What can you do when a neighbors kids leave their toys in your yard?

Kids will be kids; but you do expect that your neighbors are teaching their kids to respect other people's property.  When those lessons aren't happening at home, kids tend to sprawl their play area to adjacent yards.  Especially when dealing with kids, it's important that you not overreact.  While it's true that you don't deserve to have your yard treated as though they own it, responding too aggressively is the best way to do permanent damage to your relationship with that neighbor and lose the sympathy of your other neighbors and the authority.  Here are some steps that you can take to try to get what you really want- having your property respected- without losing your cool, your ethics and respect in the community.

 

Know where the property line really is

Before you take any action, you need to be absolutely certain where your property ends, where your neighbor's property begins and where any easements are.  If you are unsure, you can check with city records or have a formal survey done.  Don't trust realtor drawings- inaccurate relator drawings are the common reason for escalated disagreements in this space.
 

What if we disagree about where the boundary is?

If your neighbor believes that a portion of your property belongs to her, you will need to have a formal survey done to establish those facts. Try to avoid being confrontational in this if at all possible. In many cases, a bad drawing by the realtor who sold one of the homes is at fault; it is best to acknowledge that this could be the cause (a drawing given to either you or your neighbor). Your neighbor may believe through faulty evidence that they are right about where the property line ends; and it’s possible that you have done the same. An effect way to broach the subject might be, “I see why you believe that; but I have reason to believe that the document they gave you is incorrect. Doing a survey is a sure way to find out what the right answer is- would you want to split the cost of the survey to get to the bottom of it?”. Your neighbor may or may not wish to split the cost of the survey. Offering the option of splitting it should sound like a way to work it out together (not a punishment for disagreeing with you); and a way of ensuring that they be a part of choosing an impartial third party. Make sure that the surveyor has no affiliation with either you or your neighbor to avoid any accusation of an inequitable survey.

 

Have both of you present during the survey, if at all possible.

As the surveyor stakes out the property lines, take some digital photos (wide) of the stakes to guard against any chance that someone would move a stake. By the end of this process, you should have a drawing and physical markers that definitively show where the property lines are- leaving little room for interpretation.

 

Never, ever (ever) yell at the kids

As an adult, it is so easy to fall back on the authority that you are an adult and they are a child that it's tempting to just yell at them- particularly if you catch them in the act.  You need to show restraint.  In today's society, it's really never ok to yell or in any way show aggression to another person's child.  Even if we put aside the notion that it is an unethical thing to do (and it is); it is a strategic and tactical mistake that will cut off your ability to get the situation resolved.  Initial conversations aside, all of your escalation options depend on societal sympathy for your situation- don't throw that away just to feel the fleeting emotion of "giving them a piece of your mind".  I might suggest that you not go so far as talking to the kids at all; but it is ok for you to politely ask older children to remove items from your yard and to please not put them there again.  

 

Too much sweetness isn't good, either

With the advice to not be the "bad guy" in mind, it might be tempted to try to swing the pendulum the other way.  You may hearken back to when you were a child in a different time and the nice neighbor who would occasionally give the neighborhood kids baked goods or cold drinks on a hot day.  While you definitely do want to be nice to the kids, the world view on neighbors and children has changed.  You at best would be viewed suspiciously by many of your neighbors with a move like this and at worst could give a child with a food allergy the wrong treat.  Even if none of those things happen, you have effectively invited the children onto the very property that you will be making the case that they shouldn't be trespassing on.  In short, leave the kids out of it and try to deal almost exclusively with the parents.

 

Talking to your neighbor about the issue.

It’s likely an uncomfortable thing to do, but talking to your neighbor about the situation is usually the best start and often resolves the situation completely without need for further escalation or expense.  

When should you NOT have the discussion?

If your neighbor has a history of overreacting, volatility and especially reacting with violence or retaliation; you should reconsider trying to interact with them one-on-one about the issue. With neighbors like this (or similarly negative personality traits), you should trust your instincts. 
 

