How Can You Protect Yourself When Building Close To The Property Line Of A Difficult Neighbor?

If you're finally making concrete plans for a long-awaited garage, shed, or other exterior structure, you may be excited about finally getting down to business on your big project. However, before breaking ground, you'll need to take several steps to ensure that your new building complies with local codes and regulations. These preparatory steps are even more important if you're planning to build your outbuilding close to the property line that separates you from a difficult neighbor. Read on to learn more about the steps you should take before engaging a contractor, as well as what you can do to help neutralize any tensions that may arise between you and your neighbor during this project.

What steps should you take before breaking ground?

Your first step should be to make sure you truly own the land on which you're planning to build. 

If you can already spot stakes or markers on the borders of your property, that's good news -- it means there's likely already a survey on record. In most cases, you'll likely be fine to use these stakes as evidence of property lines -- but when you're dealing with a difficult neighbor, it's often best to contract a land surveyor simply to take a quick look and ensure that nothing is out of order. Your land surveys specialist  will look at the physical description of your property on record with your county recorder and compare this to the GPS coordinates of the placed markers to make sure this description remains accurate.

This step is important not only for documentation purposes upon the resale of your home, but to give you legal protection. Encroaching as much as an inch over the property line could give your neighbor a viable cause of action against you in small claims court -- and could even require you to completely tear down your new building. An updated land survey is an inexpensive way to give you peace of mind.

Your second step involves ensuring that your structure is legal and compliant with all applicable local building codes. For example, some jurisdictions require all homeowners to secure a building permit and pay for an inspection before making improvements over a certain dollar value to their home. Failing to abide by your local regulations could render your building technically illegal -- which can harm you upon resale (as "illegal" improvements can't be used to value a home). Violation of these regulations could even subject you to fines in some areas.

You'll want to contact your local housing and building authority to talk to an expert on the specific permits and inspections you may need for your project. Although cities, counties, and towns generally set their own building codes, most are based on the federal model building codes. Because some particularly crabby neighbors have been known to contact local authorities to complain or question legality when a construction project begins near their home, by proactively contacting your area's agency yourself, you can help field off any potential complaints.

How can you neutralize a nasty neighbor while building near a property line?

Building near the property line is a situation in which an ounce of prevention truly is often worth a pound of cure. Even if you and your neighbor have a rocky relationship, talking to him or her before you begin the construction process can go a long way toward making relations easier. You may be able to negotiate daily construction start and end times to coordinate with when your neighbor won't be home, or arrange to have construction debris placed in an area that isn't visible from your neighbor's property. You might also want to ask whether there's anything else you can do to help minimize the disruption the construction might have on your neighbor's quality of life. These simple questions and attempts at accommodation should be able to engender cooperation from most difficult neighbors while you're working on your new building.