Sometimes a neighbor tries to prevent a fellow neighbor from selling their
house. They could be acting out of spite, to prevent someone new from
moving into their neighborhood, or to be able to purchase the property
themselves. In either case, it can be a huge obstacle for a home seller.
Is there anything that can be done about such sabotaging neighbors?
The general rule of law is that the remedies against a neighbor are the
same whether you are selling your home or not. The two primary causes
of action you have are trespass and nuisance. Trespass is when the neighbor
physically enters upon your property – directly or through some
object. Nuisance is when a neighbor unreasonably interferes with your
usage of your property (for example, loud music, debris, late night parties).
If the sabotaging neighbor has committed a trespass or created a nuisance,
you can bring a lawsuit for either cause of action and seek to recover
any financial damages you incurred – for example, broken windows,
fences, etc. – and also ask for a court order prohibiting any similar
conduct in the future. If you seek damages for a lost sale, that would
be hard to prove – after you prove the neighbor violated the law,
you would need the potential buyer to testify that they would have bought
the property at a certain price, but for the neighbor. Even then, judges
may be reluctant to force the neighbor to pay for the loss of a sale,
but instead may limit damages to financial losses you incurred in repairing
Obviously, a lawsuit requires you to hire an attorney and takes time to
work its way through the court, so if you are thinking of selling your
property and have a trouble neighbor, it is best to deal with the situation
before you list the property for sale and begin showing it to potential
buyers. Also, before filing suit, you have other options that may solve
the problem without the expense of litigation. For example, you could
write a letter to the offending neighbor, either personally or through
a lawyer, asking them to cease the offensive conduct.
In addition, you can all the county or town officials and report the neighbor.
However, the government is limited to enforcing regulations and cannot
order the neighbor to fix every unsightly issue. Finally, you can call
the police if the neighbor has late night parties or is taking actions
that put you or your property at risk. Usually, the best method is to
start informally and move towards more assertive means of seeking redress.
Start with a conversation, then a letter, then notify the county/police,
then have a lawyer send a letter, then file suit.
Finally, there is a possible exception if you think the neighbor is intentionally
trying to prevent you from selling your property. Each jurisdiction generally
has a cause of action for “intentional interference with contractual
relations” or something similar. Each state’s laws on this
will vary and the remedy may not be available everywhere, but it allows
you to bring a claim against a person who “wrongfully” interferes
with a contract or business relationship you have with another person.
You have to prove that the neighbor’s conduct was “wrongful,”
not merely inconvenient and not legally justified. You also have to prove
that but for the neighbor’s wrongful conduct, you would have accomplished
the sale. Even then, it is hard to see what remedy the judge would order.
He or she could order the neighbor to buy the property, but that is extreme.
Overall, this is a long shot to be kept in mind, but not relied upon as
a primary means of recourse.
Overall, the lesson to learn is to deal with trouble neighbors quickly
- long before you seek to sell your property- and start informally and
increase the seriousness and formality of your communications if the bad
conduct persists. Following these two guidelines will allow you to stop
the offensive conduct sooner (and hopefully before you list your property
for sale) and also avoid ruining a relationship by being too aggressive
than is necessary.