Fences & Property Lines with Neighbors

Parent Q&A

Lot-line adjustment appeal Oct 13, 2021 (4 responses below)
Easement for garage was omitted from neighbor's listing Aug 15, 2021 (5 responses below)
Easement or boundary adjustments? Oct 5, 2018 (1 responses below)
Good fences make good neighbors: splitting the cost Nov 7, 2017 (10 responses below)
Need a real estate attorney for boundary dispute Aug 31, 2017 (2 responses below)
  • Lot-line adjustment appeal

    (4 replies)


    My neighbor and I have been discussing a lot line adjustment. We have 2 kids and he has none, so we'd like to purchase a portion of his backyard so we have more room for the kids. We are in agreement with the arrangement. However, initial emails to the City of Berkeley said this would not be allowed because both our lots are less than 5000 sq. ft. (his ~4,100sq ft and ours ~2,300sq ft) and the city will not make an already non-conforming lot even smaller, even though this makes the two lots about equal. Apparently, zoning code states all lots must exceed 5000 sq. ft. We live in SW Berkeley where almost none of the lots in our neighborhood are greater than 5000 sq. ft., so this minimum lot size was surprisingly large to me.

    Has anyone had success appealing a lot-line adjustment to the city? Can anyone recommend any land-use lawyers who can help me submit an appeal?

    Thank you!

    RE: Lot-line adjustment appeal ()

    Why don't you just negotiate a long-term lease?

    RE: Lot-line adjustment appeal ()

    Hi. I'm a city planner and live in Berkeley but haven't dealt with this in Berkeley. Every city is different and I'm not familiar with the appeal process in Berkeley. However, an easier and less expensive option would be to purchase an easement from your neighbor instead of adjusting the lot line. An easement would grant you the rights to use the property. It does not need to be approved by the city but you will need a lawyer to write up the legal document and record it at the County Recorder.

    RE: Lot-line adjustment appeal ()

    Don't expect the city to budge or be of much help with issues like this has been my experience.  If your neighbor is allowing you to use the land use it, no need for a lot line adjustment.  That's the arrangement we have with one of our neighbors.

  • We have owned our house in Oakland for about 20 years and before that rented it for 5.  When we rented it it came with the garage which is behind a front property.  The front property was sold without the garage 2x.  Current owners of the front property are going to sell shortly and we found out the garage is listed within the property line of the front property.  We discovered this years ago and the front property owners know about it but never "claimed the garage" . We are concerned that it might come up when they sell and need to know our options to keep the garage and land it is on as ours. 

    Any advice and real estate attorney recommendations?

    I have used Thomas Eastridge. He used to be in Oakland, I think he's moved to El Cerrito. I found him knowledgable and down to earth.

    510-682-7111. info [at] eastridgelaw.com.

    I don’t have a real estate agent recommendation but when it comes to boundary disputes, what you need is to get a land survey done. These surveys are not cheap and it can take a while to get someone out to do the work. So get a surveyor ASAP. 

    Seems like you just need to look on the county assessors map to figure it out, or hire a surveryor to map it out - an attorney isn't really necessary at this point. Good luck!

  • Easement or boundary adjustments?

    (1 reply)

    Could anyone suggests who would be the best professional to consult regarding the pros and cons of granting an easements, or making boundary adjustments between two adjacent properties in Berkeley? Main concerns are their feasibilities, and their impact on current and future values of both properties. Thanks!

    I would consult with a real estate attorney about this.  Would recommend findlaw.com.

  • Hi all, hoping for some advice from our knowledgeable townspeople. One of our 3 fences (they were all built at different times) recently needed replacing. The neighbor we share that property line with found the contractor and arranged for the work - without mentioning the cost to us. The “ugly side” of the fence faces our yard. In addition, for some reason, their contractor chose to place all of the post holes on our property - not a single one of them was dug into their yard, and it was clearly done intentionally that way. Given these circumstances, what do you think would be a fair split of the cost for the 2 families?  We’ve heard of circumstances where the family with the “pretty side” facing their yard bears a higher share of the cost. How have you done it?  We’re a little thrown by the fact that we’re left with rather gross looking cement-filled holes all along our fence, while the other family has none of these. Should that, along with the “ugly side” that faces us, mean a lesser share of the cost?  Or should a 50/50 split be assumed?  Thanks for any input. 

    Did you agree to pay for part of the cost of the fence before they started work? If they found the contractor, did the work how they wanted to do it, and didn't get your buy-in to pay for a chunk of the cost ahead of time, I wouldn't pay much if anything! 

