Protecting My Property
March 9, 2004 8:57 PM   Subscribe

I know this isnt LegalAdviceFilter, but I need some opinions on ways of protecting my property from vehicles. (more inside)

My backyard fence borders on the parking lot of an apartment complex. Three times in the past five years (2001, 2002, and this past Saturday), someone has driven through the fence into my back yard.

I own the strip of land that the fence is on, but the fence technically belongs to the apartment complex. They've agreed to replace/repair the fence this time (we paid for it in 2002), and are investigating installing speedbumps to slow down the people who zoom through at 30-40mph.

My question is, am I within my rights to put something like large "decorative" boulders or concrete-filled-n-buried pipes on my side of the fence? If (more like when) someone does this again, I'd like to prevent them from ending up in my pool or in my bedroom, or running over my dog. However, I wonder about any liability I would be exposed to as a result of if I did this and someone then ran into it and got hurt/killed.

Again, I know this isn't LegalFilter, but any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.
posted by mrbill to Home & Garden (22 answers total)
I imagine that, if you were to do some landscaping in your backyard that involved boulders, it would be impossible for anyone to claim against you. It may be less clear if you were to put something that is obviously designed as a barrier, but I doubt it even then. Do you own enough of the land the fence is on to put some sort of barrier on the other side of the fence?
posted by dg at 9:17 PM on March 9, 2004

I would consider building something big and heavy on the other side of the fence, to slow down a speeding car considerably. Perhaps talk to the apartment complex management to move the fence a foot into your property to accomodate the barrier. If you own the land, you certainly have a lot of control over it.

Stop by your local town office to inquire with the zoning board on any restrictions.
posted by gen at 10:15 PM on March 9, 2004

It is very good that you have documented the previous incursions well. You may want to bring printouts of that to your zoning board to explain to them what you want to do and WHY you want to do it.
posted by gen at 10:17 PM on March 9, 2004

IANAL, I wonder if your house has been there longer than the apartments? This might make a legal difference. You may be able to force the apartment owner to build a real guard rail on their side, without moving the fence.

The fence is theirs, yet on your property. But your experience demonstrates a nuisance. If you were there first, you can argue they created that nuisance, so the remedy is at their expense.

Even if your house wasn't there first, it may still be their problem.
posted by Goofyy at 1:00 AM on March 10, 2004

What a mess. Glad everyone is okay, though.

I think you are well beyond your rights to install anything you want on your side of the fence. It's your property, so whatever landscaping you do is your prerogative. Check with the zoning board just in case and maybe mention the safety concern to the police. The police may get more actively involved or at least give you some suggestions.

I don't know how cooperative the apartment complex management is, but since this is a reoccurring happening, I wonder if they'd install a video surveillance system to monitor the area to catch the people doing it as well as give people pause about driving recklessly through the parking lot.
posted by jerseygirl at 4:17 AM on March 10, 2004

Everyone's writing as if common sense and the law are synonymous. They are not. Occasionally they coincide, often they do not.

You are talking about creating barriers that could (will?) predictably cause injury or death to the intruder. Maybe you're within your rights to do so, but wouldn't it be smart TO GET AN COMPETENT, QUALIFIED LEGAL OPINION before exposing yourself to that kind of liability?

I hate to become one of those Metascolds, but this is exactly the sort of thing that if things went real sour, could cause real blowback for Matt and others
posted by mojohand at 4:22 AM on March 10, 2004

If someone were hurt or killed, and an attorney for someone suing you were to find this post, you wouldn't be able to claim, "oh, those boulders were just decorative, I never thought that anyone might be hurt or killed" which could be very bad for you. I second mojohand's recommendation.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:44 AM on March 10, 2004

I just wanted to chime in with the chorus advising real legal advice and toss in anecdote.

