How do I stop people walking on a path behind my house?
March 3, 2013 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Strangers from adjoining neighborhoods have created a path on private land behind my house. What are some ways I can stop them?

To the right of my property there is a creek/runoff canal, that starts at the road in front of my house, and runs down the length of my property. The area is about 1/4 of an acre, and I have a neighbor on the opposite side of the creek. The land is owned by our HOA, but because the area is maintained by the county (due to the runoff canal), the HOA is unable to block off the area or restrict access. As a result of this, people in the adjoining neighborhood have discovered that this area can be used as a shortcut from the neighborhood behind ours, through ours, and have created a path that runs right along my property, to a small bridge over the creek, and then up to the road.

At all times of the day and night, strangers are walking through this path. I don't like it. It makes me feel very unsafe. I think its an easy escape route from our neighborhood. And unfortunately, I feel that since my house sits right by this path, its the easiest target.

We do have a 6 foot fence that runs all along my property and separates it from this path, but I just don't like the idea of people being back there and walking along and behind my house.

Our HOA has contacted the county and has been informed that there should be no trespassing on the land, and specifically that it should not be used as a walking path. However, the county will do nothing to stop the issue from occurring, and will not allow my HOA to fence off the area, as they claim they need access. 

I however, want to put a stop to people walking down this "path", whatever the cost. 

One note about the bridge over the creek - I don't know its origins. (its like 8 feel long by 3 feet wide, made of wood) When I asked about it at the last HOA meeting, no one seemed interested in removing it, and being new to the community, I didn't press the issue. I did voice my concerns about the path being an easy escape route, but no one seemed concerned. I suspect some of the folks using the trail might be people from my neighborhood...

I've thought about routing water to the area so the path turns into one giant muddy mess. I've also wondered what would happen if that bridge simply "disappeared" one night. 

Any suggestions, from the ingenious to the insane, are appreciated.
posted by Arbitrage1 to Home & Garden (47 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You have a six foot fence that separates your property from this land. You are, however, still worrying about it being used as an "escape route" - I confess that I have no idea what this means - and you think that your house is a "target" despite being protected by a six foot fence.

My suggestion is that you relax and that you definitely not at all do anything that makes it unsafe, like intentionally flooding it so it becomes a "muddy mess" or destroying the bridge. These vaguely-defined ruffians who might scale your six-foot fence are definitely not going to be stopped by a little mud.

In somewhat-more-helpfulness, you keep urging your HOA to act, you find them a lawyer to maybe try to arrange something with the county. But that lawyer will probably inform you that the idea of you going off on your own to trespass on the HOA property in order to damage it and potentially injure people going through it is not the best idea.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:25 PM on March 3, 2013 [28 favorites]

With the fence, I think you'll be hard-pressed to make the "safety" case to the county. I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "escape route". Like, burglars robbing a house and leaving the neighborhood from behind?

I would just make the path that exists on your property unpleasant to traverse. Mud seems to be the easiest way to do that. Would watering the grass in your backyard accomplish that?

Upon rereading... is the path that people are walking along actually on your property, or on public land? If the latter, you're probably SOL, and really shouldn't do anything to make public land less accessible or safe, especially destroying a footbridge that doesn't belong to you.

Get a security camera if you're that concerned about someone scaling your fence to wreak unspecified mischief. They're cheap.
posted by supercres at 8:27 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not going to address whether you should actually do this, but if you are set on disturbing the walking path and this path is legally on your property, you can create a living fence - plant bushes, shrubs, hedges along the path. If you really want to discourage people walking, use plants with thorns.
posted by quodlibet at 8:28 PM on March 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

I initially read this as strangers were walking through your personal backyard - knowing that you have a fence between you and them sort of changes things for me. Is there something significantly wrong with the public using the land?

If you really don't like it (and I see that you do) I would see if I could band together with neighbors and raise enough money to consult a landscape designer (ideally someone who specializes in native riparian areas) and put some money into putting in some beautiful and appropriate species that will make it less easy to walk through. Obviously you'd have to get buy-in from the county and HOA, but as long as you're putting up the bucks, I bet they'd go along with it.

