We as Americans are very particular about having enough elbow room. We strategically pick our seats on public transportation so we don’t have to sit next to anyone. We get weirdly territorial over the armrests in movie theaters and in airplanes. And we keep strangers between two and four feet away when engaging in conversation.
Usually this is fine and dandy. Everyone pretty much gets it. But once in a while you’ll come across someone who doesn’t quite grasp the concept of personal space. Someone will sit directly next to you on an empty bus, or stand eight inches from your face to tell you a riveting story about her grandma’s hip surgery. These too-close-for-comfort situations are annoying at best.
As a homeowner, you may find yourself in a similar situation. In this case, your personal space is the land on which your house sits. Unfortunately, your neighbors won’t always be as respectful (or aware) of your boundaries as you’d like them to be. In real estate, this is called an encroachment. Simply put, an encroachment is when your neighbor builds a structure that intrudes on (or over) your property.
This could happen if your neighbor constructs a shed that creeps a few feet into your backyard, or installs a fence or builds a deck that extends over your property line. When this happens, you have a couple of options.
A.) Say nothing. If it doesn’t bother you, you can choose to keep the peace with your neighbor by letting it roll off your back. However, when you decide to sell your home, your attorney will have to disclose the encroachment to potential buyers.
B.) Talk to your neighbor. In a perfect world, he’ll be understanding and move the structure back onto his turf. Resolving the issue out of court will save you a boatload of money. This is obviously ideal for everyone involved.
If you select option B, there’s a chance things won’t go as smoothly as you’d like. If your neighbor refuses to move the structure, you can consider selling the encroached-upon property to your neighbor (please consult your mortgage lender before doing this), or you can take him to court to get rid of the encroachment. Choose your own adventure.
Now let’s take a look at easements. Basically, an easement is a legal arrangement made between you (the property owner) and someone else (your neighbor or a utility company) that allows the non-owner to use your property in some way. For example, you may grant an easement to your neighbor if she needs to cross over your land to get to her house. Or, your city’s water company may have an easement to run pipes under your property.
When it comes time to sell your home and you have an easement in place between you and your neighbor or another third party, it’s up to your attorney to advise any potential buyers of the easement. It will be up to the buyer to decide whether or not they can deal with how the arrangement affects the usage of the home.