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
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.
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.
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.
Posting "No Trespassing" Signs
While it may seem like this wouldn't be necessary, most area laws require posting a "No Trespassing" sign 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:
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.
Getting the evidence
You will also want to have proof of the behavior for either criminal or civil cases. 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.