My middle-school self would be tempted to remove the bridge, too. But that is probably not the most adult way to handle it, and might have some legal issues associated with it. If you want the bridge gone, what about getting input from a lawyer as to whether the HOA might be liable if it breaks or someone slips while using it and there is an injury/death as s result? Nothing inspires organizations to action so fast as potential lost revenue.
posted by arnicae at 8:28 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hmm. I tend to agree with Tomorrowful. I was going to suggest barbed wire on your fence and security lights.

You could try to seed a thorny weed on the path -- blackberry bushes would quickly become an impenetrable wall here in Vancouver -- but since it's not your property, I don't know if you have the right to do this. You might also make a lot of enemies. Plus people might strip it away in any case.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:32 PM on March 3, 2013

A walking path along a creek? Sounds kinda pretty to me. Also it seems like it's a useful route for pedestrians. Maybe kids use it to get to school. Can't you be neighborly and let it be? You have a six-foot fence after all. Maybe instead of planting thorny bushes, you should plant some azaleas.

I live in a city. My neighborhood is quiet and residential, but people walk by on the sidewalk all the time. It's part of living where I live. Unless you live in a particularly sketchy place, I don't see what the big deal is.
posted by Leontine at 8:40 PM on March 3, 2013 [29 favorites]

For night, I would get motion sensor lights. Flood them with lights. Maybe some sort of flash camera like a red light camera that will flash and startle them while they know they are on film. I would also consider borrowing a very loud barking dog if you don't already have one. If you can dump a whole lot of animal blood on the trail regularly for a few weeks, this might also discourage someone if they hear barking.

Oddly, if your fence is a wooden one or is solid and cannot be looked through, I think it is encouraging people to walk next to it. It gives them a sense of security. It should give you one too.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:41 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am actually all for walking paths and I think this path is probably a good thing, reducing car traffic etc. I really think you should just chill. But you probably won't (we have all read those memes about someone being Wrong on The Internet), so rather than sit back and wait for you to wind up in jail for actually using caltrops or in some feud with some injured party for actually planting poisonous, thorned plants, I provide the following info:

In "How to Survive without a Salary," Charles Long tells a story of having a trampled garden and inability to stop kids from cutting through his yard as a shortcut. Then he decided to revitalize the garden in spite of the tresspassers trampling it. He had a mound of natural fertilizer -- aka manure -- dump up against the wood fence. The following morning, the first kid who jumped the fence found themselves knee deep in poo, which they loudly named as such with an expletive at the top of their voice. Thereafter, his garden was untrampled.

So perhaps you could graciously volunteer to revitalize the area at your expense for the HOA and, as a first step, bring in some organic fertilizer to dump on the path.
posted by Michele in California at 8:42 PM on March 3, 2013

doing anything on land you don't own is trespassing, even improvements, without the owners permission. Is it owned by the HOA? than work through them, and if they HOA doesn't want to do anything and doesn't view it as a threat, then maybe you need to look at why you think it is? If it is a third parties land, contact them about it (land ownership is a matter of public record). Once again it is up to that third party to let you do anything and if they don't want to you can't touch it legally. If it is publicly owned (county, city, state) than you can't do anything and denying other people access to it is a crime. It is up to them to control access to that property. If people are trespassing on your property you need to go through the proper channels (police) and you can do reasonable measures (taller fences, thornbushes, etc) to make it harder to access YOUR property.

At the end of the day, you might want to look at why you are so freaked out by the path next to your house. People, on the whole, are pretty good and just want to get through the day with the least effort and hassle possible. Hence the shortcut near your house. If it is public property the best way to deal with it is petition the owning agency to create a public path and improvements to make it legitimate, some hard path and lighting will do a lot to remove the sketchier elements from it. I see this all the time that a neighborhood(suburb) goes in and no effort is made to connect it to the surrounding area except maybe one car entrance, and the people who live their think they are safe because noone can get to them, meanwhile those same residents come to see that connection to the surrounding neighborhoods are actually valuable and something humans crave. And with those connections come actual safety.
posted by bartonlong at 8:43 PM on March 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

I confess I'm not picturing this situation very clearly. From what I understand of most subdivisiony places, people tend to drive rather than walk very far. Which leads me to think that your houses are relatively close together if people are walking past your house to get to the road. Which makes the concept of "strangers from adjoining neighborhoods" and "easy escape route from our neighborhood" hard to reconcile with the walking-behind-your-yard part because it seems to me that these "strangers" are in fact your neighbors. It's not like they are going to rob your house and cross state lines.

