As a homeowner or business owner, do you know your property rights? How do you stop property encroachment? In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about this legal issue and your rights.
How Do You Stop Property Encroachment?
How Are Building Lines Determined?
All properties in the United States have imaginary lines running parallel to their borders along the property’s interior. These building lines are a few feet from the actual boundaries. The town planning organization determines the position of building lines through legislation.
To determine the building lines for any property, you’ll need a copy of the zoning certificate, available from the town planning department in your municipality. To make sure that your property records are accurate, you may need to hire a land survey to verify the property boundaries.
Understanding the Building Line Violations
If a structure is over or inside the building lines, this constitutes a violation of town planning laws governing the property. Homeowners can report these violations to the town planning department, obliging them to investigate the issue.
Suppose the investigation concludes a violation of the law. In that case, they must enforce it by instructing the offending property owner to move and demolish their structure to comply with the building lines.
Encroachment on Your Property
If you’re a homeowner and your neighbor’s property is over or inside the building lines, you have recourse against them. Worse yet, if the neighbor decides to build over the borders between the two properties, essentially building on your land, this action is an encroachment on your property.
The same rule applies to neighbors building their roofs or balconies over your land, intruding on your space. This action is unlawful, and unless you give the neighbor written permission to do so, they violate the building lines and the law.
Unfortunately, the municipality cannot assist in the process of removing your neighbor’s structure from your property. However, they can instruct them to do so. It’s important to note the municipality has no jurisdiction over these disputes from a position of encroachment.
However, property owners can take legal action against the offending neighbor and compel them to remove the structure using a court order. The municipality can assist you with this process, but it’s usually faster for homeowners to find a lawyer and do this part themselves with the attorney’s assistance.
Suppose the municipality finds your neighbor violating the building lines and town planning laws, thereby finding them guilty of property encroachment. In that case, homeowners can apply to the court for a demolition order.
Slightly different principles will apply to the unique situation, depending on the law used to justify the structure’s demolition. However, in most instances, the principles are the same, resulting in the same outcome of the court issuing the demolition order to the neighbor.
Many people assume the court won’t order the structure’s demolition because of the potential of the owner suffering potential hardship, however, that’s not the case. In addition, some homeowners assume that if they build legal structures in an illegal manner that’s in violation of building lines, they might get away with the court not issuing a demolition order, but that’s not the case either.
When can the courts order demolition?
A court can and will order the demolition of structures in violation of town planning laws, whether partially built or completed. If it violates the law, they have a duty to act and protect the victim of the property encroachment issue.
The court may act against the offending party if they fail to remove the structure after being ordered to do so. The financial loss endured by the offending party to the matter doesn’t disqualify the court from enforcing the law where it is required to do so.
The court can, however, have discretion over the order, requiring the law-breaker to pay the victim compensation instead of ordering the structure’s demolition, where appropriate.
The court decides each case based on its merits. It assesses the issue at hand and makes a ruling based on all the facts presented in the case.
Cases involving property encroachment may become difficult for the average homeowner to navigate. To safeguard your interests, especially in circumstances where your property value is affected by the encroachment, you’ll need to seek legal assistance to settle the matter.
If you’re not getting the advice or assistance you need from the local municipality, an experienced real estate attorney can guide you through your legal rights and recourse against your neighbor.
Additional Information: Nebraska Revised Statute 76-851; Easement for encroachment.
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