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Advice about Unkempt Neighbors

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Eyesore on neighbor's roof

July 2012

We live in the Berkeley Hills and look onto a bay view over houses below us on the other side of the street. The people in the house directly across the street from us have recently added a mishmash of blue lawn furniture and old chairs and stools on their pitched roof. They must sit up there at night because I've never seen anyone up there during the day -- just the ugly furniture in full view. It's a real eyesore and I'm wondering if I have a right to ask them to remove it when they're not using it or if there are any regulations about using the roof of a house this way? I've never met the people who live there, so I'm hesitant to introduce myself with a complaint. LC


Short answer: no. While one can complain about excessive noise, there is no real recourse for aesthetic disturbances. Well, if they had junker cars in their front yard or a refrigerator on their front porch, then maybe. But tacky and trashy furniture... you can't really sue for bad taste. And talking to them is not likely to produce the desired result, either. I chuckled a little bit when I read your post, sorry. Where I grew up (in the rural Midwest) the aesthetic problems ran rampant, so the trashy furniture seems like a pretty mild irritation from that point of view. sorry for the lack of sympathy
LC, Neighborhood Night Out is August 7th ! Time to organize neighbors (perhaps long past time ? ) to get to know each other ! But, yes, LC. It would not seem to be a good idea to bring up your reasonable ''safety concerns'' about those chairs and other things coming down on someone in a storm or during an earthquake until a group of neighbors have begun to actually BE a neighborhood, working together. After a while, our messy neighbors cleaned up their mess !

Neighbor's yard is full of junk

May 2012

We have a neighbor who has turned their yard into a junkyard. They have several large, defunct items that sit unused--torn patio umbrellas, a broken down gazebo, a non- functional wheeled popcorn cart, etc. A while ago, it seemed they were cleaning up the space, but several new items have since appeared. The area is so crowded now that items are causing our shared fence to bend. They also recently installed a giant tarp over their ''treasures'', which flaps and makes noise in the wind. Our shared fence is not high enough to block our view of their yard, so it's in plain view for us. It's a tremendous eyesore. Not only are we tired of looking at it, we are worried it will affect our already-dwindling property value.

I know I should just approach them and ask them about cleaning it up, but they have not been very friendly in our limited interactions. It's also a multi-family house, and I'm not entirely sure who is responsible for the yard. I know some cities/states have nuisance laws that would potentially apply here, and could force them to clean it up. I've done a cursory Google search, but can't find what I'm looking for. Does anyone know whether such laws exist here and if this type of situation would apply? Who would I call to deal with this? The city? We're in El Cerrito, if that matters. I am normally a live-and-let-live type of person, but I'm really tired of looking at their junk. I also recognize that this is likely hoarding behavior, and maybe a forced cleanup would get these people some help. Any advice on how to deal with this situation would be appreciated. Thanks! Junkyard Neighbor


Contact the City's Code Enforcement division - http://www.el-cerrito.org/index.aspx?NID=560. They exist to respond to complaints like this. If you want to gather more information/support first you might also want to peruse specific zoning ordinances that prohibit the activity, which can be found here: http://library.municode.com/HTML/16333/level1/TIT19ZO.html#TOPTITLE. M
EC has a code enforcement officer, who I've called before, and is friendly. Just tell him the problem address, and he'll drive by and assess if there's any code violations. You may have to follow up with him to see if he's opened a case or not. Call the City Hall main number and ask for code enforcement. EC Neighbor (not the problem one!)

Neighbor's trash pile

Sept 2010

Hi, our neighbor has this huge pile of trash in his yard. Basically the majority of his yard is filled with mattresses and furniture and basically everything else he's ever gotten ''rid of'' during his 30+ years in his house. We live in an upscale part of Oakland and when we bought our house 5 years ago we basically couldn't see much of the heap. Well, times have changed and they've been remodeling and now there is so much there that we can see it from throughout our house. The most terrible part is that the owner's brother actually cleared out a bunch of stuff and had it on the curb for the solid waste pick up day, but the owner made him put it all back in their back and side yards. Huge disappointment. Is there anything that I can do legally or through using government channels to get him to clean this up? Any ideas of how to deal with this? Because it's viewable from our house now, it's probably affecting our home valuation besides the simple trashiness of it all. -tired of the trash heap