Whatever you do, don't destroy property or create a dangerous situation. You have already complained about the situation to the HOA so they have a record of your complaints. It sounds like the county has an easement and it's possible the public does as well. Get a lawyer if you are really serious about stopping this.
posted by payoto at 8:47 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

For night, I would get motion sensor lights. Flood them with lights. Maybe some sort of flash camera like a red light camera that will flash and startle them while they know they are on film. I would also consider borrowing a very loud barking dog if you don't already have one. If you can dump a whole lot of animal blood on the trail regularly for a few weeks, this might also discourage someone if they hear barking.

FWIW, I'm sympathetic to OP's cause, but if I knew of someone (a neighbor, a random person, whatever) doing all (or any) of this outside of their own personal property, I would absolutely report them to the cops. Probably repeatedly. And I do not think it would take more than a few nights before some civic-minded citizen did something about the flood lights and flashing cameras.
posted by arnicae at 8:49 PM on March 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

With respect, you've got this backwards. More eyes around your property--including those belonging to the folks using the ad hoc path--make you more safe, not less. Bad guys don't like people around to serve as potential witnesses and/or notice if something's amiss. You're better off if your neighbors (and the path users are your neighbors) know and like you so they are inclined to take action if something's wrong at your house. Get to know them!

With regards to setting up some kind of perimeter warning system, that will just create an annoyance for your neighbors (in your subdivision and those using the path) without making you any safer than you already are behind your fence. Your system won't be able to distinguish between bad guys and pedestrians on the path, so you'll just be alienating people while letting everyone know that you don't like people using what has become a public thoroughfare. Don't be that guy.

By the way, it's counter-intuitive, but your bright lights make it easier for bad guys to do their evil deeds. They can see you're not home and they don't need conspicuous flashlights for illumination that might be noticed by, say, the people on the path.
posted by carmicha at 8:57 PM on March 3, 2013 [29 favorites]

However, the county will do nothing to stop the issue from occurring, and will not allow my HOA to fence off the area, as they claim they need access.

In a situation like that, paths around here have tend to have gates with a combination lock or padlock/key safe. The codes seem to be an open secret within the departments and organizations that need access, but it keeps the general public out. Has something like that ever been suggested?
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:10 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing motion sensor lights and fortifying your fence with attractive fencing spikes.

(barbed wire seems the wrong way to go, pick something pretty to look at so that everytime you see t he top of your fence, the issue isn't continuing to poke at you.)

But honestly? Maybe there is something we're not understanding, because your fence sounds like more than enough protection.

I understand (mightily understand!) that this is an issue for you, but your HOA isn't backing you up. That sucks.

IF you can get the HOA to plant bushes - great. If not, agree to make your own property more secure, and gracefully drop the issue both outwardly and within.

By this, I mean work on doing what you must inside the confines of your own property line, and then work on getting over this concern in your heart and mind.

Don't let this eat away at your, or your relationship with you neighbors. It's not worth it.
posted by jbenben at 9:11 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd add that so far there's been no problem from these strangers walking behind your fence, but if you get aggressive or obstructionist about the path you'll call a lot of attention to yourself and possibly antagonize someone who wouldn't ordinarily give you a second thought. Then you might have something to worry about; as of right now, I don't see that you do.
posted by aryma at 9:51 PM on March 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you are worried about people getting into your property despite the fence, you might go old-fashioned and plant something prickly and annoying to shove through.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:02 PM on March 3, 2013

From what I'm reading the impromptu "path" is on HOA property, not the OP's own; there is a 6 foot fence between the OP's actual property and this bit of land from whence the OP is afraid sketchy characters will be sneaking into the neighborhood. Also I read that the county needs it open for access to the creek, and nobody else seems to think it's a problem - leading OP to suspect that some of the neighbors are also the "trespassers." Basically this area is being used as an unofficial alleyway.

