What to Do When a Neighbor Damages Your Property
Sometimes, accidents happen. One day you may wake up or come home to damage to your property, and perhaps your neighbor caused it. Neighbors can be your best allies and trusted friends, or they can be a nightmare when causing noise, not taking care of their property, or damaging your land or home.
But before rushing to knock on your neighbor’s door, it’s important to calmly evaluate if the kind of damage you find could really be the fault of your neighbor. Is your neighbor liable? Much will depend on the circumstances that lead to the damage.
Frequent Types of Damage
Not all damage to your property will be the fault of those living next door or perhaps above you if you reside in an apartment complex. Yard or window damage can be the result of inclement weather and the fault of no one.
Typical property damages caused by neighbors include:
- Windows broken by children or pets
- Pavement damage due to emerging tree roots
- Damages caused by construction work at your neighbor’s house
- Fence damage from trees, vegetation, or activities next door
- Roof damage due to falling trees from the property next door or unsecured objects during stormy weather
- Garden damage by children or pets
- Excrements left on your property by neighbors’ pets
- Water damage from flooding next door or above you if you live in a condo or apartment complex.
These kinds of damages are generally unintentional and accidental.
What to Do When You Discover Damage
Evaluate the damage you find and prepare an accurate description of what exactly occurred. Photos of the damage should be part of your documentation. Be sure to include the date and any incidents that took place before the damage appeared. If someone witnessed the damage, get a statement.
If you feel that vandals have caused the damage, you will need to report it to law enforcement and file a police report. This is important even should you decide not press charges. A police report may prove to be a deciding factor in an eventual court case.
What to Do When the Property Damage Is Caused by a Neighbor
The first thing to do is talk to your neighbor, because he or she may not even be aware of the damage caused. If you do not have a good rapport, put your complaint in writing otherwise, try these steps:
- Choose a reasonable hour to approach your neighbor and remain calm, be sympathetic, polite, and patient while explaining the damage suffered.
- Request that your neighbor accompany you to where the damage is to verify and evaluate repair necessities.
- Verify if your neighbor is insured or in the case of a construction company if the company is. Ask your neighbor if their home insurance covers damage to third parties. A neighbor may decide it’s not worth it to make an insurance claim and pay out of pocket. You too, may also be able to make a claim to your home insurance provider and then your provider will recover costs from your neighbor’s insurance company. It’s important to verify if either of you have home insurance policies that cover the kind of damage you suffered.
- Advance a proposal for the necessary repair compensation. You should have estimates that reflect an accurate appraisal of any necessary repair work.
If your neighbor appears uncooperative, consider mediation by an accredited third party such as a property manager, a condominium board, or similar. You might find a resolution to the situation without pursuing legal action.
If your neighbor indicates that he or she will not reimburse you for damage, send a registered letter requesting compensation. Letters should include detailed information about the damage including the date and photographs as documentation. If you have already spoken with your neighbor, cite this in your letter. Specify the compensation amount you want and express hope that you will not be required to take further legal action.
What If I Can’t Prove My Neighbor Caused the Damage?
To submit either an insurance claim or pursue legal action, you must prove that your neighbor is responsible for the damage. Hard evidence is crucial to the success of any request for compensation or claim to an insurance provider.
What Happens If My Neighbor’s Insurance Provider Refuses to Pay Compensation?
Even if you can prove your neighbor caused the property damage, an insurance provider may refuse payment if the damage was caused by negligence or poor maintenance on the part of your neighbor. In these cases, your neighbor will need to pay for the damage himself.
Pursue Legal Action for Unintentional Damage
If your neighbor remains uncooperative and refuses to reimburse the damage despite attempts to talk or mediation by a third-party, and if there is no response to a written complaint, take your case to court. If everything else has failed, legal recourse may be the only option that remains.
To pursue legal action, you will need an attorney, or if you don’t have the budget for this, you will have to file a complaint in small claims court.
This means completing all the necessary paperwork and getting a court date. Remember, that laws will differ from state to state. In Arizona, you can only make a claim against another party for damages if the amount is less than $3,500.00. In California, for example, you can claim for a dispute up to the amount of $10,000.
When pursuing legal action, you’ll need all available supporting documentation including a description, witness statements, photographs, and anything that can support your claim. If you suffered more than just property damage, such as lost wages or pain, these aspects should be included in your case documentation.
Appointing an attorney may be costly, so evaluate if the cost of reparations is more or less than the cost of a lawyer. If you have suffered costly, extensive damage, selecting an attorney may be your best option.
When Damage Is Malicious and Intentional
If you have a tumultuous relationship with the folks next door, and your neighbor purposely damages your property, this action will most likely be a criminal offense. If you have reason to believe that the damage was done intentionally, you need to contact the police.