Note: The DearEsq free 'ask a lawyer' site is offered as a free informational service to the public and is not intended as legal advice. Laws vary from state-to-state, and in addition every situation is unique, and relevant facts may not be known. The answer to the question posed below may not apply to in your state or to your situation. For legal advice in your state and your situation you should consult with an attorney in your state who is familiar with the rules and laws in your state.
My home is accessed by a very long staircase between my house and my neighbor’s. To my knowledge, the stairs have been there since the houses were constructed in the late ’80s. Recently, my neighbor claimed that the staircase encroached (slightly) on her property. She removed the entire staircase without warning and claimed the foot traffic on the stairs was disturbing her at night. Since we reside in California, wouldn’t the existence of a prescriptive easement make her destruction of the stairs a criminal offense. When I asked the police to do something they refused, saying this was solely a civil matter. Was that the appropriate response?
Your neighbor was most likely in the wrong, both because of the likely existence of a prescriptive easement (as you correctly note), and also because if the staircase was only encroaching slightly, what was her justification for removing the rest of the staircase?
However, the police are also correct. Easements are a civil matter, not criminal. I suppose you could try to make an argument that she stole your staircase (which might be a criminal matter), but your most likely source of compensation will be the civil courts.
Or not a court at all. If your neighbor realizes she is in the wrong, you may be able to get compensated without having to sue. In my experience, the way this happens is that you hire a lawyer who contacts her, and when she goes to hire a lawyer in response, that’s when (if at all) she’ll get convinced. And if not, then you’re in position to sue.