If my reading is correct, my humble advice is get over it. You essentially admitted your neighbors, who pay into your HOA, use this pathway. Your neighbors are probably not burglars, and they will not take kindly to your trying to restrict their enjoyment of their own neighborhood. Vandalizing the bridge or the path are terrible and immature and nasty ideas, making me think your neighbors should frankly be more nervous about having you living in their neighborhood than you should be about them using the path. If you were saying "teenagers are hanging out there with boom boxes drinking and blastic music behind my yard at 3 am on a weeknight," I might have some sympathy. But walking to the creek? Really. Lighten up.
posted by celtalitha at 10:26 PM on March 3, 2013 [13 favorites]

I may be wrong about this, but if you create unsafe conditions and someone gets hurt because of that, are you not libel for that? I would reconsider this plan of action if I were you. Also, if you have a six foot fence surrounding your property, I seriously doubt anyone is going to scale that to rob you. I've lived in some sketchy neighborhoods, and a six foot fence is a pretty good deterrent. My recommendation is that you calm down and let these people go their way.
posted by patheral at 10:31 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

OK, I'm sympathetic with you up to the six-foot fence protecting your property. Beyond that, you haven't made a case that convinces me of any problem other than your own unsubstantiated fears. Please, enlighten us if you do have a history of burglars fleeing with their loot past your property.

I live in a neighborhood that's had its own problems with crime. Yes, gunshots on my corner. Yes, drug deals in broad daylight, even on my driveway apron. We've got two properties that both connect to opposite sides of the block and have been used as a shortcut. So I'm not unsympathetic at the impulse to push away undesirables.

But I'm concerned about your approach here. Let me tell you a story about those two properties we now own. When I was a kid, the backyard was a completely overgrown bramble of junk trees and weeds, surrounded here and there by bits of broken fence. We didn't own it then, but we owned the one next door, and a few friends and I used to play ditch'em back there. Nothing destructive, mind you, or even out of bounds, but clearly in retrospect we were trespassing. Still, we were just kids. There was a neat old tree growing at an angle out of a hill and we used it for, I dunno, pirate games. Avast ye matey from the yardarm or whatever. I don't remember those details. I do, however, remember the details of when the old guy who owned the property decided he didn't want us playing back there anymore. Did he come back and talk to us? Did he tell our parents, hey, keep dhartung out of my back yard? Did he fix the fence? Nah. He went and filled in the first major crotch with a dollop of roof tar, so the next time we got back there one of us -- me -- got a big handful of tar when he reached up.

That guy is pretty emblematic, to me, of how to handle a problem like an asshole. Good grief, we were just kids.

Look, I'm willing to go full asshole on somebody who deserves it. I'm no prissy prude. But there's such a thing as proportional response. I don't see the basis for going full asshole here.

More important, I'm mindful of how such barriers have been used in the past. Do you know the basis of gated communities, generally, lies in decades-old federal restrictions with racial overtones and historic links to redlining? There's a neighborhood in Detroit, for example, that still has a wall erected to keep black people out of a white subdivision. Viz:

For example, before the FHA would insure a mortgage, banks had to submit reports on the neighborhood. One of the questions they had to answer was “Are inharmonious racial or social groups present in the neighborhood? If not, is there any danger of infiltration of such groups?” [4, p. 407]. The FHA policies and manuals encouraged man-made barriers such as walls, highways or cul-de-sacs, and also natural ones such as hills and ravines, to keep out unwanted groups.

Ancient history from last century, you might ask? Well, no. I believe such policies remain, intentionally or not, and are continuing to cause problems and yours is a case in point. The Boston Globe, for example, made a good case for Travyon Martin being the victim of poor neighborhood planning. He was a visitor to a home in a gated community with limited road access, yet as a pedestrian he traveled out of and then back into this neighborhood, and just for being a pedestrian he was targeted by the overzealous self-appointed watchman George Zimmermann, who even told 911 that his target was "looking around" -- but instead of casing houses to burgle, he was probably just lost in the dark of a confusing street map and few sidewalks.

So I would ask why people are using this shortcut in the first place. Does the neighborhood simply have too few access points? Has the HOA or the planning authority considered pedestrian traffic patterns? What attractions -- shopping? fast food? -- are drawing people along this route instead of others? Is it possible this is just a reg'lar old desire path representing a logical route not considered at the time of the neighborhood's construction?

