto the foundation of her structure, and her first contact with him was basically a phone call that went along the lines of, “Hi, I’m your new neighbor at _______ St.; your roof drain is continuing to damage my foundation. Would you please fix that?” To that he responded that he’d “look into it, maybe in May” when the weather got nice. And that’s when she talked to the town, who apparently also talked to him, because next thing she noticed when she visited the property was that his drains had been redirected … into her back yard. Clearly the guy is a dick, but … she can be much more charming when she wants to be, too.)

@jca I agree. The problem isn’t “stepping onto” the property, which clearly anyone could do and get away with indefinitely. The problem is that she’s going to have to have her contractor dig around the foundation, do some patching there, and then set up scaffolding or ladders to do the siding. So it’s not just going to be “incidental access”; she needs a couple of weeks, at least, and it’s not insignificant. The funny thing – and I think what will ultimately save her here – is that the current tenants who live in that house have been very accommodating and have no problem at all with the work being done.

@funkdaddy Thanks; I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s an excellent suggestion. I’ll pass that along to her. I’m thinking that the Building Code Enforcement people are really quite incompetent to have not also suggested that; according to her they have “never heard of such a thing”. That might be something that she can work with and not have to get the tenants’ permission for, which keeps them out of his line of fire.

@Cruiser Yes.

chyna's avatar

Let us know how this works out. That guy is a dick.

Pandora's avatar

Have her read this on water damage disputes.
So pretty much. Either he can pay for the damages and pay for a lawyer and still end up having pay for her repairs as well, or he can move the damn thing and let her do what she needs to repair the house.

Dutchess_III's avatar

The first thing I would do is to the city and get the exact property boundaries double checked. Maybe whatever whoever did 50 years ago can be reversed. Or perhaps she could offer to buy the strip of the guy’s existing property that runs up to her house. People like money.

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