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 purchase the property themselves.
In any one of these cases, it can be a huge obstacle for a home seller,
and many times it can involve illegal activity. Is there anything that
can be done about such sabotaging neighbors? Depending on the situation,
there are some options for recourse.
Legal Remedies Against a Meddling Neighbor
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 are:
Trespass: When the neighbor physically enters upon your property – directly
or through some object.
Nuisance: When a neighbor unreasonably interferes with your use 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. In addition, you may be able to 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 your property.
Should I Hire a Lawyer If I Choose to File a Lawsuit?
Of course, 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 troublesome 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 call 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.
Consider the following order:
- Start with a conversation
- Write a letter
- Notify the county/police
- Ask your lawyer to send a letter
- 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.
Address the Issues As Soon as Possible
Overall, the lesson to learn is to deal with trouble neighbors quickly
- long before you seek to sell your property. 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
If you have found yourself in this situation and would like to speak with
an attorney, we invite you to
contact Simeone & Miller, LLP. Our Washington DC injury attorneys would be happy to review your case.