Ask the County Law Librarian – Neighbor Troubles
Hi, this is a multiple question question. I recently purchased a house on 2 acres in Citrus Heights, and the entire property needs to be re-fenced and the neighbors don’t want to help pay for it. The fencing is at least 40 years old (one neighbor has confirmed this) and it is livestock fencing made of rotted out wood posts reinforced by some metal T posts with rusted wire and barbed wire fencing between the posts. There are 4 neighbors that surround the property, one neighbor (we’ll call her neighbor A) has little dogs that come into my yard and continue to poop in several large poo piles at the edge of my property. I have not been able to catch them, but the poop is proof enough. Also, there is a year round county creek that runs through my property and through one of the other neighbor’s properties (we’ll call him neighbor B). We can’t entirely fence the creek because of debris running through, but I still want the shared border that isn’t creek fenced as much as possible. Also, neighbor B has blackberry bushes that are on his property, but past their part of the creek where they can’t even get to, and come right up to the property border and are overtaking the border fence. They are also continuing to trespass into the creek on my property in order to pull random debris out and leave it on my property. So here are the questions:
Can I legally make them all pay for half the fence?
Additional info: All except neighbor A has completely fenced yards excluding the part where the creek runs through which can’t be fenced.
What can I do about neighbor A’s dogs constantly pooping in my yard? (They poop there because the fence is inadequate to keep them out.)
What can I do about neighbor B’s blackberry bushes?
What can I do about neighbor B trespassing into my yard and pulling debris out of the creek and leaving it in my yard?
Thank you! Any help would be appreciated!
Neighbor disputes are something that we’ve all undoubtedly experienced at some point. Resolving them requires finding a balance between protecting your property and quality of life, while maintaining a cordial relationship with your neighbors. It looks like you have several different issues in your new home, which are addressed below.
California Civil Code section 841 is very specific about the responsibility for maintenance of fences. Generally speaking, boundary fences are jointly owned by both landowners, and thus the responsibility of both landowners. There is a significant exception to this rule – property owners are only responsible for the fence if they are using the fence to enclose their property. If one of the property owners has chosen to leave his land unfenced, he is not using the fence on the property line to enclose his property and is therefore not responsible for maintaining it. For more information, see Chapter 11 of Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise from Nolo Press, which provides details about state and local fence laws.
Both the City of Sacramento and Sacramento County have ordinances that specifically require pet owners to immediately pick up after their dogs. Citrus Heights doesn’t appear to have the same requirement, but the city codes do require dogs to be on a leash when not on their owner’s property (section 8-46), and from causing a nuisance or property damage (section 8-44). Unfortunately, it may be difficult to enforce these codes if city or county official does not witness the act. For more information about pooper-scooper laws, see Chapter 2 of Every Dog’s Legal Guide from Nolo Press.
You may be able to pursue this on your own in the civil court, if you believe that the dog’s entry and deposits meet the legal criteria constituting a nuisance. Under Civil Code 3479, a nuisance is anything that is injurious to health, indecent or offensive to the senses, or obstructs or interferes with free enjoyment of your property. California Civil Code 3501-3503 allows the injured party to start a civil action or to abate the nuisance.
Encroaching limbs and roots are generally considered a legal nuisance. As mentioned above, the injured party may start a civil action or to abate the nuisance. “Abating the nuisance” of encroaching limbs and roots usually means that you can trim them back to the property line, as long as you do not cause unnecessary injury to the plant, or enter the neighboring property without permission. Without permission, it is considered trespassing. More information about encroaching trees and vegetation can be found in Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise from Nolo Press.
Generally, any unauthorized entry or invasion onto the property of another is considered trespass. This may be a person entering another’s land without permission, trees or vegetation encroaching over the property line, or anyone intruding on another’s land and leaving objects behind. As with most laws, there are many exceptions. There are many instances in which it is lawful to enter another’s property without permission.
A case for trespass can be pursued in both the civil and criminal courts. The criminal act is a violation of Penal Code section 602. You cannot bring criminal charges yourself – that is up to the District Attorney. If you’re interested in pursuing criminal charge for trespass, you would need to contact the police.
You can also pursue a case for trespass on your own in the civil courts. Depending on the nature and severity of the trespass, the court may issue an injunction prohibiting the party from entering your land or requiring the party to perform specific acts such as trimming the offending vegetation; award you compensatory damages if the trespass resulted in property damage (See Civil Code section 3333); or possibly award punitive damages, if it can be proven that the trespass was committed with oppression, fraud, or malice (See Civil Code Section 3294(a)).
Many people are understandably reluctant to start litigation against a neighbor. There are less antagonistic options available. About a year ago, we answered a question about non-court alternatives for fence disputes in Sacramento. The City of Citrus Heights also offers a free dispute resolution program intended to assist neighbors in settling these types of matters.
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