Should I Report My Neighbor’s Property to Our Local Code Enforcement Agency?

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We own 13 acres that adjoins a 7 acre parcel. There is not a home on either parcel. Our neighbor doesn’t maintain hit property. We also share a driveway and he doesn’t share in the upkeep of this. He has also dumped garbage in his barn from his “Garbage Pickup Business,” avoiding dump fees, and creating nasty flies, gnats, and a horrible stench in the summer. He has also removed wood from the sides and all of the the tin from the roof of the barn, creating a huge eyesore. In addition, he is 5 years behind on his property taxes, and has seemingly disappeared. We are unable to get any information or help in this matter from the county. We have continued to maintain his property along with ours just so snakes, etc. don’t encroach upon our property and so it isn’t horribly ugly. We are also in the process of cleaning the dumped garbage out of his barn for sanitary and safety reasons. Our dilemma is: we cannot build a house until we come to terms with him regarding the garbage and we cannot in good conscience, sell our property with a knowledge of these ongoing issues. We have tried to call him and reached a non-working number. We have written several letters stating that we would like to buy the property at a fair price, clean it up, and pay the back taxes. All these letters have been unanswered. It just doesn’t seem “fair” or legal that our property is unusable and unsaleable because of negligence on our neighbor’s part. We would love to buy this from the county or our neighbor. What are our options?

[NOTE: Articles and answers on DearEsq., while written and published by lawyers, do not constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is formed by your reading of this information. You should always consult with an attorney for any legal situations.]

There are two separate issues here: the problems between you and your neighbor, and the problems between your neighbor and the county (or other applicable government). The uses your neighbor is making of his property may be a violation of local codes, which often prohibit dumping or other similar activities. If your neighbor is doing anything which is against code, there should be a code enforcement office or similar whose job it is to enforce those laws. You can report your neighbor to them.

Second, if your neighbor isn’t paying his property taxes, there should be some procedure in place for the county enforcing that. Unfortunately, given the dollar amounts involved, that procedure is often simply putting a lien on the property and waiting for it to be sold. However, at some point the county may foreclose on those tax liens, so find out what would trigger a foreclosure sale. If it does get foreclosed, you could purchase the property at the foreclosure sale.

As between you, beyond what the local codes provide, neighbors don’t generally get to control what their neighbors do on their land –unless it is causing a trespass or nuisance. In your case, both the insects and the odors would probably qualify, at a minimum. The problem is, if you sue for this and win you would get an order for your neighbor to abate the nuisance, which is only useful if he’s there to comply with the order.

One practical suggestion would be to track him down, possibly by hiring a private investigator. Once you find him, you may be able to start a productive discussion, and if not, then you at least have him located to sue.

Another would be to sell your property. I know you said you wouldn’t want to do this, but there may be a buyer willing to take the risks if you fully disclose the nature and extent of the problem. Of course, that will likely reduce your sale price.



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Author: House Attorney