They say good fences make good neighbors. While this still holds true, with urban and suburban living, fences aren’t the only things to consider. How well someone gets along with their neighbors can greatly affect the overall quality of life.
The first thing to consider is the actual property itself. When purchasing a home, make sure you know the actual boundaries of your property. It is important to not just look at the deed. Have your agent or closing attorney do a title search on the property to make sure you know exactly where your property begins and ends. This should turn up any hidden issues such as registered easements. It can also identify encroachments as well as ensuring clear title. In some cases, you may even want to have a survey done. Once you have good documentation, it should be referred to whenever altering the property. You need to make sure that new storage shed or deck addition isn’t creating any encroachment onto neighboring property (or theirs onto your property).
In Louisiana, if a fence sits across a property line for too long, it can actually change the boundary. State law allows what’s called acquisitive prescription. That means if you hold a piece of property for 30 years, it becomes yours. That fence or shed sitting on your land could result in your neighbor owning a chunk of your property.
Neighborhood associations are formed to address problems like crime or poor services. Some have more informal events like block parties or group yard sales. These are great ways to get to know the people who live around you and become more engaged in the community. They can also be another source of conflict. Some associations will have strict rules about the outside appearance of your home or yard. In some areas, membership is even forced on residents. It is good to know what the rules are before you move into a neighborhood, and whether or not you are comfortable following them.
You should also know how binding the rules are. Are the guidelines mandated through zoning, or are they more of a suggestion? Your local neighborhood association can be a great asset or a giant pain. Make sure you know what you’re getting into when you buy into that new subdivision.
Association rules may require you keep the appearance of your property a certain way. In more upscale neighborhoods, if you don’t pay attention to the length of your grass and shrubs, and remove old vehicles or keep them out of the public view, the association may fine you or report you to local authorities. Most municipalities will have ordinances governing this. Make sure to be familiar with these ordinances. Also, Baton Rouge and New Orleans both hold the homeowner responsible for maintaining the sidewalks in front of your home. Homeowners are liable for injuries as a result of negligent disrepair.
Yard maintenance–or the lack of it–is often a source of conflict. In addition to regular mowing, some yards require edging or shrubbery trimming. Trees on one person’s property can damage adjoining lots through overhanging branches or roots. Overhanging branches can be dangerous. Root systems, if left unchecked, can crack the foundation of a home. When planting new trees, plan for how large they’ll be when mature. Proper maintenance isn’t just about manners. If the tree is your responsibility, you can be liable for damage done to a neighbor’s property from things such as untrimmed branches.
Of course, neighborhood disputes can still happen. If conflict simply can’t be avoided, first try to work it out with the neighbor. Neighborhood associations sometimes can help find an intermediary to resolve property-related disputes.