All I'm asking is that you stand back and try to consider the situation from the other point of view here. It's a public easement even if it isn't technically a right-of-way and taking enforcement of the public way unto yourself is just asking for trouble, as others have detailed. And remember the principle of proportionality. The people walking past your house? They're walking past. They're not breaking in. Don't treat them like criminals. Consider that our property and legal mindset dates back to the enclosure era in England via common law, when land held in common for agricultural purposes was seized and turned into private property, changing and defining the relationship of individuals to the state (i.e. Crown), and that other cultures sometimes have a different and more hands-off approach to the point that the idea of trespassing is all but inverted, i.e. the Scandinavian freedom to roam. Unless you know these people are harmful and there are no other options, please consider treating them as human beings first.
posted by dhartung at 10:46 PM on March 3, 2013 [35 favorites]

Arbitrage1: "I've thought about routing water to the area so the path turns into one giant muddy mess."

Messing with water flow in a riparian zone is seriously illegal where I live.
posted by Mitheral at 1:14 AM on March 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

The HOA owns the land. It does not want to change it. You could propose that the HOA remove the bridge, but unless you have the votes to do so it will remain.

You bought the house knowing about this situation. You now need to live with it.
posted by yclipse at 3:24 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is probably the exact opposite of what you want, but if the county is already letting people walk here, I'd ask them to have the county parks make it a trail. then it would have hours (during the day) and bring more eyes to watching your property and what happens on this path. If it was closed at night, it would be up to park police to patrol it or have the local police watch it.
posted by katinka-katinka at 4:05 AM on March 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

I also think your worries are, absent other information, pretty silly, but if it's really eating at you I'd suggest talking to a lawyer about the tactics to use. I would not be surprised if firmly drafted letters invoking the magic words "attractive nuisance" might get some results from either the HOA or county, especially if they could be paired with similar circumstances in which HOA or county were forced to pay $BIG after a kid managed to drown himself.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:56 AM on March 4, 2013

My aunt and uncle live in a small rural town New England. There is a creek and a path that goes to the creek in the neighborhood that goes behind someone's house. And that someone's house is right on the creek, but that someone owns very little land behind the creek and does not own the creek at all.

The someone who owned the house started harassing the kids for swimming in his creek and for using his land to get to the creek, and he demanded they put a stop to it.

The police visited said someone and set him straight right quick --- all the land the kids were using was public land, and if he so much as whispered at them about using the creek again, he'd have bigger problems with small rural town New England police. (FTR, the kids only used the creek during daylight ours, so there was no night-time noise issue).

That said --- it sounds like this path is for county use only, and not for people to walk along. In which case, you can keep harrassing the county, who probably still won't do anything, or get your HOA to to do something more about your portion of the land or the HOA's land.

But I will say that I join the chorus in that this is NOT.A.PROBLEM of any making except your own.
posted by zizzle at 5:45 AM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Is there something that's happened, such as garbage thrown into your yard or vandalism? If not, I don't quite understand what you are not liking. If the path looks like an eyesore, you'll do a lot more by working with the HOA and local government to improve the path. Organize a litter pickup group or neighborhood watch.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:50 AM on March 4, 2013

Tell your HOA that you're concerned someone will injure themselves on the path and that your HOA could be found responsible. If that bridge falls through with someone on it, the HOA is going to get sued.

However. I think your panic about escape routes, people next to your property, and the general unpleasantness you ascribe to a useful trail next to a creek, is paranoid and obnoxious, not to mention completely unwarranted. Don't be that asshole who moves to a neighborhood and wants to meddle in things that give everybody else pleasure.

Plant some prickly things along YOUR side of the fence and let it be.
posted by lydhre at 5:51 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I tend to agree with others that having more friendly pedestrians around tends to make things more secure, not less. Also, unless the trail is going up to your fence directly, you can plant something like blackberry bushes in between trail/fence to discourage anyone wandering off the trail.

However, in the spirit of actually answering the question, this I think is the key bit of info:

Our HOA has contacted the county and has been informed that there should be no trespassing on the land, and specifically that it should not be used as a walking path. However, the county will do nothing to stop the issue from occurring