I live on a lake in an area that likes to call itself "The Snowmobile Capitol of the East". When the ground is covered with snow it's hard to see exactly where the lake ends and yards begin and along the trails it's even harder to distinguish property lines -- so we put up orange safety tape to keep the sleds out of our yards. This gots ridden over, so we put it back up as needed.

My neighbor got tired of putting his tape back up so went with a piece of rope strung between metal posts cemented into the ground. As it turns out a rope can be hard to see at fifty miles an hour, in the dark, during a snowstorm --- whowoulddathunk?

When the inevitable happened and some guy caught the rope knocking him backwards off the sled (breaking his arm) while the sled kept going until it hit a tree (completely obliterating a $4000 machine) who do you think was in trouble? This was three years ago and last I heard he was still paying off the damages and not a day goes by he isn't grateful that the rope wasn't high enough to actually decapitate someone.
posted by cedar at 5:02 AM on March 10, 2004

I bet the liability rider is cheaper than a lawyer.

IANAIA (insurance agent), but I doubt that a liability rider would cover the deliberate installation of something that you know is likely to be hazardous. At the very least, be sure to read the fine print.

Even if you get around the liability issue, I think there's an ethical issue of whether something like this is appropriate. That may or may not trouble you.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:16 AM on March 10, 2004

I don't see what's wrong with it. It's your property. You should be able to put up whatever you want. I would be bouldering in a hurry.
posted by agregoli at 7:21 AM on March 10, 2004

You can't put just anything you like on your property. For example, if you know that damn neighborhood kids keep walking on your lawn, it is not acceptable to install death traps to catch them.

Budget $300 to talk to a lawyer. Ask him or her if you will be in your rights to build a nice, sturdy, brick wall.
posted by profwhat at 7:22 AM on March 10, 2004

I think there's an ethical issue of whether something like this is appropriate.


posted by goethean at 8:00 AM on March 10, 2004

Response by poster: I think there's an ethical issue of whether something like this is appropriate. That may or may not trouble you.

"Appropriate"? Preventing someone from running their multi-ton vehicle into my yard is appropriate, I'd think. Sadly, with the way things are nowdays, I'm worried about the "I didn't know there was a rock/pole/moat with lasers behind that fence! I ran into the fence and totalled my car! I'm going to SUE SUE SUE!".

What troubles me are the (twice now) people who have crashed into my fence, then quickly sped off before someone could get their license plate number. In 2002, they left part of a headlight. This past weekend, they left a drivers-side mirror and a couple of empty beer cans. It would be different if either time, the person responsible had accepted responsibility for their actions.

Unfortunately, I'd say at least 50% of the residents of the apartment complex are illegal immigrants who don't speak much English, and of course, "nobody saw anything" when you ask around. There were at least ten people standing around talking within a 200-foot radius of where the damage occured - until I brought out my camera to take pictures. Then, they all dissapeared.

At least, on Saturday, the maintenance guy for the complex came over, and in broken English, gave us his name, phone number, and then spoke to the police officer who came to take a report.

I just finished speaking (again) to the complex management about an hour ago - they said the fence should be fixed today.
posted by mrbill at 8:23 AM on March 10, 2004

Legal issues aside, perhaps it would be better to install something which will stop the vehicle while reducing the risk for harm to its occupants. Something like those barrels of water you see on the highways maybe. (I imagine there has to be something solid behind them.) Putting boulders where you know vehicle sometimes end up seems recklessly callous to me, unless that is your only choice for defending the lives of yourself and others.

You don't want to hurt or kill anybody, right?
posted by callmejay at 8:32 AM on March 10, 2004

can you not persuade the complex management to put a steel crash barrier or concrete posts or something their side of the fence? it sounds like they're being cooperative and if the people staying there do include illegal immigrants then i would have thought they'd prefer a solution that didn't involve the police being called out regularly (the mgmt need the rent, after all).

on the other side of things - as far as i know, it's not a crime to avoid photographs or speak with broken english, so i'd be careful about your attitude.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:02 AM on March 10, 2004

Response by poster: andrew: I don't have an "attitude", I just hate the fact that due to the likely-illegal-immigrant situation, there's a whole "environment of secrecy" and therefore the "nobody saw anything" when obviously people *did* - they just don't want to have to talk to any authorities. I realized later that I should have called a good friend of mine (a native Spanish speaker) to come over and translate and ask questions.

