What to Do When Nightmare Neighbors Complicate Your Home Sale

Your crazy neighbors have been bugging you for months. They don’t maintain their yard. They’re loud and stay up too late. Their dog barks any time you go near and leaves smelly “presents” too close to your fence.

It is one thing for you to put up with this. But now that you’re getting ready to sell your house, you are concerned that their bad behavior may sabotage the sale. What can you do?

Play Nice, at First

“It is much better to solve a problem with a neighbor without initiating a lawsuit,” recommends New York lawyer David Reischer. Although his advice might go against his professional interests, he believes resolving neighborly issues without filing a lawsuit or involving a lawyer is the best way to go.

“Bringing a lawsuit against a neighbor for sloppy upkeep, loud pets or general bad attitude is the last resort. A court will never provide you the remedy you are looking for in a timely manner,” Reischer said.

If there are actual damages involved, Washington, DC, lawyer Thomas J. Simeone says lawsuits can be filed in an attempt to recover financial damages caused by unruly neighbors, such as those related to broken windows or fences. The court also could be asked to issue an order prohibiting similar conduct in the future.

However, Simeone notes, “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.”

Instead of going to court, both Reischer and Simeone suggest trying to work out a solution with the neighbors in a friendly manner.

Simeone recommends taking a series of steps, beginning with the least confrontational option first. “Start informally and move toward 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,” he suggests.

Offer Your Services – it’s Good for Your Bottom Line

Chad Dannecker of San Diego real estate firm Dannecker & Associates proposes simply offering to clean up the neighbor’s messy yard. “Because a poorly kept yard next door can lower your house’s sale price, it’s important to take care of the problem quickly,” he said. “Your best bet is to go ahead and pay for the cleanup yourself or offer to do it because it saves you money and a headache in the long run.”

For loud or unruly neighbors, Dannecker suggests asking them to quiet down or putting in landscaping that softens noise levels.

Appeal to your neighbors’ interests

Melissa Zavala, who owns Broadpoint Properties in San Diego County, notes that neighbors who own their home have a vested interest in making sure homes near them sell for top dollar. “You may be able to discuss the situation with them or offer some sort of incentive for them to get the issue resolved,” she said.

If, on the other hand, the neighboring property is a rental, Zavala advises contacting the owner or property manager to ask for help. “Here again the owner has a vested interest in the value of the neighbor’s property when sold,” she said.

What if No One’s Home?

What if the neighboring property is abandoned or in foreclosure? Then the advice changes a bit.

Reischer notes that third-party contractors or absentee owners are often forced to obey all laws, including following local zoning restrictions and land covenants. These laws often require homeowners to take the look and feel of the neighborhood into account; if the neighborhood is filled with neat landscaping and manicured lawns, a sloppy yard will especially stand out.

“A person interested in purchasing your property may decide not to buy if they have knowledge that your neighbor is a problem; they may be more forgiving to derelict third parties that are not on the premises every day,” Reischer said.

It can be worth filing a lawsuit in these situations because, accordingly to Reischer, “Courts will also be more likely to provide real remedies against developers and owners of abandoned or foreclosed properties than they would for a trivial squabble between neighbors.”

Romeoville, IL, lawyer Mazyar Hedayat recommends reaching out to municipal officials. “Call the city first. Since the subprime mortgage crisis, municipalities have developed programs to maintain foreclosed or abandoned properties by cutting the grass, checking the piping and wiring, etc.”

He also encourages calling the bank that holds a foreclosed home to insist it maintain the property. Property title records held at the county, which should be open to the public, include the latest mortgage and foreclosure documents.

Enlist help and tread carefully

Dannecker and Zavala also suggest enlisting the help of a city or county code enforcement officer. “Municipal property inspectors can check the property and determine what needs to be done,” Dannecker said.

But, Zavala warns, “Whatever you do when selling your home, if you’ve got tough neighbors, you need to tread very carefully. One wrong move and they could totally sabotage one’s ability to sell for top dollar.”

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This post is authored by Cynthia Flash, who owns Flash Media Services, specializing in writing, editing and public relations.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.