    We have four fences/neighbors and have now replaced all of them, each with a slightly different payment structure. First, it's worth noting that fence etiquette historically says that the owner of the fence has the ugly side and faces the pretty side to the neighbor. For our first fence, the fence is a good neighbor fence (looks the same/"pretty" from both sides), both we and the neighbor got estimates and agreed upon the style and contractor, and we split the cost evenly. For the second fence, an adjacent condo association chose the contractor, the fence design, and paid for everything. It is not a good neighbor fence and the "pretty side" faces them. We didn't fight it since we didn't have to pay anything for it, and figured that was a reasonable tradeoff. The third fence is a good neighbor fence, but the neighbor wanted slightly higher-end styles, so the neighbor paid for most of the fence. The last fence we built, and although it's a good neighbor fence, we did not ask that neighbor to pay since they didn't see the need to replace the existing fence (which was functional but not attractive, and stuck out once the other three fences had been replaced). Since we paid, we chose the style and contractor. 

    In your situation, I would definitely not expect to pay 50% of the fence given that you had no input on its design or cost and the ugly side faces your yard. I would actually expect the neighbor to pay the entire cost given that they did not consult you at all for cost or design approval and bucked etiquette by facing the nice side towards themselves. A good neighbor fence is not hugely more expensive than a basic fence (having just finished two of them!) and well worth the extra cost for this kind of situation, and it's somewhat egregious that they didn't consider that or ask you. I'd wait until they ask you to pay, and if they do, offer to pay a third or so (or, if you're gutsy, decline all together and simply let them know that had you had an opportunity to provide feedback on the fence and to ensure that the side facing you did not affect the quality of your view, you would happily have paid half--although consider your neighbor relations if you go this route, too). Good luck!

    This sounds like an unfortunate outcome. Differences occur depending on the circumstances, but generally the project and cost is agreed upon among all parties before the work is done. It's unclear why that didn't happen in your case.

    We recently replaced a fence between my property and our neighbor. My next door neighbor rents out their house, so we don't see them often (they used to live there, but haven't for many years). We have a cordial relationship but we're not best friends or anything. In fact, we had a tense relationship before they moved and decided to rent out their house. We mainly did our communications over texting, since they live near Sacramento, although in the beginning we were both present for contractors coming by for bids. We got three quotes, agreed on the style ahead of time, and agreed each party would pay 50%. We chose a "good neighbor" fence, with alternating panels so that there wasn't a "good side." You can Google "good neighbor fence" if you unsure what that looks like. We made an arrangement with the contractor that each party would pay their portion of the cost, so one party didn't have to front for the whole thing. I got the impression that the fencing contractor was accustomed to neighbor negotiations, which seems logical. I am satisfied with the outcome of our project, and I feel part of the reason it went so smoothly was because of the communication and clarity before the project started. Or maybe we just got lucky! 

    I can see how you would be unhappy with the fence situation. Did you participate at all in the process? If not, it's possible the neighbor just went ahead and made choices that benefitted them because they were the ones who did all the work (finding the contractor, picking the design, making appointments, paying for it, etc). As for payment, that's trickier. Generally the assumption is that each party shares equally in the cost, but if you're unhappy with how it looks on your side, you might be able to negotiate a lower share.  I wish there had been clarity about expectations, cost, and style/design decisions, and it sounds like none of that happened for your project. Good fences make good neighbors, and it seems like you all have some conversations to figure out an equitable and satisfactory solution. Good luck! 

  • This is a little off-topic, but... We're very unfortunately in a boundary dispute with a neighbor. Unfortunate for both sides. Getting a survey is proving difficult  - no one, not even the surveyors, can tell where the lot lines really are around here. Would anyone know a good real estate attorney who is, in particular, experienced at the courtroom part of real estate litigation? I've been checking around, but they seem to be relatively rare bird. Thank you.

    Boundary disputes are woefully common and expensive. Nolo Press has a book, Neighbor Law. Dispute resolution begins and frequently ends with a lot line survey. Facts are facts. You say no surveyors can help? This is hard to understand since every parcel in California has a metes and bounds description in the deed. Perhaps you have a strange situation. There is a good surveyor Andres Deak, Alameda, who charges about $500 per lot line.

    As a general practitioner and estate planner I see hundreds of property deeds all with metes and bounds descriptions. Save your money, do not hire a real estate attorney to settle a boundary dispute. They can cost upwards of $20K if you go to court. 