So the county doesn't really want a "walking path" there, but on the other hand they figure a few people from the neighborhood cutting through are no big deal. So I think your best bet is to judo this problem and make the trail more popular/publicized until the county cares enough to do something. Post big signs at either end "Welcome to the Whatever Walking Trail" with a little map showing the area it cuts through. Write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper talking about what a useful and charming trail it is, the nice creek-side atmosphere, etc. Have people email the county, thanking them for donating the land for such a nice trail and building a bridge and everything!
posted by mikepop at 5:58 AM on March 4, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses, even the ones that point at me as the problem... Let me paint a more complete picture. Our neighborhood consists of about 18 very large houses. There is only one road in and out of the neighborhood. There is a community of run-down townhouses behind our neighborhood. And while I don't have a problem with run-down townhouses or the people who live in them, over the past 12 months there have been two people arrested while selling drugs IN my neighborhood, multiple occurrences of peoples cars being broken into, and 2 arrests at a "drug house" in the adjoining neighborhood. I have seen the very people arrested from that drug house, walking through this path behind my house. The fence sits along the low point of my property (thus the drainage) and so people walking along that path have the angle to look directly into my kitchen and living room, and at night you can see everything going on. Call me un-neighborly, but I don't like known drug dealers watching me and my family eat dinner and watch tv at night. You can literally stand outside my fence and watch the tv in my living room. Regarding the land, while it is not my land, it is owned by our HOA, and the county has stated that it is NOT for public use. They have stated, the path is not allowed. At one point there was a chain strung between two short posts to deter entrance to the path, but that was vandalized and removed. My HOA is very aware and sympathetic to the issue; we're only 18 houses so we all know each other and it's a tight community. They want the transients gone as much as I do. However, it more directly affects me than anyone else. I don't feel that I'm out of line to want people to respect private property.
posted by Arbitrage1 at 6:06 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Move out and buy a house that doesn't have a county right-of-way running behind it. (Any suggestion, genius or insane, right?)

My actual, totally counter-intuitive suggestion is to get rid of your 6-foot fence. This would require the fence to actually be on your property, and your HOA might not allow you to change it anyway, but if it's the kind that completely blocks your view in or out, this could be part of your problem. You can't see what's going on back there, people crossing through assume they're doing it unseen by the neighbors, and you don't even exist as a person to them-- you're just random anonymous dude's house next to the shortcut to the Kwik-E-Mart.

Replace that fence with a much lower one that lets passerby see into your back yard. Spend lots of time back there. Maybe even a split rail fence so that people feel as much as possible that they've accidentally trespassed into your yard as they go by. Oops, there're having a barbecue with twenty of their neighbors and every one of them can see you taking this quasi-legal shortcut past their party. Add a motion-detector light for your back door. Maybe get a small yappy dog, not loud enough to wake your actual neighbors, but just enough that people on the path know their presence can be seen and heard.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 6:23 AM on March 4, 2013

Erect a motion sensitive light (or several) on your property pointed at the path. It makes people uncomfortable to be watched if they're up to no good, though it may make it even more attractive for people just trying to get from points A to B at night.
posted by rocketpup at 6:33 AM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

(Also, maybe seriously consider doing some volunteer work in your town. You mistakenly assumed you could live right next door to people dealing with poverty, crime, and drug use and not be exposed to any of it, because you believed in the fiction of "your" 18-house community being insulated from "their" rundown town house community. It's all one community.)
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 6:56 AM on March 4, 2013 [17 favorites]

You need to consult a lawyer in your area, one who practices in real property law. Without a survey and a title search, strangers on the internet can't answer this for you.
posted by mibo at 7:04 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is less of a logistical issue than a community/law enforcement issue. You need to reorganize the lines of sight along this path and in you neighborhood to keep aware of who is coming in and around and stay in touch with local law enforcement to give them a heads up when troublemakers are loitering.

This is analogous to an apartment I lived in that had an alleyway in the back shared by the other local townhouses. I guess the alley was technically private, but there was no practical way to restrict access to it, and the neighborhood kids from a few blocks away were known to hang out there and cause trouble. I had the business card of one of the local police officers who told me to give him a heads-up when there were any problems.

I think you need to reorient your perspective to look at the problem as less of an access issue: it strikes me that it's likely that this "private property" has an easement allowing access to non-HOA members. The problem is a community enforcement issue. Approach this problem as though you moved to a sketchy neighborhood with troublesome neighbors-- because that is exactly what you did, HOA notwithstanding.
posted by deanc at 7:20 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

>> people walking along that path have the angle to look directly into my kitchen and living room, and at night you can see everything going on.

perhaps buying window fixtures will help your peace of mind? I close my blinds at night and open them in the morning. Sure, anyone can tell which room you're in, but can't see your dinner or your TV. This has the added benefit of being easy to duplicate if you're out of town-- a few light timers, and at least the lights are the same as when you're home.
posted by worstname at 7:45 AM on March 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

If someone is going to break in, they'll pick the easiest place, so make your home difficult. Cultivate something lush, viney, and thorny to grow up along your fence, on your side of it. After a year or two, given enough fuel to grow, you'll have another foot or two of foliage fluff on top of the fence to keep people from peering over it. Pick something with flowers so it's pretty and attracts bees and butterflies. Blinds or curtains for inside the house. A timer for lights, if you don't want people to know when you are and aren't home.

