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Need Advice ASAP! Neighbors doing work on our property

12 days ago

I happened to be working from home today and heard someone next door doing construction work. I didn’t think anything of it and looked out the window an hour later to discover they were jackhammering a retention wall that is on our side of the property line. When I went outside to ask him what he was doing, the contractor basically told me I should just be grateful and that the wall looked terrible. He said he’s replacing bricks, but Idon’t know if he’s damaging the structure. We just moved in and haven’t met those neighbors yet, and they aren’t home. Any advice on how to handle this? The contractor kept working since he was already paid for the work by our neighbors.

Comments (40)

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    Are you absolutely certain the work/demolition/whatever is being done on your property? And can confirm that with survey markers or property line indicators?

    If so, you are well within your rights to tell them to cease all activity on your side of the line immediately until you have a chance to speak with your neighbors and clarify what is going on.

  • mkincaid10

    Yes, I have the property survey and took it out to show the guy. Since I’m a woman, I couldn’t possibly know what I’m talking about, and he was a condescending jerk. He continued the work after I left.

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  • badabing2

    Pictures, document what, when, and where. You may need this later to get resolution. And call his boss assuming you can. And talk with the neighbors asap.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    Tell him he is trespassing, does not have permission to be either on your property or working on an element of your property and if he doesn't cease and desist immediately, your next call will be to the police.

  • mkincaid10

    Thank you all. This is our first house and completely uncharted territory for us. Unfortunately/unsurprisingly, this guy is driving an unmarked truck. I have pictures of his license plate and him physically doing the work.

  • ci_lantro

    told me I should just be grateful and that the wall looked terrible. He said he’s replacing bricks, but Idon’t know if he’s damaging the structure.

    May be that he is right? Post some pictures of the wall & bricks.

  • bpath reads banned books too

    But he shouldn't be on their side of the property.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    And he should not be doing anything without their permission!!

  • PRO
    GN Builders L.L.C

    On the general note if the wall on your property and he is doing whatever to it without your permission that is trespassing and destruction of property.

  • roccouple

    I’d call the police

    As for your neighbors there may be a genuine misunderstanding. I’d talk to them as soon as possible. Dont agree to any work you are not comfortable with. Say you need time to think or consult With someone

  • Mrs. S

    If you can’t communicate with the neighbors immediately, it seems like a police matter.

  • functionthenlook

    I wouldn't let them do any more until you are able to get this straightened out with the neighbor. They sound like jerks to begin with since they never consulted you with what they wanted to do with YOUR wall. Is the whole wall on your property line? You need to see at least the plan and permits. What would happen if you don't like what they are replacing it with or it's crappy workmanship.

  • PRO
    JudyG Designs

    Call the police. Simple as that.

  • lafdr

    I would try to resolve it with the contractor and neighbor before calling the police unless you personally feel physically threatened.........Do you have pics?

  • PRO
    Revolutionary Gardens

    The cops will probably tell the contractor to stop work and get off the disputed property, but beyond that they're probably going to call it a civil matter and tell you to resolve it that way. You definitely need to talk with the neighbor because most people have NO idea where their property line actually is. I've had people tell me "it goes all the way back to the creek" when actually, no, the line is 200 ft closer to the house.

    Talk to the neighbor and see if they'll split the cost of having a surveyor come out and set stakes at the property corners. If they won't split it, tell them to stop work while you get the survey done. Follow up in writing so you have a paper trail.

    There are things your neighbor should have done and things their contractor should have done, but that's a whole other issue.

  • ci_lantro

    I suspect that the OP was mistaken as to where the property line is. (The fact that the OP has not posted the outcome strengthens my suspicion.)

    Yes, I have the property survey and took it out to show the guy.

    Because a sheet of paper is no substitute for actual in-ground markers.

    And because it is hard to imagine the neighbor paying for improvements on property they do not own...absent the possibility that the neighbor has no idea where the property line is...

  • mkincaid10

    Apologies for not replying again yesterday - I had to go to work and then salvage our evening plans.

    “I suspect that the OP was mistaken as to where the property line is... Because a sheet of paper is no substitute for actual in-ground markers.”

    We had the land survey done when we moved into the house. It’s an old neighborhood from the 1950’s, and we know ownership of structures like fences and retaining walls is not always obvious. We wanted to know what we would be responsible and liable for if anything happened. Short of paying to have it done again, I’m not sure what more we can do to prove the property line.

    The retaining wall was (hopefully still is?) structurally sound and safe, but it needed some cosmetic work. It was on the list of things to fix over time since it was not causing harm or in danger of collapse. After we moved into the house, we discovered a lot of deferred maintenance issues from the previous owners that we needed to address immediately, so landscaping and this retaining wall took a backseat.