As for the maintenance guy, I was *glad* he came over and was willing to be helpful and give information. He's probably the person who will end up fixing the fence - he mentioned that this had happened a few houses down as well.

As far as crash barrier or concrete posts - the complex isnt likely to do this due to the *length* of the fence - it covers most of a city block (runs along behind 10-15 houses). So far it looks like the speed bump option is the best thing (and, as I've found out, *required* by city code). That will slow people down enough from zooming down the "alleyway" next to the fence at 40+mph.
posted by mrbill at 9:11 AM on March 10, 2004

Response by poster: Wife just called, the apartment complex guys showed up with a truck full of stuff and are fixing the fence. Yay!

Thanks, everyone, for your opinions and thoughts on this.
posted by mrbill at 9:17 AM on March 10, 2004

What an incredible drag, Mrbill. It looks like the lack of a curb is making it really easy for idiots to drive into your fence. What about getting those concrete curbs to assist drivers in stopping before they get to the fence? Or get the parking lot owners to get those concrete highway barriers? Those devices exist for that exact purpose.

If you have a pool, your awareness of the potential danger can make you more liable. You obviously can't ignore legal issues, but if you develop a common sense plan you can run it by a lawyer. I'd push the parking lot owners to share or completely cover these expenses, since their parking lot is the source of your troubles.

So, when's the big AskMeFi barbecue?
posted by theora55 at 10:37 AM on March 10, 2004

What if a car ends up in the pool and a person injured shows no one took preventative measures to stop it? As they could prove this had almost happened in the past more than once. You would be wise to research this further.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:47 AM on March 10, 2004

mrbill, again IANAL, but I have some knowledge of real estate law. First, consult a lawyer about this. But not because of potential liability to you. Do it because you (and possibly those other 10-15 neighboring homeowners)should be suing the apartment complex for negligence and encroachment.

You have a documented history of destruction by users (tenants or not) of their property yet the complex owner has done nothing to change the situation. Speed bumps may or may not do this but certainly your damages are real.

Second, you state the fence is on your property but "technically belongs to the apartment complex." When I was in MBA school and took real estate classes I came across a concept (the name of which I can't recall) that basically says if you knowingly allow a neighboring landowner to treat your property as if it's theirs for a long enough period of time, the neighbor can file a claim to transfer legal ownership. This is definitely a state law thing but probably worth checking out.

Third, WHY ARE YOU ALLOWING THEM TO BUILD AND REBUILD THE FENCE ON YOUR PROPERTY??? I can't think of one good reason why you should not tell them to go pound sand and build it on their own costly real estate.

All of these are reasons why this Bill would be calling a lawyer!
posted by billsaysthis at 11:50 AM on March 10, 2004

Oh, boy, this should be easy. IANAL, though.

Call the city and get the following:

- Rights to charge for parking and make the property a parking lot
- Bylaw enforcement signs
- Their ByLaw enforcement education course (so you can give out tickets).

Put up the enforcement signs, and a nice big one "$1,000 a day parking, minimum charge". Don't forget to ticket the car, add in a nice parking lot concrete bumper slab (and yellow lines) and you can make some really easy money. Oh, along with the ticket, I might suggest taking a few polaroid pictures...
posted by shepd at 12:45 PM on March 10, 2004

Response by poster: Well, they "fixed" it this afternoon, and here's the result.

I've taken pictures (obviously) and I'm calling the apartment complex's parent company tomorrow to discuss the terrible "repair" job and see if they're willing to fix it properly.
posted by mrbill at 4:33 PM on March 10, 2004

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