Can neighbor knock down my encroaching wall?
June 20, 2019 6:26 AM   Subscribe

My neighbors have just started demo on their steps and patio up to their front door. As part of some property line disputes (their chain link fence and decking in their back yard veers onto my property in places) we've had the properties surveyed and found that a three foot tall cinderblock/stucco wall that surrounds a patio area in my front yard encroaches onto their property by approx. 2 inches in the rear corner. This wall was built by the previous owner and the neighbors have remarked to me that they think it's unsightly.

Are they allowed to demo the portion of the wall that is on their property without notice to me? Doing so would by default damage the rest of that section of wall making it both unsightly and possibly unstable.

I have no attachment to the wall either way but don't want to live with a partially demolished wall in my front yard.

This is in Brooklyn NY, we share a common wall as these are brick row houses, and I don't have a friendly relationship with this neighbor.

I have thought about contacting a lawyer in the past about the rear fence/decking patio issues because when I'm ready to put up a fence I will need to have them remove the parts that are on my property (I'm unwilling to cede the property that they've encroached upon which varies from a few inches up to about a foot and a half) and want to be sure that I do it all properly.

I've been avoiding dealing with it because it's stressful and I don't want to throw fuel on flames on an already not great relationship, but it looks like i need to knowledge up on fence law.
I'm not even sure what type of lawyer would deal with this, all the RE lawyers I've seen tend to deal with sales and closings.
Any recommendations for attorneys that deal with this type of thing are also highly appreciated.
posted by newpotato to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Contact a lawyer. Avoid no more. Most general practice lawyers know about these issues.

You may have a right to keep the wall in place if it has been there long enough.

In general, talking it over with the neighbor and coming to an agreement on these issues, if possible, is always better than taking it to the courts. But you want to have legal advice as you discuss it with the neighbor so that you're not guessing on the legalities.
posted by megatherium at 6:39 AM on June 20, 2019 [7 favorites]

Best answer: These are all issues that you should talk to a knowledgeable lawyer about. Don't think of the lawyer as "someone to sue the other guy". Think of a lawyer as "someone to help me understand the rules."

There's a thing called Adverse Possession that in some cases gives a person the right to continue using a property that they have used and improved without objection for a certain number of years. However, there are many details to how it works and local regulations, so it's important to understand the details by talking to a local attorney.

You and your neighbor both have reasons to want to work this out amicably. You are each encroaching on the other's property. There is no good reason for this to turn into a fight. But the first step is understanding the facts.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:04 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You think you are avoiding dealing with it because it’s stressful—but you are dealing with it anyway because it’s actively causing you stress, right? So instead you’re just prolonging the stress.

You want to look for a property lawyer rather than a real estate lawyer.
posted by sallybrown at 7:15 AM on June 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

Best answer: This would most likely be a prescriptive easement rather than adverse possession the way most people think of AP (i.e., OP isn't trying to make a claim to the property itself), but, yes, you need to consult a property lawyer. There's a lot of finicky details involved and it's extremely fact-specific. By consulting a lawyer you aren't committing to a lawsuit, you're preparing to go into negotiations with the necessary information. Such a consult shouldn't be excessively expensive.
posted by praemunire at 7:55 AM on June 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One of the reasons to get a lawyer is so you have a professional worrying about it for you. Get a property lawyer. You can do this through the New York City Bar website.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:55 AM on June 20, 2019

Best answer: Get together, hire it surveyed, get in line on the property line. Remember there are also some easements like several inches along fences. Send them a personal letter make a plan. Tell them you both need to save legal fees and keep decent relations. In the end you have to abide by the survey with or without the attorney.

Make the deal to keep civil, first.
posted by Oyéah at 8:52 AM on June 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Photos, measurements, more photos, lawyer will want them.
posted by Freedomboy at 8:55 AM on June 20, 2019

Best answer: Also, when you talk to the property lawyer, you have a good place to negotiate from--each of you is encroaching on the others' property. So perhaps there will be a solution in there like they pay to demolish the whole wall and you pay to rebuild it IF they also remove the stuff in the backyard that encroaches on your property? Just an idea. Good luck!
posted by purple_bird at 10:24 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "I have no attachment to the wall either way..."

Why not just demolish the wall (or let them pay to demolish it)? Is it because then they get their property back but they also still have yours?

Personally these people sound like nightmares.
posted by Brittanie at 11:41 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Having engaged in epic legal battle over a few inches of property (for Reasons) I highly recommend negotiating something with them. You want their fence moved, they want your ugly wall gone, both of you are willing to spend some money to accomplish parts of the task, this is all very promising. A lawyer may help.
posted by sepviva at 4:20 PM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

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