Illegal Structures on Neighbor's Property

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Neighbors' building extension

Aug 2013

My neighbors are going to build an extension to their house in Berkeley. It may have quite a big impact on my house. Is there anyone you'd recommend I could consult with about: (a) likely impact on value of my property, and (b) predicting what kind of impact the new construction is likely to have on air and light and so on in my house? Thanks!

Well, as you've written, your concern is ''What can I do to protect my family's home if a near-by home is made bigger?''

First, you need to know just what it is being planned: Where (in relation to your home) are they planning to build? How tall is the structure they're planning to build? How big a structure is it they're planning to build? How far along in the planning/building process is this plan? (If permits have been issued by The City, you've come to the party too late.)

Then, make an appointment with City of Berkeley Planning Department Call. Make an appointment. Talk with a City Planner

Then, sometimes there is a way to get to an agreement with ''the folks next door'' that will reduce impact of that larger structure on your family's home, sometimes not.

A builder

Neighbor's tenant is building a shed on stilts

April 2013

They are building a shed abutting our rear property line (the other side of our lot). Much to our surprise, it is being propped up on an elevated deck, which rests on stilts at the rear corner of the lot. The stilts came up yesterday. Our house is downslope about 30 feet south. From our second story bedroom window we can see the underside of the deck on which the shed rests. Upon completion the shed should rise almost two stories above the second story of our house due to the height of the hill behind us and the fact that they're elevating the structure. We questioned the neighbors and were told the structure did not require permits as it is a nonhabitable and of a small size- 120 square feet, no more than 12 feet tall, measured from deck height. The fact that the whole thing is elevated by stilts several feet higher than the highest point on the lot was apparently not considered by the Oakland planning and zoning department. We did not know it would be until this weekend. The owners believe the tenants are within their legal rights.

Other factors--we are near downtown but literally abut 2 acres of forested hill. The buildout, right up against 2 redwoods and 2 oaks, is under a v. dense tree canopy, and looks like a likely fire hazard.

Can a neighbor just create an unpermitted space that is several stories higher than our house, on our lot line, on a steep forested hill? As I said, from our second story bedroom window we are at eye level w/ the underside of the deck. This structure will be visible from the street also. I can visualise the sparks from that structure arcing through the trees and burning our house down. Thanks for any and all advice. eastbay newbie

Take lots of photos of the neighbor's tenant's un-permitted construction and print a few showing the potential hazard. Maybe print Google Earth views too.

Go to the city Building Dept at Frank Ogawa Plaza on the north side of city hall. As to speak to the fire marshal about un-permitted construction that is a fire hazard. Regardless of the small area of the shed, it is not allowed to encroach on the setback (5', I think) on their side of the property line.

Amelia the Realtor

That's ridiculous. Building codes don't apply just to inhabitable structures. This project surely requires a permit. Call the Oakland City Code enforcement line ASAP 510-238-3381. You give them the address and tell them your concern and they will send an inspector out to review it to see if there have been any code/permit violations. The sooner you do this the better in case something needs to be torn down. You can do this anonymously if you wish. Elizabeth

120 square feet means, for example, 10x12 feet. That is a HUGE shed.

If anybody spends any time at all in this ''shed,'' they cannot build it on the property line as it will be considered habitable. DEFINITELY NOT ALLOWED if someone is using it as a part time office.

Oakland City website list says structures that don't require permits are:

''Single story detached buildings which do not exceed 12 feet in height used as tool or storage sheds, playhouses, etc., as long as the projected roof area does not exceed 120 square feet and does not have plumbing or electricity.''

NO ELECTRICITY. SINGLE STORY. USED TO STORE TOOLS. 12 FEET (Minus the height of the stilts!) I think you can safely assume the height requirement is measured from the ground! Just because it's on stilts doesn't mean you get to start measuring from the top of the stilts. That's ridiculous.

Call and ask before it gets built! Good luck homeowner

Whether the building is built by the tenant or the owner, the law is the same, and the owner is responsible for the acts and structures. It is my understanding that heights of structures, fences, sheds, etc. are measures FROM GRADE of the ground, not from the deck. Good luck lynn S

Neighbors Adding a Second Story

Oct 2011

Our neighbors are planning a big addition in the near future. Their house is quite close to ours and on our west side, so any increase in height will end up blocking a significant amount of light from our living and dining areas. We're friendly with these neighbors and I don't begrudge their desire for more space, but at the same time I'm pretty unhappy about the impact that desire will have on us. When they have discussed their plans with us, we've made this clear gently but straightforwardly. Still, they seem determined to go up.

