Ask the County Law Librarian – Neighbors and Their Trampolines
Q. I share part of a fence with the neighbor behind me and they put a trampoline up against the fence so when their kids and friends jump they clear the top of the fence by a couple feet and look into my yard and home. Their yard is higher on the hill than mine which makes the trampoline sit even higher at the fence, and my yard is an odd wedge shape, narrowing on the side they have the trampoline so that the distance from my bedroom and living room window directly to where the trampoline sits is only about 10 yards. I’ve explained and asked them nicely once if they could "scooch the trampoline over a bit." This made the mom defensive and unreasonable and she later squirted me with her hose over the fence. I am embarrassed having kids, usually several at one time, jumping and looking over right into my bedroom just yards away when I’m sometimes in bed. Moving the trampoline a few yards away would solve the problem. Is there any law or protocol regulating fence privacy? Thank you.
A. When an issue between neighbors arises, there are many options available to those willing to invest a little time and effort into preliminary research. “Neighbor law” is usually governed locally, so your first step might be to survey the options closest to you.
For example, if you and your neighbor belong to a homeowners’ association (HOA), subdivision, or other development, you might check the by-laws (also called Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions or CC&Rs) for any limitations, restrictions, or prohibitions relating to trampolines or other play structures. If your neighbor isn’t technically violating any rules, you might have the option of initiating an informal complaint process with the association. You can find more information on homeowners’ associations online or at your local county law library.
You will also want to research your local city and county ordinances. Some city and county ordinances regulate the location of “accessory structures,” though what constitutes an accessory structure will vary depending on the jurisdiction. For example, Sacramento City Code 17.80.050 considers some children’s play structures as detached accessory structures (swing sets, for example) and accordingly provides minimum installation requirements. However, the ordinance does not consider mobile play structures as accessory structures and thus these structures are not regulated by county ordinance. Sacramento County Code §16.18 pertains to nuisances and available remedies, though generally the term ‘nuisance’ refers to an act or device that jeopardizes one’s safety or health. Nonetheless, a thorough look at your local county and city codes is highly recommended for all neighbor law issues. Most California city and county codes can be found online or in print at your local county law library.
At least one California city has dealt with this type of situation before. Earlier this year, Mill Valley’s City Council met to determine whether a trampoline could be considered an accessory structure and thus be subject to the city’s zoning laws. After considering a fact pattern very similar to yours, it concluded that trampolines were not accessory structures and therefore could not be governed by city ordinances.
Though many neighbor law questions can be answered by consulting local resources, some issues are governed by state law. California Civil Code § 3479, for instance, governs “private” nuisances that are “indecent or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property…”
If you feel you have a cause of action based on a state law, the proper forum would be either small claims court (for monetary damages) or your county’s superior court (for an injunction and monetary damages). However, this route is likely to be both time-consuming and costly, and your claim first must meet certain legal standards and have evidentiary support. You can find California statutes online at www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html
One helpful book that discusses all of these resources and many more is the 7th edition of Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise, published by Nolo. Nolo Press is a Berkeley-based publishing house that specializes in self-help law books written with the layperson in mind. Neighbor Law’s introductory chapter contains information on “tackling” a neighbor problem, including sources of preliminary research, techniques for approaching the neighbor, and methods for pursuing the issue (e.g. the local authorities, mediation, or court). For more information on mediation, see Ask the County Law Librarian: Fence Dispute and Alternatives to Court.
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