Common Neighborly Disputes

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Robert Frost said, “good fences make good neighbors.”  What he didn’t tell us is that that fence, itself, could be the source of some serious animosity.  In a way, neighbors are like family – rarely do you get to choose them and you will not always get along.

Here are a few common sources of neighborly squabbles, with ideas on resolving similar issues you might be having peacefully and legally.  Remember, however, if resolution is not possible and the fight is taken to the courts, only a competent, licensed attorney is trained to analyze the facts of your specific situation, including any legal claims you or your neighbor(s) might make, and present you with your legal options.

If your property in question is in Oregon or Washington and you would like one of our attorneys to contact you to discuss your dispute, please complete the form here.

Boundary Disputes – The most obvious potential issue between neighbors is disagreement over where your property ends and your neighbor’s begins.  This type of dispute usually arises when one owner decides to build a fence or put up a row of trees along where he believes the property line to be.  If not properly addressed beforehand this type of dispute can result in significant financial losses for the party in the wrong – perhaps tearing down that fence or pulling up those trees only to move them two or three feet.  The easiest way to avoid problems is to request a property survey BEFORE you build that fence.  You may even convince your neighbor to share in the expense of the survey, but shouldn’t expect it.

The Multnomah County Surveyor’s Office provides a FAQ regarding private property surveys here.

Trespassing Trees – Though common enough to be considered an issue of its own, these disputes are really just another type of boundary dispute.  Your neighbor has trees along the property line.  Though the trees are technically on his property, the branches overhang onto yours.  What can you do?  The best course of action is usually to ask your neighbor to trim the trees back and to give him or her permission to come onto your property, if necessary, for that purpose.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work.  Some neighbors are too busy, others just too mean.  If after a reasonable period of time your neighbor hasn’t addressed the issue, you might try approaching him again, this time suggesting hiring a tree service, and perhaps offering to chip in.  If this still doesn’t accomplish the desired result, you are generally free to reasonably trim the offending branches or to hire a tree service yourself and ask that your neighbor compensate you for the cost, though are likely unable to force that point.  You are not entitled to kill or cause serious damage to the tree(s) in question, so if you are in doubt the tree service is likely the better idea.

Noise and Other Annoyances – Whether it be a favorite song played over and over and over, an enthusiastic guard dog, or an exceeding affinity for Christmas lights, there are times when most neighbors (even you) get on someone’s nerves.  Again, the best way to deal with these issues is simply to talk it out peaceably, in advance whenever possible.  If that doesn’t get the job done, consider raising the issue with your home-owners or condo association (if you have one), apartment or building management (if applicable), or your neighbor’s landlord (if you know how to contact him or her), before calling the police to make a nuisance complaint.

For informational purposes only and not to be relied upon as legal advice.

by Brook D. Wood

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