    Try Katzoff and Riggs in Emeryville. I know they do Real Estate Law as they helped me when I had a real estate problem. They are extremely knowledgeable courtroom lawyers. I know they work with real estate owners, but I am not sure they work with individual homeowners.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions & Advice Related Pages

Neighbor's Fence On Our Property in Oakland

April 2013

I am wondering where to go in the Oakland bureaucracy to find out about property lines.

The neighbor in the house directly behind us has been complaining about the condition of the fence between their house and ours, which was built long before we moved in. When I went out to investigate, I noticed that the fence looks like it protrudes about nine inches into our property, giving them an extra nine inches of yard. I'm guessing this because the back of our garage is set back nine inches from the fence.

So I'm asking for four bits of advice:
1. Where can I go/who can help me determine where the actual property line is?
2. How would you present these findings to our neighbors -- who are not very friendly?
3. Several years ago, they planted giant junipers which are now three stories high, right against the fence. If we build the new fence on the correct property line, the trees will be in the way! Suggestions?
4. By the way, my partner, who does construction for a living, has offered his labor to rebuild the fence, if our neighbors provide the materials. The fence is only about 15 feet long. Does that seem fair?

Thank you, wise community! Good fences make good neighbors

Dear Neighbor,

As a local Realtor with many years of experience, I can tell you that property lines are almost never where homeowners think they are. For example, it's just as likely that your own garage is in the ''wrong'' place as it is that the fence is encroaching. Depending on the age of your home (most East Bay homes are approaching 60 to 100 years now) the original layout of the structures on the property may be somewhat approximate, and in addition, if you are not on flat ground, your own land and the structures upon it may have moved considerably since the lot lines were first laid out. I attended one lecture by a soils engineer where aerial photographs from 50+ years ago were overlain with recent ones, showing an astonishing amount of otherwise unnoticed movement. Houses, garages, fences and yards may move many feet, not just inches, over time, and they don't always move at the same rate, so whole neighborhoods get rearranged!

The only way to formally define your property boundary is with a survey. Such a survey would be expensive, and to be accurate you may need to survey not just the fence line but the surrounding points of reference, such as your other property lines and your neighbor's other property lines.

Another suggestion is to obtain a plat map for your property and your neighbor's property. You may be able to find one on your own by researching the public records, or ask a Realtor. The plat map will show, for example, how your lot is aligned with surrounding lots, so by using other points of reference (like other existing fence lines) you can extrapolate how yours should line up. It will also show the total dimensions of your lot, so you might be able to measure and see if you come up 9 inches short.

If your lot is large enough that the 9 inches is not very important, I encourage you to weigh the value of those inches against the value of good relations with your neighbors. There are few things that ding the market value of a property like a property line feud. And if you do obtain a formal survey, you may not like what you find. I think that for you to provide labor, while the neighbor pays for materials, to replace the fence in its current location, is a very fair solution.


The only really accurate way to know the exact location of your property line is to hire a registered surveyor. Perhaps this could be affordable for just one line. Have her/him set flags and take photos of the flags and their relationship to fixed objects.

Depending on where the legal line turns out to be, you will know who is responsible for the trees. See the Nolo Press book on neighbor law.

You can go to the Oakland building dept at Frank Ogawa Plaza, just north of City Hall to get their opinion. Bring a good book to read while you wait. Go to the Information Desk & they will give you a number to be called to speak to someone from the proper department, probably planning.

Keep a logbook of all your research on this issue. Take photos of the fence & trees and make prints.

When you approach the neighbors, say ''we are concerned about the fence...'' And show them your documents. Don't say a word about legal action; the will infer that you have the ability to make a case should you wish to do so. Ask them exactly what they think should be done to solve the problem. Give them your ''call to action'' so they will know exactly what they need to do to appease you. Then make your very fair offer of doing the labor if they provide materials. Be sure you agree on what materisls to use. You can quantufy the labor value by taking bids on the job. There are many, many fences that do not sit on the real property lines! Amelia

Unfortunately you have to get it looked at by a surveyor company. It's very expensive. We did when they were moving and we needed to know where the property line really lay, and it cost $700! That was reduced from $1200 if we wanted it ''staked out.'' We just got it drawn on a piece of paper.

Good luck. homeowner with fence problems

The only way to really know the location of your property line is to have it surveyed by a licensed engineer -- which can be expensive. The real question is, what difference does it make? Assuming you are agreeable to the idea of rebuilding the fence and in some way splitting the cost with your neighbors, and assuming that neither you nor the neighbors actually know where the property line is, the exact location of the new fence is just another point to be negotiated and agreed on.

