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Neighbors: Fences & Property Lines
Please note: this page contains reviews and opinions sent in by Berkeley Parents Network subscribers. Your own experience may be different. Please always check references first!
Questions & Advice
I am wondering where to go in the Oakland bureaucracy to find out about property lines.
The neighbor in the house directly behind us has been complaining about the condition of the fence between their house and ours, which was built long before we moved in. When I went out to investigate, I noticed that the fence looks like it protrudes about nine inches into our property, giving them an extra nine inches of yard. I'm guessing this because the back of our garage is set back nine inches from the fence.
So I'm asking for four bits of advice:
1. Where can I go/who can help me determine where the actual property line is?
2. How would you present these findings to our neighbors -- who are not very friendly?
3. Several years ago, they planted giant junipers which are now three stories high, right against the fence. If we build the new fence on the correct property line, the trees will be in the way! Suggestions?
4. By the way, my partner, who does construction for a living, has offered his labor to rebuild the fence, if our neighbors provide the materials. The fence is only about 15 feet long. Does that seem fair?
Thank you, wise community! Good fences make good neighbors
As a local Realtor with many years of experience, I can tell you that property lines are almost never where homeowners think they are. For example, it's just as likely that your own garage is in the ''wrong'' place as it is that the fence is encroaching. Depending on the age of your home (most East Bay homes are approaching 60 to 100 years now) the original layout of the structures on the property may be somewhat approximate, and in addition, if you are not on flat ground, your own land and the structures upon it may have moved considerably since the lot lines were first laid out. I attended one lecture by a soils engineer where aerial photographs from 50+ years ago were overlain with recent ones, showing an astonishing amount of otherwise unnoticed movement. Houses, garages, fences and yards may move many feet, not just inches, over time, and they don't always move at the same rate, so whole neighborhoods get rearranged!
The only way to formally define your property boundary is with a survey. Such a survey would be expensive, and to be accurate you may need to survey not just the fence line but the surrounding points of reference, such as your other property lines and your neighbor's other property lines.
Another suggestion is to obtain a plat map for your property and your neighbor's property. You may be able to find one on your own by researching the public records, or ask a Realtor. The plat map will show, for example, how your lot is aligned with surrounding lots, so by using other points of reference (like other existing fence lines) you can extrapolate how yours should line up. It will also show the total dimensions of your lot, so you might be able to measure and see if you come up 9 inches short.
If your lot is large enough that the 9 inches is not very important, I encourage you to weigh the value of those inches against the value of good relations with your neighbors. There are few things that ding the market value of a property like a property line feud. And if you do obtain a formal survey, you may not like what you find. I think that for you to provide labor, while the neighbor pays for materials, to replace the fence in its current location, is a very fair solution.
Depending on where the legal line turns out to be, you will know who is responsible for the trees. See the Nolo Press book on neighbor law.
You can go to the Oakland building dept at Frank Ogawa Plaza, just north of City Hall to get their opinion. Bring a good book to read while you wait. Go to the Information Desk & they will give you a number to be called to speak to someone from the proper department, probably planning.
Keep a logbook of all your research on this issue. Take photos of the fence & trees and make prints.
When you approach the neighbors, say ''we are concerned about the fence...'' And show them your documents. Don't say a word about legal action; the will infer that you have the ability to make a case should you wish to do so. Ask them exactly what they think should be done to solve the problem. Give them your ''call to action'' so they will know exactly what they need to do to appease you. Then make your very fair offer of doing the labor if they provide materials. Be sure you agree on what materisls to use. You can quantufy the labor value by taking bids on the job. There are many, many fences that do not sit on the real property lines! Amelia
Good luck. homeowner with fence problems
The back of your garage is not a reliable guide to the location of your property line (the garage may or may not have been constructed with whatever the legal setback was at the time it was built, and it may or may not have been altered since then) and you may not even want to claim those extra 9 inches if it means you end up with lack of access to the back of your garage AND maintenance responsibilities for those large trees. Do you want to fight about it? Or do you just want to make a deal with these people and have a new fence? I work for a law firm that has handled fights over this sort of thing, and I promise you, nine inches of back yard, to which you've never had or needed access before, is just not worth the headache and the legal fees.
They buy materials, you supply the labor seems fair enough to me, but before you propose that, I'd suggest getting your contractor partner to estimate the total cost of the materials, and also estimate what the work would cost if he were to do it as normal contract. You'll all have a better idea what you're getting into. Whatever you ultimately agree on, write down the key points and sign it. It doesn't have to be terribly formal, but having this kind of written agreement helps avoid later disputes over cost, material type or quantity, when the work was supposed to be done, and so on. Only the tree cases are worse than the fence cases...
