Encroachment: Handling Neighbors Taking Over Your Property

Homeownership has its challenges. One of them is having disputes with neighbors. It’s quite common, which explains why shows or films about neighbor disputes get a lot of viewership: it’s relatable.

One common reason for neighbor disputes is noise. Sometimes, some neighbors are not very considerate with people in their community and play music too loud or have huge parties (even in the middle of a pandemic). Some neighbors can also be aggressive without reason.

Another reason for neighbor disputes that can lead to a legal battle is encroachment.

Types of Encroachment

Generally, there are three types of encroachment: minor, major, and structural encroachment. Minor encroachment happens when small, often negligible forms of property trespassing occur. For instance, perhaps your neighbor’s tree is planted right on the boundary between your property and theirs. Another common example is a neighbor’s fence that may have been built on your property line.

Major encroachment occurs when an extension of a person’s residence is built on a neighboring property. For example, a garage extension that goes over a neighbor’s land is considered major encroachment. Another example is an overextending balcony that looks over a neighboring property. The last type is structural encroachment, where someone builds a personal structure on public property, such as sidewalks or roads.

The most common types of encroachment are minor. And it can be settled without taking things to court. On the other hand, major encroachment can become a larger issue and may need legal action. Nonetheless, there are many ways to handle encroachment cases:

Get a Professional Land Survey

The first thing you can do if your neighbor is encroaching your property is to request a land survey from a professional surveyor. They will survey or check on your land to determine its boundaries. With this document, you can check if your neighbor is really encroaching on your property or not. Having this proof will also help in avoiding further misunderstandings when you negotiate with your neighbor. You’ll also have proof if they are really occupying part of your property.

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Talk to Your Neighbor

Most cases of encroachment are unintentional. Sometimes, people really don’t know or forget their property boundaries. Also, the size of the property being encroached is often too small that legal disputes are unnecessary. Thus, the easiest way to settle the matter is to talk to your neighbor directly.

If you’re on good terms with your neighbor, kindly explain to them that something in their property pours over your territory, whether it’s a fence, a garden, or a property extension. Then come up with a way to settle this trespass. For example, you can ask your neighbor to move their things off your property in a certain period.

Agree on an Easement

Sometimes, the neighbor’s property that occupies your land is not easy to move. For example, maybe they built a garage extension or an accessory dwelling unit that went over your land. In this case, you and your neighbor can opt for an easement. It is a legal agreement that allows someone to use a part of another party’s land for a fee. But this agreement doesn’t mean possession. The original owner still possesses the land but allows someone to use it.

You’ll need to have a lawyer look into your case and help you draft an easement that protects your rights as the property owner. The easement can be revocable, which means you can terminate it at any time for whatever cause. Having a legal document, rather than just a verbal agreement, will also prevent any issues in the future.

Go to Court

It’s also possible that you don’t come to an amicable agreement with your neighbor. If this happens, you can take your case up to court. Consult a lawyer to know what actions you must do to either take back your land from your encroaching neighbor or make them purchase the land from you to resolve the dispute. You can also hire a process service to have the legal documents given to your neighbor on your behalf. This is advisable, especially if you’re not on good terms with them.

As a homeowner, you need to know your property boundary. And you need to maintain a safe distance from the property line when you build new structures or make an extension to avoid encroaching on your neighbor. Meanwhile, if the opposite happens and your neighbor takes over part of your property, you can settle this issue by simply talking things out, coming down to your own agreement, or going to court.

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