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August 18th, 2010 11:01 AM

It may be difficult to reach amicable decisions when it comes to neighborly disputes, where relationships can be stretched and boundaries pushed if issues are not handled carefully.

When you share a property line with another individual, there will come a time when you will be involved in joint decisions. Should your fence be replaced? Who is responsible for the cracking sidewalk? And can you cut down that overgrown vegetation obstructing your view?

Here are some of the most common causes of neighbor disputes, and how to handle them in a "neighborly" way.

1. Trees: In general terms, you are allowed to trim branches that overhang onto your property line, but no more. The actual tree owner is whoever's property contains the trunk of the tree. If you damage or destroy a tree that is not your own, you are liable for damages that may well exceed the value of the tree. If there is danger of a tree falling on a structure on your property, then you may have recourse through local and city ordinances.

2. Fences: An ugly fence is an eye-sore to be sure, but as a homeowner you have no recourse against ugly (unless your HOA has specific fencing specifications).

A fence that is in disrepair, however, is the responsibility of both you and your neighbor. According to legal experts at nolo.com, "Unless the property owners agree otherwise, fences on a boundary line belong to both owners when both are using the fence. Both owners are responsible for keeping the fence in good repair, and neither may remove it without the other's permission. A few states have harsh penalties for refusing to chip in for maintenance after a reasonable request from the other owner. Connecticut, for example, allows one neighbor to go ahead and repair, and then sue the other owner for double the cost."

3. Noise Disturbances: Nearly every town has a noise ordinance, which generally outlines the reasonable times and decibel levels at which a resident may make "noise." If you are having a recurrent issue with a neighbor, it may be best to allow local authorities to enforce their own ordinance.

When an issue arises, take it upon yourself to talk to your neighbor one on one. Approach the situation gingerly. Be conscious that for every viewpoint of your own, there are 10 other, and equally valid, points. Tolerance is acceptance of this fact.

Try not to broach a subject when you are angry or emotional. Matters of property are not ones to discuss while heated.

Listen carefully to your neighbors opinion on the issue. And then express yours as calmly and clearly as possible. Don't be afraid to be truthful. You are worried that a tree will fall, yes, but you also hate the way it blocks the sun from your porch.

Be willing to make a compromise, as well as to offer concessions to a neighbor.

If a calm and direct approach does not work, then you will need to hand off this issue to the appropriate authorities. Your first stop is your local Homeowners Association. If no HOA is over your jurisdiction, then local city officials may be able to help, depending on the issue.

Your final course of action is legal. This may, of course, break an already stressed relationship, so you must be prepared for a strained environment if you do so.

If a legal decision is rendered that is not in your favor, be sure to accept it and to move on. There is no need for harassment or childish behavior.

Good luck handling your "neighborly" dispute!

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Posted by Jackie Mills on August 18th, 2010 11:01 AMPost a Comment