We're usually completely blind to who our neighbours will be, or who we'll be renting property from, until we've moved into a house or apartment or business premises. And by then, it's too late too avoid the neighbours or landlord from hell.
There are 4 key legal steps you need to take to survive and thrive in a neighbour or landlord dispute over your property, regardless of whether you're an owner or renter.
Step One - Don't Escalate Too Quickly
As tempting as it might be, don't escalate the dispute by involving lawyers too quickly. This is the opposite of what I'd suggest in some other legal dispute situations like being charged with an offence or being sued. The reason to control escalation to the greatest degree possible is that most property dispute cases can be resolved with a little common sense. This isn't the case with lots of other types of disputes.
Embrace the "good neighbour principle" that anything you do on your property shouldn't harm your neighbour/landlord and his property, and insist upon your neighbour/landlord according you the same respect. Don't cut down your half of a tree on your property if it will kill the remaining half tree on your neighbour's property. Don't build a wall that will completely block all light to your neighbour's property. Don't aim an exhaust chimney directly at your neighbour. Don't make so much noise, at all times of the day and night, so as to drive your neighbour crazy. Don't make massive modifications to your rented premises without talking first to your landlord about the changes.
You might need to do some of these things in moderation in order to make proper use of your property, but showing the greatest restraint possible, and talking to your neighbour/landlord first, is most likely to avoid you being dragged to court and incurring legal expenses.
All these property owner/renter actions I've just mentioned have ultimately wound up in court. Some have spawned many court cases. But at the end of the day, judges have usually granted judgment in favour of the reasonable party and against the unreasonable party.
Step Two - Hire a Lawyer Instead of Self-Help Revenge
If your neighbour or landlord refuses to act reasonably, after you've tried to reason with him or her, then it's time to talk to a lawyer so you can better know your rights, and perhaps have your lawyer talk to your neighbour or landlord's lawyer.
This is NOT the time to engage in self-help, and get revenge against the unreasonable person. You won't be doing yourself any favours if the matter later winds up in court through your acts of self-help revenge - even if they feel very good at the time.
So cutting down your neighbour's tree after he cut down your tree, flooding your neighbour after she flooded you, breaking into your rented premises after your landlord locked out all need to be resisted. Instead, hire a lawyer and sort it out through negotiation or in court. That's the only way to get a permanent fix.
Your lawyer will tell you what you can permissibly do in the interim. The other way of self-help is a path to police involvement. And trust me, you don't want that. I've seen it often enough, and it ain't pretty.
Step 3 - Document, Document, Document
Property disputes are a whole lot more tangible than other kinds of disputes. You can touch property. You can feel the earth being fought over beneath your feet. Touch the wall that your neighbour should never have built across your driveway. Smell the absence of that tree that should have never been cut down. Finger the padlock that should have never been placed on the front door of your business.
As a result there are usually lots of documents and photos that you can create or gather to demonstrate to a court why you're in the right and your neighbour or landlord is in the wrong. Step 3 involves painstaking gathering of evidence. Avoid she said/she said competitions of credibility, and focus on absolute truths that you can prove through hard evidence.
Take lots of photos - preferably before and after the start of the dispute. Pull out a survey or commission a new property boundary survey. Dust off those land title or lease documents, or have your lawyer conduct a diligent title search for you. Make some videos. Write out an extremely detailed chronology of events and give it to your lawyer - the more dates, names, places and details, the better. Collect witness statements. Your lawyer will probably want to draft up a sworn affidavit for you for later presentation to a court, attaching lots of exhibits, and will need lots of provable detail to create a compelling affidavit.
STEP FOUR - Figure Out Your End Game Early
Think carefully early on in the dispute about your end game and what you will settle for out of the property dispute. Avoid demanding monetary damages if you're in court - they'll trap you into a lengthy trial of proving who owes who what, and how much is owed. You could be stuck in court for years, and the legal fees could outweigh any damages that are ever awarded. And then you might find collecting those damages to be impossible.
Ask yourself: what will best restore me to the position I should have been in? New trees? An adjusted property line? A quieter neighbour? A landlord who leaves me alone to run my business? Then work with your lawyer to figure out what legal means will get you to that point of resolution.
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