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Neighbors Who Sabotage a Home Sale

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 your property.

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.