One of the best ways to deal with problems like this is to contact Alameda County Vector Control (http://www.acvcsd.org/index.htm). Such trash piles are habitat for rats (vectors) and this agency's job is to make people get rid of such things. You may also want to call the city building dept. to make sure he has the appropriate remodeling permits (they love to collect the fees!). We had a neighbor with a trashy yard and one call to vector control got things cleaned up quickly. Anonymous tipster
The City of Oakland has web forms that allow you to report problems to the Public Works department. In some cases, they will come out an issue a ''blighted property'' citation. It's kind of like a fix-it ticket for your house -- the owner is given a certain amount of time to fix the problem or else pay a fine. More info here:

http://www.oaklandpw.com/Page331.aspx
http://www.oaklandpw.com/Page4.aspx

Of course, Oakland city services are a tad bit overwhelmed at the moment, so don't get your hopes up too high. But at least you have some recourse. Jennifer


I suspect if you complained to the city about this and the increasing amount of trash over the years, you could probably get the city to force your neighbor to get the trash cleared out. Piles of trash can (and do) harbor vermin and it's valid to complain to the city about someone's yard being a health hazard, and they are more likely to look into it that way. Also, if his yard is that piled up, it is possible that he is a hoarder and the inside of his house may be even worse. You could mention this possibility to the health department and see if there's anything that can be done. Sounds like your neighbor has a problem, and so will you if this continues. So... call the city health department and let them advise you. Anon
Oakland has a blight ordinance that addresses this issue. The definition of a blighted property includes (some applicable excerpts from the city code):

D. Property Inadequately Maintained.

1. Property which is not kept clean and sanitary and free from all accumulations of offensive matter or odor including, but not limited to, overgrown or dead or decayed trees, weeds or other vegetation, rank growth, dead organic matter, rubbish, junk, garbage, animal intestinal waste and urine, and toxic or otherwise hazardous liquids and substances and material. ...

2. Property which constitutes a fire hazard or a condition considered dangerous to the public health, safety, and general welfare,

3. Property which is likely to or does harbor rats or other vectors, vermin, feral pets, or other non-domesticated animal nuisances,

4. Property which substantially detracts from the aesthetic and economic values of neighboring properties...

7. Property including, but not limited to, building facade, window, doorway, driveway, walkway, fence, wall, landscaped planter or area, sidewalk, curb and gutter, and edge of street pavement on which dirt, litter, vegetation, garbage, refuse, debris, flyers, or circulars have accumulated,...

10. Property on which recyclable materials are openly stored. ...

11. Property which is not securely fenced or adequately lighted to prevent illegal access and activity related to the dumping of garbage, waste, debris and litter.

Here are a couple sources for enforcement:

http://www.oaklandcityattorney.org/Community/NLC.html
http://www2.oaklandnet.com/Government/o/CEDA/o/BuildingServi ces/s/CityCodeEnforcement/index.htm Carrie


Call the city planning and zoning or inspection-- I forget what department it is, but the building inspector can issue a blight abatement order, which gives a specific time line in which the junk needs to be removed. been there

Neighbors are wrecking their abandoned house

Aug 2009

Last Christmas the house next store went up for sale. The sign out front disappeared in the spring but there was no change in ownership that we could detect. Everyone on our block kind of keeps to themselves so we didn't know anything for sure. Slowly since then the neighbors disposed of their household items sometimes leaving furnishings or discards on the curb. When we returned from our outing on Father's Day it appeared that they had moved beyond the random give aways and abandonded the house... windows were left open on the second story, a matress & box spring and bedside furniture was strewn about the front yard as though they left in a hurry. It was all kind of creepy for a few days. Since then they have returned about once a week. At first they just seemed to be cleaning up behind themselves. Then we noticed that the visits were less about cleaning and more about foraging. Last week the door disappeared off the shed in the back yard (that they had been renting out illegally). Tonight they came back again and we could hear (and see through the windows) that they were stripping all of the molding out of the inside of the house.

Now normally I am a live and let live kind of neighbor. I know times are tough. I know they bought that house at the top of the market and clearly even renting out every room in it they couldn't make their payments. I get that it makes more sense to walk away from the house... but this is beyond walking away. Over the past few years there have been two other houses on our block that have taken more than a year to sell even with significantly reduced prices, and both of those were fixed up.