The back of your garage is not a reliable guide to the location of your property line (the garage may or may not have been constructed with whatever the legal setback was at the time it was built, and it may or may not have been altered since then) and you may not even want to claim those extra 9 inches if it means you end up with lack of access to the back of your garage AND maintenance responsibilities for those large trees. Do you want to fight about it? Or do you just want to make a deal with these people and have a new fence? I work for a law firm that has handled fights over this sort of thing, and I promise you, nine inches of back yard, to which you've never had or needed access before, is just not worth the headache and the legal fees.

They buy materials, you supply the labor seems fair enough to me, but before you propose that, I'd suggest getting your contractor partner to estimate the total cost of the materials, and also estimate what the work would cost if he were to do it as normal contract. You'll all have a better idea what you're getting into. Whatever you ultimately agree on, write down the key points and sign it. It doesn't have to be terribly formal, but having this kind of written agreement helps avoid later disputes over cost, material type or quantity, when the work was supposed to be done, and so on. Only the tree cases are worse than the fence cases...

While some cities may participate in private disputes, it is more cost effective of your time to hire a professional surveyor to mark the property boundary. A one-line survey will cost you about $500, and is well worth the cost to settle this issue once and for all.

When you know the actual boundary you can determine if there is encroachment by fences, building or trees and what you want to do about it. Good luck Lynn

You need to hire a surveyor. The city won't help or get involved. You are wise to deal with this problem now before anyone sells the property. If you don't it could interfere with the sale of the property or lead to a lawsuit. ANON

Neighbors fence on our property

March 2012

Hi. We are in contract to buy a house, and from comparing the map that came with the preliminary title to the fences, we think that the fence is 5 feet away from the property line, in (assuming the sale proceeds) our small yard. We would definitely get the property line surveyed. If the surveyor indicates that the fence is not in the correct place, we would approach our new neighbors and explain the situation. Has anyone done this and have the neighbors claim imminent domain? If so, what was the outcome? These homes were built in the late 60's and the fence looks *old* so it could have been there for 20+ years. Thx!

I think you mean adverse possession, not eminent domain. I don't know how this works with fence lines, but in addition to having the fence, your neighbors would have had to be paying taxes on that strip of land for several years. It seems unlikely they have been doing that. Even if they have no legal rights in the land, it seems like a rough way to start off owning a new home. Maybe it is something you should ask the current owners to deal with before you close, rather than having to start off with your relationship with your neighbors this way. good luck

We discovered years after living in our house that a piece of our neighbors fence is on our property. About 3'square. The neighbor planted a fruit tree in that corner and we both enjoy the yearly crop of yummy fruit.

Since you are the newbie (possibly),I'd be really careful about neighbor relationships. If you do get this place and want the neighbor to move the fence, you must approach it really carefully, and also offer to pay for the removal of the fence and at least share the cost of a new fence. Often fences were put up when the properties were originally divided, then the property lines were changed.

In our neighborhood, there was a swath of land tha was PG access that ran through the middle of the blocks. These eventually became part of the properties but were never properly surveyed.

Put yourself in that neighbors shoes....how would you feel if someone moved in and came over and said ''By the way...'' good neighbor

I had a similar issues. When buying my home I noted the deed/plot plan showed a small section of vacant land behind my garage next to a newer home with a sidewalk. I never questioned the neighbor's sidewalk until fire burned down both homes. A survey was done which revealed the remaining unburned sidewalk was 1/2 on my land lengthwise so they were taking 18''x 25' of my property. Like you I felt the best solution was to kindly approach the neighbors and ask/suggest that it was in both our interests to abide by the survey for clear title so the sidewalk needed to go and I offered to pay for the removal. To my shock they got a lawyer and tried to claim imminent domain rights as the sidewalk had been there for years without challenge and they intended to keep it (to maximize their lot size). The law actually marks the start period (10 yrs?)for imminent domain from time of discovery of encroachment so the clock starts to run once you discover the encroachment. In your case the neighbor could claim the previous owner of your home had knowingly allowed the fence to encroach for over 10 years and that would be a problem for you. Since my neighbors were never good neighbors anyway a brilliant friend suggested that 1/2 sidewalk should just ''disappear'' some night when they weren't around. So I borrowed a backhoe and carefully cut the sidewalk in half lengthwise along the line and removed the section on my land to the property line leaving them a narrow sidewalk (not to code to reuse) forcing them to remove their 1/2 at their expense. I would have loved to have seen the faces of them and the lawyer the next day-it just disappeared. They then couldn't rebuild it over the line, we both stayed on our sides, and they are still lousy neighbors. I did them a favor as titles are now clear! I would think a fence even on the property line in the 5 foot required setback might require a permit so you could check if any are on record. If making friends with the new neighbors isn't a priority I might just get a survey done and pull the fence down as if I thought it were mine. You could also try to salvage it and move it over to their side (with permits if needed)to try to mediate the situation and keep neighbors friendly. What you don't want is your lot size reduced and future resale value lessened by a lousy neighbor who encroached-perhaps even intentionally. If you know about it and let it slide 10 years the land goes to the neighbor. Now is your best shot to clear it up if possible. You just can't come out smelling like a rose on these issues as everybody wants what is in their best interest it seems. Hope this helps provide some perspective and remedy. been there too

