Throughout my law practice, I’ve dealt with some very bitter and contentious neighbor disputes—some that have even lasted years to resolve. When dealing with these difficult situations, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First and foremost, do all you can to resolve things amicably. As an example, while living in Washington one of my neighbors wanted to build a fence between our properties and asked if I would pay half. I agreed and was initially grateful that he wanted to spearhead the project. When the job was finished, however, one of my sprinklers was damaged and not fixed correctly and the final bill seemed quite high for the work that was done. Rather than fight about these issues, which were small in the big picture, I wrote him a check and thanked him for the work. We then went on having a good relationship—when my wife was pregnant with one of our kids, his wife brought us food, and each year they would give us vegetables from their garden. Simply paying him was well worth it.
In contrast, I’ve handled situations where tempers have flared, stern words have been exchanged, and previously harmonious neighbors were now deep in litigation. In such situations—no matter the outcome of the case—no one completely wins. The “winner” is still left with an angry neighbor—one who will always be looking over the other’s shoulder, just waiting to bring up the next problem.
Although we usually want to work things out on our own, some disputes are more difficult to resolve, and an attorney can help guide you through a sticky situation. Let’s say, for example, your block fence has been in the same place for years, but your neighbor’s new survey shows an encroachment, and now the neighbor wants the fence moved. Speaking to an attorney in such a situation can help you sort out the problem and will clarify how the law will apply. You can then act on solid knowledge instead of on what you may think is right and what the law might allow. Also, Attorneys deal with disputes all the time and can be effective in reaching creative resolutions you may not have thought of on your own, which could quickly put an issue to rest.
We all hope to have good neighbors, but sometimes problems arise. Speaking with someone knowledgeable about the law can often make difficult issues a lot less daunting. Above all, do all you can to reach a friendly solution and avoid the very unpleasant situation of having a forever foe—right next door.
Barney McKenna and Olmstead is a local attorney’s office serving clients in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona and more. We are founding members and former President of the Southern Utah Estate Planning Council. If you have questions regarding this article or if you have a topic you wish to have addressed in this column, you can call 435 628-1711 or visit our website at www.barney-mckenna.com.