How to Stop a Neighbor’s Construction

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 How Can I Stop a Neighbor's Construction?

There are certain construction rules for neighbors that may permit an individual to legally prevent or halt a neighbor’s construction project. An individual may be entitled to relief for damages which were sustained during their neighbor’s construction project.

In order for an individual to understand their rights, it may be helpful to learn about the general construction approval process. If an individual is aware of their rights and how to assert them, they may potentially be able to stop a neighbor’s construction or receive compensation for losses that were sustained.

How Can I Find Out if My Neighbor has a Building Permit?

Before an individual is permitted to begin a construction or a remodeling project on their property, there are several steps they are required to take. The necessary steps will depend on the type of project and the local laws.

Smaller construction projects, such as painting the interior of a home or adding garden boxes on exterior windows will, in most cases, not require approval. Larger construction projects and alterations which change the value or aesthetic of a home, however, generally require some form of approval or permit.

Examples may include:

  • Adding a second story to a home that is currently a ranch;
  • Putting up a fence;
  • Building a deck or patio;
  • Updating a roof; and
  • Remodeling the exterior of a home.

The residential construction process typically includes some or all of the following steps, which may vary by state:

  • Submit an application to the local planning and building office;
  • Pay any necessary fees;
  • The municipality will review the application to determine if it violates any zoning ordinances or applicable laws;
    • If it affects the community, it may be a topic of debate at a public hearing;
  • The individual will then obtain a permit from their local planning and building office, generally a land use permit, building permit, and/or other permit applicable to the project;
  • Construction can begin;
  • There may be inspections by the individual’s city, township, and/or county; and
  • The project is approved and completed.

It is important to note that, even after a permit is granted, it may be revoked if certain problems arise. A permit may be revoked if the construction project:

  • Begins to encroach on another individual’s land;
  • Fails inspection; or
  • Does not align with the intended purpose as described in the permit.

In these instances, an individual’s permit may be revoked and they will be required to cease construction immediately or they may face fines or other legal consequences.

What are Rights to Subjacent and Lateral Support?

In general, a landowner has the right to get subjacent and lateral support from their neighbor’s property. This means that a neighbor cannot construct anything which will disturb the natural state of the individual’s land in violation of these rights.

Subjacent support refers to the land which is underneath an individual’s property and keeps that property leveled, preventing the foundation from shifting. For example, if a neighbor’s project requires excavation on their property which causes their neighbor’s land to shift, making closing doors or windows difficult, that excavation may be viewed as violating the individual’s right to subjacent support.

Lateral support refers to the adjacent land, including a neighbor’s above-ground property. This will prevent a neighbor from constructing a project which would cause issues including:

  • Landslides;
  • Landslips;
  • Cave-ins; or
  • Floods.

For example, a neighbor would not be permitted to dig up a portion of their own land if it would cause their neighbor’s house to slide down a cliff. There are also other rights which an individual may be able to assert in relation to a neighbor’s construction project if that project damages their property or encroaches over their land.

This may include issues such as a new structure hanging into their yard or a fence which is built over the property line. If an individual believes their neighbor’s project does not comply with a local zoning ordinance or otherwise disrupts the neighborhood, an individual may also be able to stop construction by bringing this issue to the attention of their local planning board.

How Far from a Property Line Can You Build?

Setback ordinances are property laws which govern property boundary lines and provide required property setbacks. A setback is a minimum distance from a property line where a structure may be built.

These setback distances are typically regulated by zoning laws and restrictions which are maintained by local municipal governments. Setback ordinances are in place to prevent structures from being built too close to one another.

How Do I Request an Appeals Hearings?

Typically, zoning decisions are made by a planning or zoning department within a municipality. These departments oversee zoning ordinances and land use hearings and will make decisions regarding:

  • Variances;
  • Conditional use permits; and
  • Other issues which relate to zoning ordinances and land use laws.

If an individual receives an adverse decision regarding their zoning or construction project, it does not mean the end of the road for their project. Individuals are permitted to appeal a Planning Commission’s decision. A decision may also be appealed to a court of law if it is unfavorable to the individual.

What are the Remedies for Property Damage?

There are several possible legal remedies which may be available for property damage. An individual may be entitled to monetary damages if their property was damaged by a neighbor’s construction project.

An individual may also be able to obtain an injunction requiring their neighbor to cease their construction project. An injunction is a court order which requires an individual to either cease engaging in an activity or to do a specific thing.

How do I File a Lawsuit to Stop My Neighbor’s Construction?

If an individual wants to file a lawsuit to stop their neighbor’s construction, they should first bring any issues to the attention of the local planning board and object to the issuance of the permit. In some cases, however, an individual will not be aware of the project until the permit is issued and construction has begun.

In that case, an individual can request an appeal hearing if they feel their rights have been compromised. This generally requires an individual to file a complaint.

Until a hearing is held, construction may resume. Because of this, it is essential to file a complaint as quickly as possible. If the appeal is granted, it is possible the neighbor’s permit may be revoked.

It is important to note that there are other remedies which may be available depending on the situation. For example, if the issue involves damage during the construction process, an individual may be entitled to monetary compensation or an order requiring the neighbor to fix the damage.

If an individual goes through the process with their local planning board and are not satisfied with the results or their neighbor does not comply with the rulings, a civil lawsuit may be filed to halt construction and request damages. This typically involves requesting an injunction to stop the construction process.

There are three possibilities related to an injunction, including:

The first two types provide the parties time to work out their issues and allow for the possibility of continuing construction.

It may also be possible to pursue legal action for noise from a neighbor’s construction. It is important to first speak with the neighbor, as they may not have realized the noise was an issue.

If that is not effective, there are three main options, including:

  • Seeking help from the neighborhood or building organization, such as a HOA;
  • Seeking help from a government agency; or
  • Hiring an attorney.

Should I Consult an Attorney?

It is essential to have the assistance of a real estate lawyer for any construction issues you may have with your neighbor. If you believe your rights are violated by your neighbor’s construction project which violates a local zoning ordinance or disrupts the community, your attorney can advise you of your options and legal rights. Your attorney will represent you during any court appearances and engage in negotiations on your behalf.

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