At the rate the neighbors are going we are destined to be the long time neighbors of a wreck that can't be sold. I'm worried that it will attract nothing but vermin. (We had a huge racoon problem when the other houses were vacant.) And what if they pull the electrical and plumbing out? Could they cause damage that will affect our home? Is there anything that we can do to stop what is going on? advice please


What they choose to do or not do with their house is not your concern. Since you're not making the mortgage payments on that house, you have no say. Perhaps you should spend more time and energy taking care of your own house than constantly watching your neighbors and analyzing their decisions in a situation that obviously sounds extremely difficult. anon
You don't say what city you live in. If you live in Berkeley, they have a department that deals with neigborhood blight and housing code enforcement. I would call 981-CITY and ask for neighborhood services or housing code enforcement. If you live in another city, I would start with the city manager's office. The city will hopefully come and fence/board or get in touch with the owner about upkeep, or it will at least get the issue on their radar screen. Good luck! anon
Hi- Sounds like your neighbors house is in a short sale situation. They can take months to resolve and would explain their coming back now and again and cleaning/moving.

The removal of things like molding may disturb you, but technically the house is still theirs (unless a notice of default is posted on the home) and short of taking the wiring and appliances, so far they've done nothing technically wrong.

I understand that you are worried about your home. But as a regular mom/family who is going through the heart-breaking process ourselves, it isn't easy. We come back every weekend and mow the lawn and make sure the house (we are now renting elswhere) is still in good shape. Your neighbors come and go probably at weird times as to avoid looks and embarassing questions. As for us, we came up with an elaborate story so our neighbors wouldn't think less of us. Our short sale is in month four. I was the breadwinner in our family and was laid off a few months back.

So, my suggestion: keep an eye out but rememeber that this isn't easy for anyone. Lukcy we are not homeless


Call the city and let them know about the abandoned house. Get a petition with your neighbors.

If you think the owners are local and reasonable, you might try East Bay Community Mediation (EBCM), which will do a formal mediation with you and your neighbors, so you will get a timetable for actions you can both live with.

Recently a long-abandoned house in Albany was sold (the city forced the owners to sell) after neighbors delivered a petition and contacted the local paper.

Group pressure is the way to go. --watchful neighbor


If you know the owner's name, you may be able to find out who their mortgage lender is; alerting the lender that the borrower may be stripping the house may get the appropriate party to step in. Assuming this is in Alameda Co., the county web site (http://www.acgov.org) has a lookup for public records... it's ''Lookup Public Records'' in the bottom left box of the home page. You'd be looking for records for ''Deed of Trust'' associated with the name of the person. Absent that, I'd think asking the police to look into it might not be a bad suggestion.

According to Zillow, about 30% of Alameda Co. homeowners are ''under water'' in their mortgages, and I imagine that some in desperate straits are going to consider just vacating with everything that's not nailed down (or nailed down that well...). Friend and Neighbor


Can you talk to them? It wasn't clear whether they still owned the home or were being foreclosed upon. If you're worried, maybe call the police? anon
I'm wondering if the home was being 'squatted' in (!). You say that the for sale sign came down abruptly and that you did not see anyone 'move in' (at least that is what I am hearing). This kind of thing has become prevalent as homes are foreclosed on and left empty. I'm thinking your 'neighbors' haven't paid a thing! Call the police next time you see them ripping the house apart--they probably have no rights to the house or it's contents. You don't have to become too involved...but since you asked, I would call the authorities while they are in the act, and if you are wrong and they are the rightful owners, there is no harm done. I don't think you want these type of people in your neighborhood. nosy neighbor
I have to say, in contrast to a previous responder, that in my opinion ''what they choose to do or not do with their house'' definitely IS your concern, a) because you live next door, and b) because, as you stated in your post, it will ultimately affect your safety and your property value if the place turns into a squatter's nest, or just an abandoned, trashed house. To state that simply because you are ''not making the mortgage payments on that house, you have no say'' seems a little too simplistic.

I agree with other responders that you might be able to gather information either by talk to the neighbors directly, or by looking the house up on Zillow. You might also do a search for foreclosed houses in your area, and see if the house is on the list. (I think you can look by address.) Besides the one response telling you absolutely nothing helpful whatsoever, you seem to have received a bunch of responses with good advice such as contacting the City Manager, and trying to find out which bank owns the house/the mortgage. From your post, it seems highly unlikely that they are entitled to be stripping the interior molding and such at this point. Obviously you are well aware that this is a difficult situation for everyone, you are just trying to prevent a bad situation from getting even worse. I hope your city authorities are responsive, and I hope you can dig up some info regarding the bank entity to contact. Good luck!


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