My neighbor comes into my yard and damages my property
When your neighbor repeatedly trespasses on your property and causes damage, here are some recommended steps that you can take:
Try to understand why your neighbor is doing it.
Neighbors who come onto your property with the intention to damage your property are a special case. Firstly, they are actually commiting more than one crime. In addition to trespassing, they are also either commiting vandalism or destruction of property. The main question is, why are they doing it? Are they angry with you? Are they retaliating for some offense (percieved or real)? Are they doing this to other neighbors or have you been singled out? If you aren't sure, it is definitely worth asking a couple of neighbors that you are closer to and trust not to spread word around that you were asking. Be very careful not to be too negative or say anything that you wouldn't want to get back to the offending neighbor. Remember that anything you say can be used against you in the mind of the offending neighbor or the neighborhood as a whole.
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 a good thing to do early on 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. Again, a neighbor that damages your property has a higher likelihood to resort to violence; so make sure you approach a neighbor that is trespassing and damaging your property more carefully than you would other issues.
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 cost you money? 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.
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 they are unaware
Assume that they are unaware of that what they are doing is a problem unless you are absolutely sure that it's malicious. Often, conversations between neighbors can be 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.
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, more pleasant conversation- only returning back to the topic if th ey do. If the discussion with your neighbor doesn’t yield results, you will need to consider your options for escalating to the next steps.
Contact your neighbor in writing.
The first escalation should be to formalize your request in writing. Be polite but direct about what you want them to stop doing. Reference the original verbal conversation and the date you had it; and ensure that the date you are sending the letter is noted on the letter itself. Keep a copy of the exact letter sent to them.
Post “No Trespassing” signs
While it may seem like you should not have to, it is a legal requirement to post “No Trespassing” signs in many areas in order to legally inhibit it.
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. 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. Saying something to the effect of, “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.
Contacting the Police.
You will want to avoid a, “your word against theirs” situation when calling the police. Firstly, you need to keep a log of your neighbor’s behavior(s). This can be done electronically or on paper. You will also want to have proof of the behavior for either criminal or civil cases- with a neighbor who trespassing AND damages property you likely have both civil and criminal charges. 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, and I would highly recommend this option for this situation, involves the use of hidden outdoor cameras to catch the person in the act.
Seeking legal advice.
Lastly, you should consider seeking out legal advice from an attorney that specializes in this area of the law. For this scenario, it’s likely that a Property Attorney would be the best choice. Your attorney can begin with a letter from their office on your behalf demanding that they regard the property boundaries. They can also help to submit a restraining order requiring your neighbor to remain outside of the boundary lines of your property.