And then chill. Really. I understand the weird feeling of "there are PEOPLE behind the HOUSE and they're just supposed to move around in the FRONT where the STREET is," I promise you, I get it. My house is on the developed side of a city block: behind the houses on my street there's a gigantic field, and while maps show an actual street back there, we've only got a sandy track. On the city plat maps it's all plotted out and owned individually; in reality it's just a big-ass field with trees and dunes in it. It's nice to have all that space tucked away back there, though I wouldn't mind a streetlight. The neighbors walk dogs there, kids play there, yesterday I saw some guy practicing golf swings right behind my house, everyone picks from the citrus trees.

I don't worry about this as any point of access to my home because it'd be a right nuisance to hop the fence, wade through all of my jasmine and honeysuckle, somehow not alert the big-voiced dog, and then get out through the one gate which locks towards the front of the house because the blasted thing won't stay shut on its own. People with bad intent will pick easy targets. So make your place inconvenient.

The house next door to mine, as a data point, has grass and two oak trees and nothing else, with privacy fences all around the back yard: it was broken into through the windows, and televisions were taken, among other things. Looking at that house and mine, if I was going to break into one or the other I'd pick them too: no palmettos and spiky vines and other potentially difficult things.
posted by cmyk at 8:10 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I see 2 problems. 1. You knowingly bought the house even though the area is run down. 2. You don't own the property although your HOA does. As a zoning person I would look at this as a law enforcement issue particularly due to the drugs. If you can face a camera high on your house or keep a detailed log of all activity for one week. Present this not only to your assoc. but also to your town. If nothing else it brings attention to what's going on. IMO the more attention you can draw to a potential problem the more it will get attention. Other then that I'd reinforce my perimeter. Motion sensors are good around your house not along the fence.
posted by lasamana at 8:52 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

The writings of Jane Jacobs made the point that city safety relied upon there being eyes on the street. I have seen this in action. I moved into an apartment complex with known crime issues -- cars vandalized, broken into, etc. When I first moved in, it was common for a police car to park inside the entrance on Friday and Saturday night and my son felt unsafe if he walked the trash down to the dumpster after midnight.

While living there, I gave up my car. I was a very plump middle aged woman. Before I gave up my car, the only pedestrians you ever saw were joggers. My sons and I began walking to get groceries, do other shopping, etc. And we walked to the mailbox and to the dumpster. When we first moved there, everyone drove to the mailboxes and dumpster. No one walked anywhere. The longer we did everything on foot, the more people walked dogs, walked their own trash down, walked to nearby stores. Eventually, there were people outside from about 6:00am to midnight.

The vandalism and break-ins apparently diminished. Cops stopped staking out the place. My son stopped feeling unsafe taking the trash out after midnight.

So I will echo suggestions to increase visibility, promote normal, healthy pedestrian activities and so on. I will also second suggestions to "get involved." Neighborhoods have been known to see a decrease in crime because of adding basketball hoops to alleyways. It is not a given that poor people will turn to drugs and crime. If they have other options, most won't.

Also, poor neighborhoods that have enough educated, professional types see la lot fewer problems than those which don't. IIRC, if at least 6% of the neighborhood is educated/successful enough, crime rates stay low. If it drops below 4%, problems skyrocket. The theory is that when issues come up, if there are enough educated people around, someone says something to a neighbor who happens to know what can be done about that and it prevents small issues from escalating. You can take a look at the book "The Tipping Point" for more details on that. Then go make friends with folks less well off than you. Knowledge is power. You are helping to starve them of it, apparently to your own detriment.
posted by Michele in California at 9:03 AM on March 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

You've already tried to solve this through the HOA and/or city without luck or support, so here are some reasonable suggestions that will make you safer.