Why you SHOULD have the discussion

Most people, however, prefer to have an issue brought to them directly first. Not giving them a chance to respond to your concern before escalating can permanently damage the relationship between you. At times, skipping this step can create a permanently adversarial relationship that can escalate over the years. Even if the initial conversation isn’t effective in resolving the issue, giving the person a chance to resolve it before any escalation is the right thing to do and can:
  • help you avoid future issues with just a conversation (because they know that you will escalate), and
  • will help your other neighbors understand that you are just interested in resolving the issue and not “that neighbor” who calls the police or an attorney at the drop of a hat.

 

How to have an effective discussion with your neighbor

Try to think about how, if the roles were reversed and your neighbor had to talk with you, how would you prefer they handle it with you? In every part of this discussion with your neighbor, you need to keep your focus on resolving the issue with the least amount of conflict possible.  

 

Make sure you aren’t over-exaggerating the issue

Be sure that the issue at hand is worth the potential bad feelings it can create with your neighbor. Assuming that it is, ensure that you have the right perspective on how serious the issue is. Does it cause you and your family harm? Does it reduce property values?  Is it a matter of mutual respect?  You should have clear reasons why you feel it is a problem and be able to concisely state them in the conversation

Non-aggressive setting

If you feel comfortable enough with the neighbor, invite them over for a drink or dinner. Let them know that you want to have a friendly conversation about something; but make it a little social. The action and your words in the conversation need to show them that you care about your relationship and simply want to resolve the issue at hand.

 

Assume that they are unaware of the problem

Very often, relationships with neighbors can become permanently strained because there is an assumption that the offending neighbor is intentionally creating a problem; when they are, in fact, unaware that what they are doing is an issue. Bringing it to their attention without asserting malicious intent can often lead to a faster resolution and a better relationship going forward.

 

Avoid one-upmanship

The conversation is about finding a resolution, not winning an argument. Do not engage in tit-for-tat responses or allow yourself to be pulled into unrelated conversations about other issues.

 

Once you get agreement, stop

Particularly if they agree rather quickly in the conversation to correct the issue, be sure to not drone on about it. Thank them for understanding and move on to other unrelated conversation- only returning back to the topic if they do. If the discussion with your neighbor doesn’t yield results, you will need to escalate to the next steps.

 

Talk to the landlord

If your neighbor is renting their property, you can have the discussion with their landlord. In many cases, the landlord will be interested in keeping a good relationship with the neighbors as escalations to police or attorney’s will involve them. More savvy landlords will have clauses written into the leases that help to ensure neighborly behavior from their tenants.
 

Posting "No Trespassing" Signs

While it may seem like this wouldn't be necessary, most area laws require posting "No Trespassing" and "No Parking" signs in order to enforce the law.  There are many styles of signs that range from inexpensive, basic signs to more expensive but more appealing versions.  Any will meet the posting requirement, but some will do so in a less offensive way.

Here are a few examples of "No Trespassing" signs:


  

Adding Obstructions

In many cases, adding an obstruction to the areas of your property that seem to be most vulnerable to trespassing can be a big help. While tall wooden or chain link fences are a clearly effective option, you can also consider more visually appealing options including hedges and decorative fences such as split rail. These options should be accompanied by “Private Property - No Trespassing” signs on the outside of the obstruction.

  

Contacting the Police

You will want to avoid a, “your word against theirs” situation when calling the police.  

Keeping a log

Firstly, you need to keep a log of your neighbor’s behavior(s). This can be done electronically or on paper. Here is a simple (free) example of what the log might look like:

 

Getting the evidence

You will also want to have proof of the behavior for both trespassing and vandalism situations. Using a standard security camera may act as both a deterrent (your neighbor knows that you are getting serious) and as proof of the behavior. An alternative (or in combination with a standard security camera) involves the use of hidden outdoor cameras.
 

 Here are a few of the more popular versions of outdoor hidden cameras:

 

 

Seeking legal counsel

Lastly, you should consider seeking out legal advice from an attorney that specializes in this area of the law. While websites like Bad Neighbor Advice offer practical solutions to minimize neighbor conflict, they are no substitute for professional legal advice.  For scenarios around trespassing, it’s likely that an attorney specializing in Property Law would be the best choice.

 

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