When you know the actual boundary you can determine if there is encroachment by fences, building or trees and what you want to do about it. Good luck Lynn
Hi. We are in contract to buy a house, and from comparing the map that came with the preliminary title to the fences, we think that the fence is 5 feet away from the property line, in (assuming the sale proceeds) our small yard. We would definitely get the property line surveyed. If the surveyor indicates that the fence is not in the correct place, we would approach our new neighbors and explain the situation. Has anyone done this and have the neighbors claim imminent domain? If so, what was the outcome? These homes were built in the late 60's and the fence looks *old* so it could have been there for 20+ years. Thx!
Since you are the newbie (possibly),I'd be really careful about neighbor relationships. If you do get this place and want the neighbor to move the fence, you must approach it really carefully, and also offer to pay for the removal of the fence and at least share the cost of a new fence. Often fences were put up when the properties were originally divided, then the property lines were changed.
In our neighborhood, there was a swath of land tha was PG&E access that ran through the middle of the blocks. These eventually became part of the properties but were never properly surveyed.
Put yourself in that neighbors shoes....how would you feel if someone moved in and came over and said ''By the way...'' good neighbor
We live in Berkeley hills. Our downhill neighbors had a survey done for a remodel few years ago which shows that we -uphill neighbors- are a foot into their property, and they are a foot into their downhill neighbor's property. The survey is limited to their property only, but it seems like if we are to adjust the property lines by that survey, it would affect the entire block or hill. Two days ago we came home to see that there is a water line that enters our property from his side, goes 15 ft on the ground along the wall and goes back into his backyard. When we asked him what that line is about, and how it was planted there without our knowledge, he blatantly said he didn't want to run it on his side because it is concrete there and the line doesn't look good on the concrete. When we asked why we should see his water line that he doesn't want to see on his side, he said that's his part of the property anyways (even though the line is on our side of the fence). To the bigger problem of having someone in our backyard without our consent to run the line, he apologized and said that he told the contractor to ask us before going in -apparently we were not home when the line was installed. Our biggest problem with this guy is that he thinks he is entitled to everything. We had many other problems with him in the past, so have the other neighbors of him. Some recent examples: he decided to build a 10 ft high trellis adjacent to our fence, without asking our opinion or showing any drawings of it to us. Or, he took down the entire fence along the line with one of his other neighbor, let that fence un-built for three days where the deer had ample time to eat all the flowers and veggies in that neighbor's garden, and all that without even contacting that neighbor regarding his fence project. Whenever something comes up, we talk to him, write to him, and then he apologizes. And now this waterline: first, his contractor enters our property without our knowledge, which makes me feel very insecure in my house. Even though now we told him not to enter our backyard without our knowledge, we don't know what he will come up with next time. How can we ensure our privacy? Second, how should we address the property line issue? We sure don't want to accommodate his utility lines on our side of the fence. If we are to adjust the fence location, we will lose some part of our land on his side, which we can claim from our uphill neighbor, but that would have a domino-effect in the entire block where everybody should move 1 foot uphill. Apologies for the long entry, but we are fed up with this guy and really in need of some good advice to handle him. Thank you BPN! Longing for a good neighbor
This neighbor is either encroaching or tresspassing on your property, depending upon the nature of the water lines (e.g. drip irrigation v intake plumbing or drainage). Tresspass does not merely mean foot traffic.
Despite the location of the surveyed boundary, there are several doctrines of property law which can overcome them. Some of them have strict time limitations, so you should act at once.
You stated there is a fence. Depending upon the length of time the fence has been there, and even who built it, there is an argument that the fence is the boundary. Lynn
We currently rent a house that is one half of a TIC. It is our understanding that the TIC agreement (which we haven't seen) states that each of the two houses share the driveway and garage equally. There are four owners in total, two that own the house we rent, and two that own the house next door. As of this week it appears that the owner next door (who also resides there) has hired a friend to construct a music practice room for a piano in the garage. We (the renters on this half of the TIC) were not asked nor informed of the construction project; not by the neighbors, nor by our own LLs. The project is dominating daytime use of the driveway, the sheetrock and lumber is blocking access to our half of the garage, the construction noise is violating our city?s noise ordinance restrictions, and finally there is no building permit listed at our local housing office. We tried asking the worker about what she was doing, and the first time she lied to us. The second time we asked she admitted it was a music room, but that it won?t be soundproofed. We wrote an email to all four owners of the TIC complaining about the various inconveniences and asking for our clear access back, but only our neighbor has replied and that was to only state that they will clean up after themselves when they are done. No word from our LLs at all. Outside of reporting them to the city, do we have any recourse? I feel like my LLs are violating our rights as a tenants, but we are not clear on how. Can anyone give advice to us about this? frustrated tenant
I recently purchased a home with a driveway that is between my home and my neighbors home. My neighbor has his own driveway on the opposite side of his house, but my driveway uses part of his land to access my garage. I have been told this is called an eavesment, which allows me access to his land in order to use my driveway. However there were problems previously with the old owners of my home, and my neighbor has placed a fence directly on the property line. I would have no problem with this normally except now the fence has made the driveway too narrow and completely inaccessible to cars. I can drive up the driveway but the width is so small now that once up the driveway I cannot open my door to get out. I talked to my neighbor and he refuses to work something out and is not willing to take down the fence. Something about this seems terribly wrong (possibly illegal) and I am wondering if I should seek legal advice? If so who or how? Is this something I can take up with the city or county? Is a high priced real estate lawyer necessary? Has anyone experienced something similar? Thanks!