A neighbor once informed me they wanted to build a fence along our side property line as they were getting a dog. He asked if I wanted to pay 1/2 for the fence and we could ''put it right on the line''. I said no thanks because I didn't want a fence or a dog and preferred the green bamboo hedge we already shared ''on the line''. He said he was going to do it anyway so I asked that he be sure to get a small and quiet dog and keep the fence ON HIS SIDE of the property line. (I had to dig up the bamboo and move it to the front line at my expense or he was going to remove it for the fence). That put him on notice to stay on his side and typically fences should be a few inches on your own side not on the line. He complied carefully (except for the giant noisy dog that nobody cleaned up after) but never painted or maintained my side of the fence so I now have to do it. He and the dog moved away soon thereafter and I am sure glad I held ''my ground'' on that whole deal! Maybe if I had shared the cost he would have got a smaller dog and not have moved away??? While he stayed we remained good neighbors despite the rift over the fence. Dog Gone

I don't know about ''imminent'' domain (I think you mean ''eminent'' anyway). This is the power of a government to purchase property for a public good (try a google search before posting!. However, there is a legal doctrine wherein property that has been used by someone else for a certian period of time can be deeded to that person due to the longstanding use. I don't know the name of that but if I were you I would consult a real estate attorney to look into the specifics of your case, and you should be questioning the real estate agent and/or the owner of the property specifically to ask them about this. And if it matters, bring it up in closing. You could definitely lose that property on the other side of the fence (if it's not already gone).

Neighbor put his Utility Lines in Our Backyard

Sept 2011

We live in Berkeley hills. Our downhill neighbors had a survey done for a remodel few years ago which shows that we -uphill neighbors- are a foot into their property, and they are a foot into their downhill neighbor's property. The survey is limited to their property only, but it seems like if we are to adjust the property lines by that survey, it would affect the entire block or hill. Two days ago we came home to see that there is a water line that enters our property from his side, goes 15 ft on the ground along the wall and goes back into his backyard. When we asked him what that line is about, and how it was planted there without our knowledge, he blatantly said he didn't want to run it on his side because it is concrete there and the line doesn't look good on the concrete. When we asked why we should see his water line that he doesn't want to see on his side, he said that's his part of the property anyways (even though the line is on our side of the fence). To the bigger problem of having someone in our backyard without our consent to run the line, he apologized and said that he told the contractor to ask us before going in -apparently we were not home when the line was installed. Our biggest problem with this guy is that he thinks he is entitled to everything. We had many other problems with him in the past, so have the other neighbors of him. Some recent examples: he decided to build a 10 ft high trellis adjacent to our fence, without asking our opinion or showing any drawings of it to us. Or, he took down the entire fence along the line with one of his other neighbor, let that fence un-built for three days where the deer had ample time to eat all the flowers and veggies in that neighbor's garden, and all that without even contacting that neighbor regarding his fence project. Whenever something comes up, we talk to him, write to him, and then he apologizes. And now this waterline: first, his contractor enters our property without our knowledge, which makes me feel very insecure in my house. Even though now we told him not to enter our backyard without our knowledge, we don't know what he will come up with next time. How can we ensure our privacy? Second, how should we address the property line issue? We sure don't want to accommodate his utility lines on our side of the fence. If we are to adjust the fence location, we will lose some part of our land on his side, which we can claim from our uphill neighbor, but that would have a domino-effect in the entire block where everybody should move 1 foot uphill. Apologies for the long entry, but we are fed up with this guy and really in need of some good advice to handle him. Thank you BPN! Longing for a good neighbor

It's time for a complaint call to the city. It sounds like your neighbor is doing most of the work without permits. Since you have tried to be nice and discuss the problems with him to no avail, get the city involved for the illegal work he is doing. anon

Neighbor disputes are depressingly common, but this neighbor is the limit. This is not a criminal matter, and the police will not get involved. Neither will the city. Your recourse is private civil action.