-Get curtains! If people can see into your house and see your stuff, it raises the likelihood that someone will break in. Also it sounds like you don't like people seeing you, even sheer curtains will help.
- Lock all your doors, even when you are home.
-Get a security alarm, if that makes you feel better. I don't like living with a security alarm, but it can offer you a sense of security and won't hurt.
-Get motion activated lights for your backyard.

Lastly, if you see any suspicious activity, call the cops. If people are loitering where they shouldn't be dealing or doing drugs, or in people's yards, call the cops.
posted by Gor-ella at 9:11 AM on March 4, 2013

I live in a subdivision on a corner lot that's 50' x 110'. Being on a corner lot, people walking on the sidewalk along the 110' side of the lot are less than 10' from my dining room window. Any attempts to block the view- sheers, blinds, curtains, are pretty quickly ruined by our dogs. We found the best way to deal with is just to leave the curtains open. So people walking by can watch me eat (or look through the window on the front of my house and watch me watch TV). So what?

Oddly, since the dogs can now freely see out, they don't get nearly as excited about people in the neighborhood. Maybe because they can see them clearly they have a pretty good sense that the people aren't actually in their territory (as long as they stay on the sidewalk).
posted by Doohickie at 9:59 AM on March 4, 2013

Build a 12 foot fence. You will not have any luck controlling use to property that is not yours.
posted by spaltavian at 11:10 AM on March 4, 2013

Get an alarm for the inside of your house.
Plant a row of tall bushes in front of your fence. it will make your yard look lovely & obscure the view!
Get some curtains.
Stop living in fear of people.
posted by haplesschild at 11:20 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you know that these people you deem to be less than desirable can see directly into your home, why don't you A) buy and install window coverings and close them at night, or B) buy and plant tall bushes to cover their view of your home? There may be rules set forth by your HOA regarding how tall your fence can be, but I don't think that would extend to foliage. Block the view, theirs and yours, problem solved.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 12:19 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

The fence sits along the low point of my property (thus the drainage) and so people walking along that path have the angle to look directly into my kitchen and living room, and at night you can see everything going on.

Higher fence. DONE.
posted by arnicae at 2:44 PM on March 4, 2013

You can literally stand outside my fence and watch the tv in my living room

Have you ever heard of curtains?
posted by HiroProtagonist at 5:37 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

over the past 12 months there have been two people arrested while selling drugs IN my neighborhood, multiple occurrences of peoples cars being broken into, and 2 arrests at a "drug house" in the adjoining neighborhood

OK, but here's what you need to do. That townhouse development has a landlord or individual landlords who are creating a public nuisance by renting to drug dealers.

What you need to is what we did, and hold the landlords responsible. I'm pretty surprised that you have people who have been running drug houses in that development and, according to you, remain there.

Still, I think you have to give some consideration to the fact that this is apparently a logical route for people living in that development to get somewhere. What is preventing them from using other routes? Are there sidewalks? Are there alternative exits/crossings? Try to put yourself in the position of someone living over there and what you would think about simply being prevented from taking the shortest route because they don't like your looks.

And for pete's sake if you see criminal activity report it. Create a log and a paper trail.
posted by dhartung at 6:25 PM on March 4, 2013

> You can literally stand outside my fence and watch the tv in my living room.

I don't feel that I'm out of line to want people to respect private property.

If you've got a peanut gallery of people standing and staring into your windows, sure, that's disrespectful. Ditto if they're making a lot of noise or littering. But just walking past your house is not disrespecting your private property. Even if they allow their eyeballs to graze it while it is in their field of vision. By that logic, you're disrespecting their personal privacy by watching them as they walk along this makeshift path. Which is on property that doesn't even belong to you.

I get that it's irritating to have passers-by where you don't expect there to be, but you're verging on "certain people are not allowed to breathe my air" here.
posted by desuetude at 10:46 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you're concerned about burglary, I agree about motion-detector lights for your backyard, and opaque blinds that can be closed at night on the windows that are easy to look into. These are good steps that are clearly within your rights, and will actually help protect your house. After our house was broken into, one of the things the police told us was: casual break-ins occur when a burglar can see something easily from outside, so opaque blinds or moving furniture to be out of line-of-sight of the windows is one of the first steps they recommend.

Maybe you could talk to the HOA about putting motion-detector lights along the pathway, and/or (something that looks like?) video cameras. That would probably deter bad guys while not deterring innocent path users.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:05 AM on March 5, 2013

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