We bought our first house 5 months back in Montclair. Our immediate neighbor claims that a strip of land in our backyard is part of their property. The part of land in question is about one feet wide and runs along their fence until it ends in the back. The funny thing is that they built a fence and left a piece of *their* land on our side of the fence. We have a survey from our previous owners. The survey has a map with measurements, but we do not know how to read the survey. The backyard is kind of an open lot with trees. Up till the house structure we can measure the side yard with their fence and see that the fence is on the correct property line. Immediately after the house ends how can we measure the land with their fence? There is a pole with a white cloth at the far end of their property, but there is no mention of this in our survey. We want to put a fence (our fence) on the correct line believing that there is a strip of land belonging to the neighbors. Can someone please advice us whom to contact? Can a fence contractor read the survey? Another survey would be expensive for us. Thank You. anon
This can be a complicated problem depending on what information you have....or it could be relatively straightforward. I'd say it shouldn't take but a couple of hours to discuss this with you, examine your documents and do some field measurements.
A property resurvey would set you back about $5000. (I don't do these) I am a Landscape Architect, but know a lot about civil/ engineering survey work. Ray
Ask your real estate agent about the laws about how people can take over other people's property in a hostile and nonhostile manner. The title report should accurately define the borders of your property. Nolo Press probably has a book about this or you could google the topic on-line. judy
The surveyor they had hired was about to put a new set of stakes into the ground at their preferred boundary. The boundary they wanted worked when the parcel description was read backwards, because the parcel is not flat. When he realized that my husband knew about how to survey, he folded up his equipment and walked away. If his stakes had gone in, it would have cost us tens of thousands of dollars in litigation to get them out and get our land back. Our surveyor did the true survey and recorded it with the county, and we put up a sturdy fence. Most disputes aren't this bad, but land is expensive, and there are many people who covet their neighbor's land. It is well worth protecting yours. Relieved
About a year ago, an elderly neighbor died. A few months ago, her son (over getting the house ready for sale) agreed to pay for 1/2 of a new fence, providing that he only pay for the backyard portion (we are extending the fence to the front of the houses). I mentioned that a contractor friend would be helping us, and would charge for his time, but that my husband would do the majority of the work at no cost to him (which he did). When we got to his gate, and asked about preferences, he insisted that we pay for half of HIS gate, which I thought was unreasonable, but went along with it. He was very happy with the result. When we gave him the bill ($500), he became difficult, saying that he shouldn't have to pay for either our friend's time, the cost of having the materials delivered, or the rental post hole digger (his portion of the latter 2 was $30!). Mind you, he witnessed the fence being built, so he saw that we had help and that we used the rental item. He demanded receipts, so we politely put them together, cross-referenced with the bill. Even without the charges he objected to, the materials still came to almost $400 of the $500 bill. Another month has gone by, and still no reply. I am temped to write the entire episode off, but on the other hand, I don't want to be taken advantage of. We are not made of money, and it will clearly improve the value of the house he is about to sell. If he doesn't ever pay us, do we have any recourse? Could we put a lien on the house? Should I just move on? anon
Hello, I am having (unfortunately!) a dispute with my neighbor regarding property lines. She insists on planting trees and plants without consulting me on our shared strip of land between her driveway and my sidewalk. I checked with the county, and there is no survey on file for my property. Is there a way to resolve this without the expense of a survey? (suggestions welcome!-although I have tried twice to speak with her about this, so that doesn't seem to work... she believes she has been here 20 years, and I don't have any real rights since I've only been here 3 years..) Assuming I must resort to a survey of the property, does anyone have a recommendation on land surveyors? Note to Moderator: I did check the archives, to no avail... thanks! anonymous and frustrated in Oakland
We are having a contractor rebuild the fence around our yard in a couple of weeks. Can we expect our neighbors to contribute some if we share the fence? Anyone have experience with this to share? Thanks! - Madeleine
On the flip side, a different neighbor approached us with a bid from a contractor to fix a retaining wall and build a new fence from scratch. We thought the bid was very high and encouraged her to get some others.
She got a few other bids but really wanted a first class job and we could only pay for a budget one, so we offered to pay 1/3 of the cost and she seemed fine with that. -Sharon
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