This neighbor is either encroaching or tresspassing on your property, depending upon the nature of the water lines (e.g. drip irrigation v intake plumbing or drainage). Tresspass does not merely mean foot traffic.

Despite the location of the surveyed boundary, there are several doctrines of property law which can overcome them. Some of them have strict time limitations, so you should act at once.

You stated there is a fence. Depending upon the length of time the fence has been there, and even who built it, there is an argument that the fence is the boundary. Lynn

TIC property line dispute

Aug 2010

We currently rent a house that is one half of a TIC. It is our understanding that the TIC agreement (which we haven't seen) states that each of the two houses share the driveway and garage equally. There are four owners in total, two that own the house we rent, and two that own the house next door. As of this week it appears that the owner next door (who also resides there) has hired a friend to construct a music practice room for a piano in the garage. We (the renters on this half of the TIC) were not asked nor informed of the construction project; not by the neighbors, nor by our own LLs. The project is dominating daytime use of the driveway, the sheetrock and lumber is blocking access to our half of the garage, the construction noise is violating our city?s noise ordinance restrictions, and finally there is no building permit listed at our local housing office. We tried asking the worker about what she was doing, and the first time she lied to us. The second time we asked she admitted it was a music room, but that it won?t be soundproofed. We wrote an email to all four owners of the TIC complaining about the various inconveniences and asking for our clear access back, but only our neighbor has replied and that was to only state that they will clean up after themselves when they are done. No word from our LLs at all. Outside of reporting them to the city, do we have any recourse? I feel like my LLs are violating our rights as a tenants, but we are not clear on how. Can anyone give advice to us about this? frustrated tenant

imho, you should contact the city and report that construction is being performed without a permit. a permit is pulled so that, in the end people dont get hurt because if it isnt legal it means it was never inspected for safety or structural issues - even if the construction is done by licensed contractors, it doesnt mean that what they are doing is up to code. having a permit also states legal hours to do the work. you can report such activities anonymously. if reported, a stop order is issued and the contractor is fined and can not perform any work until a permit is pulled. though now you are in a situation where the culprits know you dont agree with whats going on there (and so anonymous, not so much). if you have not been able to get a response from your landlords in regards to this - then maybe they don't care too much about it since it is not them being (generally) affected by it. have you talked to your other neighbors in the neighborhood? has this bothered any of them? they too can report it. Good luck! anon

You can call the police about noise. Call the planning department about permit violations. And check your lease for contractual information about driveway access. I think it would be easier to move. anon

Perhaps the East Bay Community Law Center can help. (2921 Adeline Street, Berkeley, CA 94703) 510-548-4040 They help mediate disputes, and don't cost an arm & a leg. . Andus H Brandt, RA

You need to look at your lease. That is what governs your relationship with your LL. Specifically, did they rent you a portion of the garage and driveway access? The TIC agreement should also govern the relationship between the two owners, and typically they say that tenants have to abide by the obligations of the owners. The agreement may require you to reasonably accommodate the neighbor's construction project. It also may require that they obtain permits for any work they do. Check out the lease/rental agreement and the TIC agreement, if there is one. anon

Driveway/Fence dispute with Neighbor

August 2008

I recently purchased a home with a driveway that is between my home and my neighbors home. My neighbor has his own driveway on the opposite side of his house, but my driveway uses part of his land to access my garage. I have been told this is called an eavesment, which allows me access to his land in order to use my driveway. However there were problems previously with the old owners of my home, and my neighbor has placed a fence directly on the property line. I would have no problem with this normally except now the fence has made the driveway too narrow and completely inaccessible to cars. I can drive up the driveway but the width is so small now that once up the driveway I cannot open my door to get out. I talked to my neighbor and he refuses to work something out and is not willing to take down the fence. Something about this seems terribly wrong (possibly illegal) and I am wondering if I should seek legal advice? If so who or how? Is this something I can take up with the city or county? Is a high priced real estate lawyer necessary? Has anyone experienced something similar? Thanks!

