Much like neighborly quarrels, adversarial property laws have been around for ages. Accordingly, ancient lawmakers devised notions---such as deeds, boundary lines, and parcel numbers---to ensure owners and neighbors alike were apprised of property limits.
However, conflict between neighbors remains common, often prompting contentious lawsuits, unrelenting litigation, and serious tension at annual block parties.
Trouble with the Trees
Avoiding disputes altogether is one of the easiest ways to avoid a nasty legal battle. A common scenario in disputes between neighbors involves one of nature's most majestic beauties: trees.
It may sound too simple to be true, but many lawsuits have ensued when a tree---which may have started out as a wee sapling---evolves into a problematic and potentially dangerous behemoth straddling the boundary line. In this scenario, neighbors are encouraged to negotiate ownership in writing at the first sign the tree might become a problem.
Water Under the Bridge
Another natural disaster waiting to happen involves ownership (i.e., the maintenance and upkeep) of water sources that straddle or create property lines. In these cases, working with a riparian rights attorney might be the best bet for reaching a solution, as water disputes can be extremely impactful, particularly if the water source is used for livestock, farming, or consumption.
For most people, however, disputes over fences and boundary lines are most common. These conflicts can easily be prevented with a little communication or help from a local surveyor. Assuming there are no interceding issues with the local homeowners' association, a property owner can erect a fence on his property as he sees fit.
However, a property owner is generally advised against making an educated guess about legal boundary lines, as a slight misjudgment may end up requiring the fence to be relocated at his expense. Hire a surveyor to conclusively determine the exact boundary line, and always leave a reasonable buffer zone between the fence and that line.
Property Disputes Gone Wild
Think your neighborhood is too dignified for unseemly lawsuits and tree consultants? Think again. Historically, boundary line, nuisance, and property disputes have comprised a sizable portion of local courts' equity dockets. Some of these disputes have reached epic proportions:
- In Port Angeles, Washington, a neighbor who was disgruntled over the height of an adjacent fence decided to level it with a bulldozer. After apparently failing to review the owner's manual, however, the neighbor ended up damaging four homes and cutting power to 1,000 local residents, resulting in a Class B felony.
- In Orange County, California, a long-standing rivalry between neighbors resulted in a heated encounter over fireworks, which one neighbor deemed the last straw. When he tromped over to complain, the other neighbor fatally shot him through the screen door, a crime which landed him in jail for life.
- In another dispute-related fatality, a North Carolina man cemented over a drainage ditch, resulting in significant overflow into the neighbor's property. The neighbor, enraged, confronted the man and ultimately shot him over the dispute.
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