DISCLAIMER: As a friendly reminder, this post is meant for educational purposes and is not intended to be construed as legal advice. When considering the question, “Can I sue my neighbor for lowering my property value?” HomeLight encourages you to reach out to a real estate attorney or other professional advisors regarding your personal situation.
When you take the time and effort to care for your home, it can be upsetting having to look at a neighbor’s unkempt property every day.
It’s even more concerning if you’re planning to sell your home soon, for a neighbor’s property in poor condition can negatively influence a buyer’s decision to purchase your home and even lower your home’s property value.
You don’t have to sit idly by, however, and hope prospective buyers pay no attention to the eyesore beyond the fence line. There are steps you can take to potentially improve the situation. And if all else fails, taking your neighbor to court may be an option.
To arm you with the best advice on this subject, we consulted a leading real estate agent and a veteran real estate attorney.
We’ll start with what determines a home’s value and then move into how a neighbor’s property or actions can impact that value and what you can do to eliminate or at least mitigate the problem.
What determines home value?
Many factors play a role in determining the value of your home.
There are those you can influence and those out of your control.
Factors you can influence
- Condition of your home: Home appraisers rate the condition of a home based on the amount and degree of repairs identified. If well maintained, even older homes can score a high condition rating.
- Upgrades and updates: Every time you make a permanent improvement on your property, you’re essentially writing a check to yourself for at least a portion of that improvement’s cost. This return on investment (ROI) pays out if you decide to one day sell your home.
- Presentation and pricing strategy: Even an attractive home can wither on the vine if the pricing and presentation are off. Too many days on the market can gradually devalue a home, as can poor staging. These are areas where having an expert real estate agent can really pay off.
Factors typically out of your control
- The state of the economy (even politics)
- Interest rates
- Supply and demand (inventory levels)
- Location (neighborhood)
- Age of your home
- Disasters (natural or man-made)
- Market cycles (consumer and investor behavior)
- Zoning regulations
- Generational shifts
- Real estate comps (comparable nearby properties)
An easy way to get a preliminary idea of what your home is worth is by using an online home valuation tool like HomeLight’s Home Value Estimator. The algorithm calculates your property’s ballpark value using historical transaction data and some specific information you provide about your home.
How can my neighbor’s property or actions affect my home value?
Unfortunately or fortunately — depending on your neighbors — the value and condition of nearby properties along with their comparable home sales data and history can play a role in determining the worth of your home. Your neighbor’s actions or inactions can also impact the estimated value of your property.
Any of the following can be considered characteristic of a bad neighbor:
- Excessive noise
- Manufacturing or selling of illegal drugs
- Substance abuse
- Aggressive or unsupervised pets
- Unauthorized or free-running livestock
- Registered sex offenders
- Neglected lawns, excessive weeds
- Collection of junk
- Mounds of trash
- Fire danger caused by neglected maintenance (no defensible space)
- Unsightly paint or dilapidated exterior
- Violation of HOA regulations
- Zoning violations (conducting a business, subletting, burn pit, etc.)
Even if an appraiser doesn’t dock your home’s value due to the condition of your neighbor’s property, prospective buyers may not wish to pay top dollar if they’re concerned about who they’ll be living next to.
Linda Williams, a top-selling real estate agent in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who sells properties 50% faster than other agents in her area, can recall a few instances where a neighboring home to one of her listings had a clear impact on her ability to sell the property.
“I have had one or two people that liked the home, but didn’t like the neighborhood or didn’t like the neighbors,” she says. “You don’t necessarily want to spend $300,000 and then stare out your window while you’re doing your dishes and see trash piled up at the neighbors.”
Can I sue my neighbor for lowering my property value?
There are ways to sue a neighbor in connection to lowering your property value, but successfully doing so is highly dependent on the circumstance and how you approach the situation.
For a lawsuit against your neighbor to carry any weight, you must first build a solid case.
“You want to be able to show that you’ve tried everything else to resolve the matter,” says Robert Pecharich, a real estate attorney and senior partner with Boyle, Pecharich, Cline, Whittington & Stallings P.L.L.C. in Prescott, Arizona. “You’ve tried to be reasonable. You’ve tried to get the government involved. You’ve tried to get people to clean it up, and you’re just out of options.”
To ensure a favorable outcome for you and your home’s value, consider taking these initial steps before resorting to legal action.
1. Talk to your neighbor
This is your first line of defense. Not everyone will be receptive to others telling them how to manage their property, but you don’t know until you try.