Hi. As a Berkeley architect I deal with this issue on an annoyingly regular basis. Several additional questions for you. 1) Does your Title stipulate that you have a legal easement? 2) How tall is the fence? 3) Did your neighbor get a survey done prior to building the fence? The first thing you (or a high priced lawyer), will need to know is if you have a legal easement. If your Title has a legal easement, then the dimensions of the easement is where your neighbor can build a fence. Provided that you are still allowed access to your property. The City of Berkeley Traffic Engineers will not allow a fence to reduce a driveway to less than 8'-0''. Although they will more than likely require you to use up all other means prior to doing anything about it. If the neighbor did not get a survey chances are that at least part of it is not really on the property line. However, this will require you to get a survey to prove it. Other options are lengthy to explain. Feel free to contact me if you have any more questions. Shawn

OUCH ! Both Realtors (individually and as corporation/s) and the previous owner/s (individually and as a maried couple) were obligated by California law and federal banking statute to tell you BEFORE YOU PURCHASED your new home if there were ANY ''ISSUES''! If you had not been informed in writing and/or if you had not signed a form stating that you clearly had been told about these problems between the previous owner and the next-door resident/s, you should promptly write to these negligent agents, certified USPS, demanding they ''fix'' any and all problems that were not disclosed - - - and call John Gutierrez, Esq: 510.644.1904. Retired Realtor

I would recommend trying to mediate with your neighbor. Although there may be legal avenues you could persue, as you mention, they are likely to be very time consuming and expensive. It's worth trying to get some professional help to work with him/her directly before going in that direction. There is a non-profit, community-based mediation program in the East Bay that specializes in this type of neighborhood dispute. It's called SEEDS (formerly East Bay Community Mediation). You can find them at http://www.ebcm.org/services/mediation.htm Jennifer

Neighbor claims our side of the fence is their property

August 2008

We bought our first house 5 months back in Montclair. Our immediate neighbor claims that a strip of land in our backyard is part of their property. The part of land in question is about one feet wide and runs along their fence until it ends in the back. The funny thing is that they built a fence and left a piece of *their* land on our side of the fence. We have a survey from our previous owners. The survey has a map with measurements, but we do not know how to read the survey. The backyard is kind of an open lot with trees. Up till the house structure we can measure the side yard with their fence and see that the fence is on the correct property line. Immediately after the house ends how can we measure the land with their fence? There is a pole with a white cloth at the far end of their property, but there is no mention of this in our survey. We want to put a fence (our fence) on the correct line believing that there is a strip of land belonging to the neighbors. Can someone please advice us whom to contact? Can a fence contractor read the survey? Another survey would be expensive for us. Thank You. anon

A fence contractor probably would not be the best person to correctly interpret your survey. I could do this and with your assistance probably determine the location of your property corners (within an inch or so) based on your survey.

This can be a complicated problem depending on what information you have....or it could be relatively straightforward. I'd say it shouldn't take but a couple of hours to discuss this with you, examine your documents and do some field measurements.

A property resurvey would set you back about $5000. (I don't do these) I am a Landscape Architect, but know a lot about civil/ engineering survey work. Ray

Be careful about the fence situation. If the neighbor ''owns'' a piece of your land, the people you bought the house from should have told you this. I would ask your real estate agent to consult the other real estate agent and see if the former owners ''forgot'' to disclose this to you. If they did not disclose properly then maybe they should have to pay for a surveyor to come out. I am curious why the former owners had a survey done in the first place.

Ask your real estate agent about the laws about how people can take over other people's property in a hostile and nonhostile manner. The title report should accurately define the borders of your property. Nolo Press probably has a book about this or you could google the topic on-line. judy

You have the legal description of your parcel, the drawing of this description. You need a licensed surveyor. When a parcel is originally surveyed, and its drawing made, stakes are put into the ground along the border of the parcel. They are imprinted with the surveyor's name, legal testimony that the stakes represent the true boundary. Another surveyor uses the drawing to do his own survey. Your neighbors may have a surveyor. Some surveyors take bribes. If your situation is contentious, knowing some facts about surveys, and having a good surveyor, may help you avoid expensive litigation. I had ''neighbors from hell''. They were an Assembly of God Church (Sarah Palin's denomination) that claimed part of our property as being part of their parking lot. We had some experience with them already, none of it good. So we hired a retired surveyor who had been head of the department that does surveys for a city near us. He told us that a parcel description always reads from ''the point of beginning''. This means the surveyor must locate your boundary by measuring from this point all the way around the parcel.