I know we're not the first household around here to deal with this issue, so I'd love to get some feedback. Specifically: If you stayed, how did you handle it? (One friend suggested asking them to pay for new skylights in our living and dining rooms!) Was the impact as bad as you expected -- or not?

If you sold, did you get out before the project began? Or did you try to sell with an ongoing construction project next door? What was the impact?

Finally, any idea how or if your property value was affected?

Any words of wisdom will be much appreciated! -- On the shady side of the street

they will have to do a shadow study, which will show you how much light will really be blocked at different times of year. Ask them to get that done as soon as they can so that you can come to an understanding before they commit to a project to which you might object. been there

Ugh, this is such a sensitive situation. I know they are your friends, but it will only get worse and resentment will build if you don't step up now and do research. We let our neighbors build a structure in their yard, and because we were friends, we assumed our interests would be taken into account. They were not, and our relationship was strained and tense for years, until they moved. Leaving us stuck with the structure!!!

First, I would check with your city's Building Department. What are their rules regarding second stories? I wouldn't spend too much time on this, but it would be a good idea to become familiar with your city's policies. How high can they go? Can they build out, rather than up?

They will have to get a permit to build. It is hard to hide this sort of construction, but I'd check that a permit has been pulled, just in case.

Ask them to construct 'story poles' and follow the shadow it makes on your house and property at various times during the day. See the actual impact of light it would have on you.

It is so important to make all your concerns heard NOW, before plans are drawn up and construction starts. It will be too late then. If they are determined to do this, then get in on the design process, and question everything. Legally they must submit plans to the public before starting a project of this size. I believe in some jurisdictions you can make formal complaints to the city, too.

It's hard to say how this will impact your property values, because it's only one factor in purchasing a house.

You have a lot more rights than you think. They may be friendly, and if you don't stand up now for yourself, your neighbors will not take your needs into consideration. I don't begrudge others wanting more space, either, but maybe if they want a bigger space, they should move rather than you. in construction

Because you already know your neighbors are planning to add to their home, you would have to disclose that ''material fact'' to any potential buyer ! DON'T TRY TO LIE AND ''FORGET'' TO DISCLOSE ! FAILING TO DISCLOSE COULD BE EXPENSIVE !

So, my advice: sit tight and work with your nice neighbours to reduce impacts of their new construction as best you can.

Install your own skylight or skylights.

Hire a good structural engineer to design placement, size, etc, and find a good contractor (Interview five or six contractors, do your due diligence, choose three contractors to bid so you get more information than just talking with one contractor). Do not just choose the lowest bid; choose the best contractor for your job.

A good skylight, installed into a ''typical Berkeley cottage-style home,'' should not cost more than $5,000 for the skylight and proper installation, and all/some of that cost may be a ''solar improvement'' and deductible on your taxes.

Oh, yes: and insulate-insulate-insulate while you have unobstructed access into the rafters ! (I think new insulation is still a tax-deductible cost, but, no matter what, you'll be keeping your family much much much warmer !)

Neighbor's building too close to us

April 2010

We need some help with where to turn to next. Our next door neighbor is building a big shed (bigger than a single garage) that seems to us to be too close. It's less than 4 feet from our house. Our house is very close to our boundary, but it's been here for nearly 100 years. We're worried about the obvious - our light being blocked, the potential hazard (he will be using flammable art chemicals in his new studio), the eye-sore, and of course our property resale value.

He is doing all the work himself and does have a permit.

So, here's our questions: If he has a permit does it mean the city has measured everything and approved his distance from our house? Is there someone we can pay to look into this for us - check the permit, follow it up with the city, etc? Are we looking for a builder/contractor or a lawyer for help? Any recommendations? Thanks crowded house

I once complained about a building going up on my block because it's already too dense in my Oakland neighborhood. I called the city building permit office. They investigated and the next week the building was dismantled. In Oakland, new buildings or additions etc. are usually posted in the neighborhood to allow comments. I was told by the permit office that they take problems about blocking light seriously. anonymous

Call the building department and ask them these questions first. Chances are if he has a permit, they have done the required checks etc, but there's also a chance that he doesn't necessarily have the correct permit or for the use he is intending. Once it's in construction, it's usually impossible to do much - catching these things is best at the pre-permit level. anon

Sounds awful. There are setback rules that define how close you can build to the propertly line - you can inquire about those at your local permit office. I would start there, find out what those are, however you did say he has a permit (maybe he is just saying he has one?).

If he is following the rules, you could get a survey to try to re-establish the property line and figure out if he is too close.

My guess is that you don't have a good relationship with this person or (1) he would have had the courtesy to not do this in first place (2) you haven't gone to talk to him about it. The latter may be a good approach, but depends on the status of the construction. Good luck. Anon