    Unfortunately our neighbors appear to be out of town for the long weekend. We are assuming they have no idea that the actual wall is on our side of the property line. There are two small walls on their property that join the main wall in two places, but the work the guy was doing was on our portion. The worker left about an hour after I confronted him, and he left everything unfinished with bricks scattered around. At this point we are keeping an eye out for our neighbors’ return so we can talk about this. Thank you all very much for your advice, and I will let you know how this turns out for those who are interested.

  • Sammy

    Is the guy self-employed? Hopefully you made a copy of his driver’s license and his business card, insurance, etc., before he left.

  • mkincaid10

    I still don‘t know his name or his business. He wouldn’t give me any information because I didn’t hire him. I’m hoping to get that information from my neighbors.

  • kitasei

    I hope you aren’t left with a job that now needs completing st your expense. Good luck. The first year in a new house is always the most difficult. May you come out friends who can look back and laugh at this some day!

    mkincaid10 thanked kitasei
  • Stax

    " Because a sheet of paper is no substitute for actual in-ground markers"

    You're kidding! Ground markers and stakes get moved all the time. A Notorized Land Survey is what is registered with your deed - not "in-ground" marker holes and posts. Indeed, the Land Survey is actually typically part of the deed!

    mkincaid10 thanked Stax
  • Izzy Mn

    Your neighbors are responsible and liable for the work since they are the ones that hired him. But you can tell him to get off your property.

  • ci_lantro

    Stax, yes, the wooden stakes that surveyors leave can get moved around & discarded. I'm talking about the below ground iron stakes that were confirmed when the survey was done on my property. Those are what I rely on, not a drawing. I suppose someone could move them with a lot of effort but for what purpose, I don't know.

    Anyway, this sounds like miscommunication, misunderstanding that could have been handled a bit better. By asking questions, getting in contact w/ the neighbors. I would think the masonry guy would have had their contact information. It sure doesn't sound like he showed up for any nefarious reasons. I hope it turns out for the best and everyone will be able to laugh about this at some later date.

  • cat_ky

    Are you sure, that the neighbors hired him? Seems, odd, they would schedule work to be done, and then be gone for a few days, and not be there to make sure that things are done right. Could it be, the person was at the wrong address, even?

  • Stax

    Your property's deed is comprised of a Paper Plan recorded duly in a Government Location - not wooden or iron stakes in the ground. The Deed determines the property boundaries. There are no iron stakes in my jurisdiction - deeds are registered to include Plat Plans, etc.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    In almost all cases and certainly in suburban subdivisions, deeds are based on surveys. The deed with have a legal property description included (metes and bounds or lot and block) and that is based on an actual physical survey from a known fixed point. The survey marker(s) is just may not be visually apparent and there may not be similar markers on each individual property.

    If property lines are unclear or in dispute......or if the survey is old and possibly outdated - the lender financing the purchase will often require a new survey be completed. And these will be staked or formally marked.

    A deed itself does not determine property only reports what they are known to be. And that is established by a survey.

  • mrykbee

    Is the retaining wall holding your land up or the neighbor's? Who sees the face of the wall?

  • pls8xx

    A quality survey will show all improvements on or near the property line and depict the location of the improvement relative to the property line.

    If the old survey did not show the wall on the survey plat, it has limited value to determine ownership of the wall.

    Most of the things said here about deeds, surveys, property lines, and corner monuments have just enough truth to get a land owner in trouble.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    As someone who deals with surveys on a recurring basis with landscape design clients (not to mention a previous career as a real estate lender), I have never seen any survey that that shows any site improvements (infrastructure maybe). That is not their intent and they are often executed long before any improvements - including structures like a house or any retaining walls - are initiated. Their only purpose is to delineate property boundaries.

    If the wall is within the property boundaries, there is no question of ownership!! If it straddles the property line, then the issue of ownership is up for some discussion.

    " Most of the things said here about deeds, surveys, property lines, and corner monuments have just enough truth to get a land owner in trouble. "

    Ain't that the truth!! The above is case in point :-)

  • pls8xx

    Standards from .....

    American Land Title Association Minimum Standard Detail Requirements

    American Congress on Surveying and Mapping

    For ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey

    In part ....

    C. Lines of Possession, and Improvements along the Boundaries

    i. The character and location of evidence of possession or occupation along the perimeter of the surveyed property, both by the occupants of the surveyed property and by adjoiners, observed in the process of conducting the survey.

    ii. The character and location of all walls, buildings, fences, and other improvements within five feet of each side of the boundary lines, observed in the process of conducting the survey.

    As someone who has been recognized by the court as a professional witness, I have often testified in real estate cases. I stand by my earlier statement.

  • jmm1837

    Where I live, the property description on a title deed is not sufficient to prove where the boundaries are. A survey conducted by a licenced surveyor, and registered with the state authority, is definitive (with or without boundary markers. ) If the OPs survey says the wall is entirely on her property, then it is, and she has every right to stop the contractor and confront the neighbor. Some surveys here do show structures, but their presence or absence on the survey map is not relevant to how boundaries are determined as I understand it.