Additionally, if you end up going to court over the matter later on, you’ll have to show you made repeated attempts to speak with your neighbor about your concerns. This will require documentation, so keep a paper trail of everything you do, whether that’s time-stamped phone calls, text messages, or emails.
Depending on the state you live in, you may even be able to record your conversations with your neighbor without their knowledge. This is known as “one-party consent” and is legal in 36 states. Any evidence of this nature can help your case.
2. Offer to help with the cleanup
Lending a hand may be all that’s needed to spur progress. This can be especially true if all you’re concerned about is the neighboring property’s exterior appearance: Trash strewn about, abandoned car parts in the front yard, overgrown weeds, paint peeling from the home, etc.
“It might not be that they don’t want to take care of [the mess],” Williams says. “It might be that they’ve become elderly or disabled or there’s no one there to take care of that stuff.”
Even if you don’t want to do the work yourself, hiring someone to touch things up may pay off if it helps your home sell faster or for more money.
3. Contact local or state regulatory agencies (Is there an HOA?)
If your neighborhood is governed by a homeowner association (HOA), then reporting your concerns should be as easy as writing an email to the HOA’s members and perhaps speaking at the association’s next meeting.
If that’s not an option, then you can try contacting your municipality and see if there are any ordinances, codes, or zoning regulations they can enforce. A common code states that grass or weeds on any property cannot exceed a certain height (i.e. 6 inches or 12 inches).
“Even small towns will have a code enforcement officer,” Pecharich says. “They might wear several hats, but they’re charged with code enforcement and they’ll actually go out and inspect the property and take photos.”
4. Build a physical barrier
Rather than convince someone to change, it may be sufficient to construct a physical barrier to block your home’s view of the neighboring property. This is commonly done using fencing and/or some form of vegetation.
5. Band together with other neighbors
Several voices are usually louder than one, so teaming up with other concerned neighbors to combat the problem property can increase the likelihood of a positive outcome for you and your home’s value.
This may entail reporting similarly-timed and targeted complaints to a regulatory agency or agreeing to all file small claims suits.
6. Can a nuisance law apply? (Suing through nuisance laws)
Suing someone in small claims court for being a nuisance is a common form of litigation when dealing with a bad neighbor.
There are both public and private nuisance laws. A private nuisance occurs when an individual party is unable to peacefully use or enjoy their property due to another’s actions. An example is your sleep being disrupted because your neighbor’s dog incessantly barks through the night. If the problem persists after you’ve spoken to the neighbor about it, you can sue.
“If someone is conducting a nuisance next to you, you don’t sue for damage to your property, you sue for the nuisance,” Pecharich says. “You go to court and ask the judge to create an injunction to prevent whatever the nuisance is.”
The same general principles apply to public nuisance laws. The defining difference is a substantial group of people must be negatively impacted by another’s actions. This might come into play if a neighbor is found to be selling drugs from their home. If multiple residents in the area file small claims suits citing the safety concerns associated with this behavior, then it may be classified as a public nuisance.
Pecharich says there is usually a higher chance of success in court if a neighbor’s property is creating some sort of health and safety hazard versus just being unsightly.
“Health and safety is given a higher priority,” he says. “So if you have old tires sitting around and they’re getting full of rain and mosquitoes are breeding, that’s a more likely situation where you might get an injunction that requires a person to fix that situation, as opposed to there being old metal parts rusting on the property and visually it’s not very attractive.”
7. Temporary restraining order
Disputes with neighbors can get heated and may even lead to verbal or physical threats. If you’re on the receiving end of such behavior, you may want to consider filing for a temporary restraining order.
“It has to be severe and it needs to rise to a level of seriousness where judges will want to get involved,” Pecharich says. “Doing all those things we just talked about helps to show that you’ve tried and it didn’t work.”
Put a champion real estate agent in your corner
Though it’s possible, successfully suing your neighbor for lowering your property value is difficult to accomplish. The alternatives to legal action often resolve the matter and may save you time and money — and help you avoid confrontation.
“The court is full of more serious cases than the guy next door not keeping his yard up, so judges don’t like to see those kinds of cases,” Pecharich says. “It distracts from the really important cases, so you’re much better off trying to get it resolved on the local government level.”
There’s also no guarantee that a bad neighbor will in fact have an impact on your home selling for the amount you want. A good way to find this out is by working with an experienced real estate agent who can evaluate the situation and come up with a good selling strategy.
To connect with a top-performing, proven agent in your area, try HomeLight’s Agent Match platform. The free online tool analyzes millions of transactions and thousands of reviews to determine which agent is best for you based on your needs.
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