What To Do When a Neighbor Damages Your Property
No one wants to be in a situation where their neighbors damage their property. Whether the damage was intentionally caused or the result of unfortunate circumstances, action still needs to be taken to protect and repair your property.
Learn what steps to take in this difficult situation today.
Property Damage: How is Damage by Neighbors?
Protecting your home from natural disasters is one thing; protecting it from other individuals is another. Neighbors causing property damage is more common than most people think. From vandalism to construction gone wrong, there are many ways that property damage occurs.
Neighbors can accidentally cause damage to your home. Imagine they are having their pool serviced or otherwise landscaping their property. Equipment brought in for the repairs may damage your yard. Flooding caused by burst pipes or faulty pool setups can flood your basement or cause other damage.
These situations are accidental, but the neighbor may still be responsible for covering the cost of repairs. Accidental situations are often the easiest to handle. Talking to the neighbor about covering the repairs may be all it takes. However, there will still be cases where you need to escalate the situation to your homeowner's insurance or court.
It’s also important to carefully consider where the actual liability may lie, as not all circumstances will be clear-cut. For example, let’s say your neighbor cuts a tree down on their property and, failing to take the necessary precautions or hire professionals, the tree ends up falling onto your roof, damaging your property. In this case, the likelihood is that your neighbor will be held liable.
Alternatively, if the damage to your roof occurs as a result of their tree falling down in a storm, it’s unlikely that they will be held liable for the damage and any resultant repair fees. Of course, there may be extenuating circumstances, such as you repeatedly requesting that they adequately trim back their trees or have an old, weak tree felled to avoid such damage; the point is that liability is not always as easy to determine and prove as you might think.
Is The Damage Intentional?
Intentional damage isn’t always done with malice. Something as simple as installing a fence on the wrong side of a fenceline causes damage to your property. Though your neighbor’s action of installing the fence would be intentional, they didn’t mean to cause harm.
In other cases, intentional damage is done to make your life more difficult. Bad neighbors exist and won’t always be willing to back down, even if you try to discuss your issues.
Stay calm and communicate respectfully
First things first, you should try to open up some respectful, calm communication with your neighbor regarding the damage. They may or may not be willing, but unless you feel unsafe to do so, you should ideally attempt to resolve it amicably.
When communicating with your neighbor regarding the damage, be sure to:
- Remain calm, patient, and respectful
- Be understanding but remain assertive regarding the damage and their perceived liability
- Show them the damage and discuss the cause of it calmly
- Discuss with them in a non-threatening way that you will be seeking compensation for the damage in order to cover the repair costs, and that it would be beneficial to both of you if you can negotiate a solution amicably
- If the neighbor is defiant, unwilling and/or becomes aggressive, do not push the issue in person. If they make it clear that they are not willing to be amicable, put all correspondence in writing to avoid direct conflict.
Covering the Cost of Repairs
Does Your Homeowners’s Insurance Apply?
Your neighbor needs to look into their homeowner’s insurance plan. Often, homeowner’s insurance plans cover damage to neighboring properties if the damage is caused by a structure or circumstance on the insured property.
Even with homeowners insurance, there may be additional damages to handle that aren’t covered under your plan’s scope, and if the other party is not willing to cover the full costs, it may be time to take further action. In this case, you’ll need to go further and file a small claims suit to get the necessary repair funds.
File a Claim ASAP
In most states, small claims court cases for property damage can be filed as long as you can prove that the neighbor is responsible for the damage. If you aren’t sure the neighbor is at fault or you have no evidence of the issue, you may not want to take this step.
Taking a neighbor to court is often the last resort in these situations. Working with the neighbor’s insurance is the best option as it shields you and the neighbor from paying for repairs caused by unfortunate circumstances.
Research Your Area: Small Claims Laws Vary by State
Property laws are handled at the state level. To file a small claims suit over property damage, you’ll need to investigate how the lawsuit must be filed in your state.
How to File in Florida
Before filing any small claims suits, you must ask your neighbor to meet your demands. If they refuse, you can move forward with filing.
To file a small court claim in Florida, you must visit your Clerk’s office, complete a “Statement of Claim” form, and pay a nonrefundable filing fee. This information will be used to schedule an informal conference. At this pre-trial conference, both parties will share evidence of their position. Filing a small claims court lawsuit differs across states, so make sure to check your local rules and regulations before you begin the process.
If a valid issue is identified, a mediator will be assigned to attempt to settle the issue out of court. A full trial will occur if mediation is unsuccessful and determine the final outcome.
Leading up to the trial, it’s necessary to serve the defendant, prepare for court, and mediate the situation without a hearing if possible. The judge’s final decision will typically be mailed out after the hearing is complete.
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