  • kentc

    I can imagine that a land survey for the purposes of subdividing a piece of property would not have any improvements listed in it since it is done before improvements are made. But we had a survey done when we moved into our house prior to extensive remodeling and that survey showed every improvement, down to chain-link fences, porches and brick pathways in the garden.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    A survey was just done on my property last fall in preparation for subdividing adjacent undeveloped properties and because we are on a private road, there were questions about where existing boundary/property lines were located. All the completed survey showed were property boundaries. NO improvement were delineated at all.

  • PRO
    Revolutionary Gardens

    A survey plat is a snapshot in time. In a perfect world we're given a survey that's less than two years old and shows the existing conditions listed by pls8xx. Once or twice I've even gotten one that had the trees located (I almost passed out from shock). But the survey is only going to be accurate for the conditions at the time that survey was recorded with the county. If a homeowner gets a survey done, then gets an addition built along with a new driveway but doesn't get a new survey done, then what the county has on record only shows what it shows - the original footprint that was recorded.

  • pls8xx

    A deed is not proof of ownership, but rather evidence of ownership to be considered with other records, physical evidence found on the ground, and actions by the owner and adjoiners.

    No surveyor or government official has authority over land boundaries. Surveyors can only issue an opinion based on their study of official records, physical evidence, and reliable history of owner actions. No owner is bound by a surveyor's opinion, but courts often rely on the evidence uncovered by a survey to settle a boundary case.

  • beesneeds

    I wonder if the OP's neighbors came home.

  • jmm1837

    Ipls8xx - you state that " No surveyor or government official has authority over land boundaries." That's far too blanket a statement. It may be true where you live, but not where I live.

    Here, a survey conducted by a licensed surveyor is registered with the government and regarded as being considerably more than just an opinion: in the absence of a competing survey, it is considered definitive. The actual surveys where I live are based on objective data measurements (GNSS, etc), not on usage, so I'm not sure that previous owner history or the existence of fences is particularly relevant.

    Of course, historical surveys are known to contain errors in measurement. The methods and equipment in use 80 or 100 years ago were not nearly as accurate as modern techniques, so there are disputes over where the boundaries actually lie. If there are two surveys showing different boundaries arising out of these historic errors or inconsistencies, or if there is a single survey highlighting an area of conflict, then in such cases, there is specific legislation in place allowing the government here to decide on the correct property boundaries. So yes, governments, or at least some of them, do have authority over land boundaries.

    This is a different issue than "adverse possession," in which the real boundaries, as defined by an objective survey,have been encroached upon by the neighbor. That's more an issue of whether the neighbor has in fact acquired part of someone else's land simply by long-term occupation, and it's up to the courts to rule on that (assuming, of course, there is such a thing as adverse possession in the jurisdiction - it doesn't exist everywhere). If the court rules in favor of the encroacher, then the land is transferred, the boundaries change and the new survey, done by a licensed surveyor, will reflect the new boundary lines.

  • toxcrusadr

    Geez you all have gone down the rabbit hole on this one. "In the absence of actual information from the OP, let's all start arguing like a Real Estate 401 class!" :-D

    It would be helpful if the OP could simply post a scan of the survey.

    Unless the neighbors and the guy in the unmarked truck showed up and she's, you know, part of the retaining wall herself now. LOL

  • pls8xx

    The OP stated a situation lacking the information for the forum to suggest a viable course of action. That didn't stop members from trying to help.

    This forum is not made up of lawyers and surveyors. And even they couldn't help without the needed information. I do admit I made a mistake in trying to point out misinformation. Correcting people on the web is better not started because it's a never ending battle.

  • jmm1837

    toxcrusader - I don't think the OP needs to post the survey. She has it, she says the fence is inside that property boundary, so the only advice to give is about what should she do next. And what she should do next is quite clearly stop the contractor until she's spoken to the neighbor, and if that means calling the cops, then that's what she should do. It would seem to me that the onus is now on the neighbor to prove the fence is on his property or on the boundary, since she has a survey showing otherwise in hand.

    The point here is that the property line seems to be in dispute, the only known evidence is a recent survey in favor of the OP, so no one should be messing with that fence until the neighbor presents evidence to the contrary, if he has any. Arguing what evidence carries more weight in court only matters if it ever actually goes to court. Most disputes don't. Either the neighbor accepts the OPs survey and drops his plans, or the neighbor hires his own surveyor, with the very real possibility that it will simply confirm the first survey. I've seen plenty of situations in which an argument is settled pretty quickly when two licensed surveyors come up with the same survey results.

    If there's an argument about adverse possession, that would end up in court, but the advice would still be the same: stop all activity on the site until the situation has been resolved.

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