What can you do when a neighbor keeps trespassing on your property?
There are many things to consider with this question and the right course of action may vary depending on the situation. Here are some specific scenarios and the steps you should consider taking for each:
General Guidelines for dealing with Trespassing Neighbors
Below are some general guidelines for resolving these kinds of issues that apply to all of the specific situations.
In general, there are some high level guidelines that you should consider if you want to solve the issue with the least degree of conflict:
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
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.
Understand the city ordinances that may apply.
In many cases, city ordinances govern the issue at hand. You should be aware of the ordinances and the specifics of what is considered a violation before attempting to contact the police. To see the ordinances for your city, you can lookup:
City ordinances are usally posted on the city’s website. Use this tool: http://www.city-data.com/ to find your city’s website.
https://www.municode.com/ for municipalities
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. 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 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.