The surveyor they had hired was about to put a new set of stakes into the ground at their preferred boundary. The boundary they wanted worked when the parcel description was read backwards, because the parcel is not flat. When he realized that my husband knew about how to survey, he folded up his equipment and walked away. If his stakes had gone in, it would have cost us tens of thousands of dollars in litigation to get them out and get our land back. Our surveyor did the true survey and recorded it with the county, and we put up a sturdy fence. Most disputes aren't this bad, but land is expensive, and there are many people who covet their neighbor's land. It is well worth protecting yours. Relieved

Neighbor agreed to share cost of fence, now refuses to pay

Nov 2004

About a year ago, an elderly neighbor died. A few months ago, her son (over getting the house ready for sale) agreed to pay for 1/2 of a new fence, providing that he only pay for the backyard portion (we are extending the fence to the front of the houses). I mentioned that a contractor friend would be helping us, and would charge for his time, but that my husband would do the majority of the work at no cost to him (which he did). When we got to his gate, and asked about preferences, he insisted that we pay for half of HIS gate, which I thought was unreasonable, but went along with it. He was very happy with the result. When we gave him the bill ($500), he became difficult, saying that he shouldn't have to pay for either our friend's time, the cost of having the materials delivered, or the rental post hole digger (his portion of the latter 2 was $30!). Mind you, he witnessed the fence being built, so he saw that we had help and that we used the rental item. He demanded receipts, so we politely put them together, cross-referenced with the bill. Even without the charges he objected to, the materials still came to almost $400 of the $500 bill. Another month has gone by, and still no reply. I am temped to write the entire episode off, but on the other hand, I don't want to be taken advantage of. We are not made of money, and it will clearly improve the value of the house he is about to sell. If he doesn't ever pay us, do we have any recourse? Could we put a lien on the house? Should I just move on? anon

You should go to small claims court. Get the Nolo Press guide to small claims. Anon

You may be able to file a preliminary notice and then a Mechanic's Lien on your neighbor's property. Here's a link with some information. http://www.mechlien.com/ See if it applies to you. Good luck. Gizella

Dispute w/neighbor over property lines

March 2003

Hello, I am having (unfortunately!) a dispute with my neighbor regarding property lines. She insists on planting trees and plants without consulting me on our shared strip of land between her driveway and my sidewalk. I checked with the county, and there is no survey on file for my property. Is there a way to resolve this without the expense of a survey? (suggestions welcome!-although I have tried twice to speak with her about this, so that doesn't seem to work... she believes she has been here 20 years, and I don't have any real rights since I've only been here 3 years..) Assuming I must resort to a survey of the property, does anyone have a recommendation on land surveyors? Note to Moderator: I did check the archives, to no avail... thanks! anonymous and frustrated in Oakland

We recommend Moran Engineering on Shattuck in Berkeley. They have quite a few Land Surveyors and Land Surveying services to offer. We employed them (namely, Jeffery Black, LS) in early 2000 and they were extremeley easy to work with and kept to their initial quote. We were given drawings, new property markers, and a summary of the work. They can be reached at www.moraneng.com and (510) 848-1930 & (925) 254-5464 Lynn

I would like to recommend surveyor Jeffrey Black of Moran Engineering 510-848-1930. Jeffrey has lots of experience with boundary disputes. There is no charge for initial conversation. Ruth

I've used Moran Engineering several times for my clients and received great service at fair prices. Theymre at 848-1930. cfl

I could have written your letter, as our neighbor has done the same thing. We are at a bit of a stalemate at the moment, as we have shown him our survey and he doesn't seem to care. As he is a lawyer, we have to decide how much we want to pursue this. For the moment, we have sent him a letter drafted by our lawyer giving him ''permission'' to use our land for the time being. We did use a surveyor, and I can recommend Chris Bailey of Bates and Bailey in Berkeley. Their number is 510.843.2007. You might ask if he can only survey the property line you share with the aggravating neighbor, rather than the whole property, to save on the cost. Claire

Can we expect neighbor to pitch in on fence?

Nov 2002

We are having a contractor rebuild the fence around our yard in a couple of weeks. Can we expect our neighbors to contribute some if we share the fence? Anyone have experience with this to share? Thanks! - Madeleine

A year after we moved in, we approached our neighbor about replacing a shared fence. We offered to purchase the redwood panels and hire/supervise the workers. We estimated the cost of the job and asked if he would be willing to pay part of the cost. He was thrilled to have us take care of all the details and agreed to pay 1/2.

On the flip side, a different neighbor approached us with a bid from a contractor to fix a retaining wall and build a new fence from scratch. We thought the bid was very high and encouraged her to get some others.

She got a few other bids but really wanted a first class job and we could only pay for a budget one, so we offered to pay 1/3 of the cost and she seemed fine with that. -Sharon