Book Recommended To Help Property Owners

Here’s a great book designed to educate property owners about their fences.

I like this book because it helps the property owner know their rights, resolve long-term tensions and difficult situations enabling them to take legal action if when and if they need to.

The book is called Neighbor Law Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise by Attornies Emily Doskow & Lina Guillen. 

Here’s an exerpt from the book:

Foreword

Like it or not, we’re all neighbors—and we ought to get better at it. With good neighborly relations, you can live more safely, comfortably, sociably, and happy.  Human beings, after all, are not solitary creatures like cats; we’re a sociable species, made for each other’s company.  And in a period of our history when many of us live alone, or are single parents, a lack of good neighborly relations is likely to make life lonely, dangerous, and expensive. The best periods of my own life have been when I lived on small streets where everybody knew everybody.  We picked up each other’s papers and mail; we loaned each other tools—and returned them immediately knowing the ill will generated by irresponsible borrowing habits.

Good neighbors share other things too: wisdom, time, vegetables, old car parts, you name it.  They also share surveillance of their neighborhood.  Neighborhood Watch programs are wonderful not only because they deter criminals, but because they get people together in the process of drawing up a neighborhood map and picking a block captain.  Often, they go on to have block parties and clean up days and work together to get the attention of city hall.  But even citizens who know each other just informally and therefore tend to keep an eye on the street and on each other’s yards and houses are an enormously more effective force against crime than the police can ever be.  They make it possible for small children’s lives to be freer of constant parental supervision; they can keep some rein on obstreperous teenagers.

Being neighborly doesn’t mean poking you nose into your neighbor’s life or business (unless you’re asked, of course, and even then, you should be cautious).  There’s a fine practical line about privacy and noninterference that people have to learn to recognize.  One of the best neighbors I ever had put this in a wonderfully wise way.  We were confronting at the time a neighbor who had serious mental difficulties; she had, in fact, just come out of the mental hospital.  She began tossing bottles off her porch to smash on the street at 2 a.m., while playing loud music through her open door, and one day she threatened some children with a hammer.  For my neighbor George, that crossed the line.  “What people do in their houses is their own business,” he said, “but when they come down on the street, it’s everybody’s business.”  (We organized a sizeable neighborhood delegation to call on the woman’s psychiatrist and discuss the problem, and it got resolved.)

The magnificent positive potential of good neighborly relations, of course, is too seldom uppermost in our minds.  We all tend to concentrate on the plentiful horror stories about neighborhood conflicts. But it seems to be wiser to expect decent relationships with your neighbors; there is something about the very expectation that makes it more likely to happen.  To be sure, there are in this world people so antagonistic, spiteful, bothersome, irresponsible, or otherwise impossible to live near that no amount of rational foresight, flexible negotiation, or even capitulation can bring their neighbors peace.  Faced with such a situation, you have only the two alternatives of moving (which I would recommend) or trying to make their lives even more intolerable than yours, so that they move; this will not improve your character, and it probably won’t work either. Luckily, such extremes are rare.  The ordinary run of neighbors presents an ordinary range of human delightfulness and orneriness; and most people share a quite natural desire to live in a state of reasonable peace with their neighbors.

This desire is far more likely to prove effective if you know not only the commonsense human rules of treating other people decently, but also the specific laws that govern how neighbors (when push comes to legal shove) must treat each other.  In neighborly relations, as in any other area of life, only an idiot goes to the law when friendly—or even not so friendly—negotiation and compromise are likely to solve a problem.  Indeed, applying the law may “settle” a question between neighbors but in the process permanently embitter not only the contestants but other people who live nearby as well.  It is also, of course, costly and chancy and likely to bring out the worst in everyone. 

But knowing the law can help all concerned to arrange reasonable solutions to neighborly problems in informal channels, either personally or through meditation.  People sometimes behave with great certainty that the law is on their side and are surprised to find the situation is more complicated.  What, for example, do you think you can legally do to a neighbor’s tree branch that overhangs your property, or with the fruit hanging on it?  As I was astounded to learn, different legal rules apply; you had better know them before you get out your saw—or, more wisely still, discuss the situation with the neighbor before even thinking about the saw.  Or suppose a neighbor’s teenager is using a garage for rock band rehearsals; what exactly can you do about it, short of cutting the electrical wires?

This book lays out calmly and sensibly what everybody needs to know about such legalities of neighborhood life.  If you tend to be a little hot-headed, it will cool you off.  If you tend to give in on things too easily, it will strengthen your resolve.  Read it and use it, remembering that what we all really need in our dealings with neighbors is not legal triumph or revenge but sanity, fairness, and peace of mind.

Ernest Callenbach
Berkeley, California

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