Lateral and Subjacent Support

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 What Is Lateral Support?

Lateral support pertains to the right of a landowner to have their land naturally supported by the adjoining land. It’s associated with the physical integrity of the property, meaning that the adjacent property should not do anything that would cause the land to collapse or slip, like excavating too near the boundary.

The right of lateral support is a landowner’s legal right to have their land upheld by its neighboring land. In many jurisdictions, this is an implicit right associated with land ownership, and it often cannot be renounced or waived through contract. If a neighbor’s actions cause a landowner’s land to collapse (for example, by excavating soil near the boundary line), the neighbor could be held legally responsible for the damage.

Lateral support liability is the legal responsibility that a property owner may face if their actions or negligence cause damage to an adjacent property through a lack of proper lateral support. This scenario can include excavation or construction activities that lead to a landslide, sinkhole, or other types of land collapse on the neighboring property. The liability generally depends on whether the actions were negligent or whether they interfered with the natural state of the land.

What Is Subjacent Support?

Subjacent support, in property law, refers to the right of a landowner to have their land supported from below. If someone is excavating or mining beneath a property, they have a duty not to compromise the stability of the surface land.

Subjacent support is particularly relevant when mineral rights (the rights to exploit an area for the minerals it harbors) are separate from surface rights. For example, if a mining company owns the rights to minerals beneath a homeowner’s property, it must exercise those rights in a way that does not cause the surface to sink or collapse.

What Are Some Examples of Subjacent and Lateral Support?

Suppose a developer buys a plot of land adjacent to a steep hillside with homes. If the developer excavates near the property line for a new building and the excavation causes a landslide damaging the homes on the hillside, this would be a violation of the right to lateral support.

Now, imagine a coal mining company operating under a town, extracting minerals from beneath the properties. If the mining operations cause the ground beneath a home to sink or collapse, this would be a violation of the right to subjacent support.

What Can I Do if My Neighbor Is Excavating Property?

If your neighbor is excavating their property and you’re concerned about the potential impact on your land, there are several steps you can take to protect your rights:

  • Communicate with your neighbor: The first step is to communicate with your neighbor about your concerns. They might not realize the potential impact of their excavation on your property. A simple conversation can often resolve many issues without involving legal measures.
  • Understand your local laws and ordinances: Familiarize yourself with local laws, regulations, and ordinances regarding excavation and construction. Most cities and municipalities have specific guidelines about how close to property lines excavation can happen, as well as requirements for retaining walls or other support structures. Understanding these rules can give you a sense of whether your neighbor’s actions are within legal boundaries.
  • Consult a professional: If you’re worried about the physical impact on your property, consider consulting a professional, such as a structural engineer or geologist. They can assess the situation and provide expert advice about potential risks.
  • Document the situation: If you suspect that your neighbor’s excavation could damage your property, start documenting the situation. Take photographs, note the dates of any changes or incidents, and keep a record of any communication between you and your neighbor.
  • Seek legal advice: If your neighbor continues with the excavation despite your concerns, it may be necessary to seek legal advice. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and possible courses of action. You might have the right to an injunction, which is a court order that could halt your neighbor’s excavation until the matter is resolved.

What if an Adjacent Owner Constructs a Building?

If an adjacent property owner is constructing a building, you have certain rights as well:

  • Zoning and building codes: Your local government likely has zoning laws and building codes that dictate what can be built on a property, how large structures can be, how close to the property line they can be built, and more.
    • If you believe that your neighbor’s proposed construction violates these laws or codes, you can report it to your local zoning or building department.
  • Right to light and view: Some jurisdictions recognize a “right to light,” meaning a new building cannot block light to your property. Similarly, some areas have laws about preserving views, especially in coastal or scenic areas. These laws vary widely, so you’ll need to research your local rules or consult a lawyer.
  • Noise and disruption: Construction often involves noise, dust, and other disruptions. Local noise ordinances may limit the hours during which construction can take place. If construction activities are causing unreasonable disturbances, you may be able to take legal action.
  • Trespass or encroachment: If construction activities extend onto your property — for example, if a crane swings over your land or if construction materials are stored on your property — this could constitute trespass or encroachment. In such cases, you may have legal remedies.
  • Legal advice: As with excavation, if you’re concerned about a neighbor’s construction, it can be a good idea to seek legal advice. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and guide you on the best course of action.

Remember to maintain open lines of communication with your neighbor throughout this process. Many disputes can be resolved through negotiation or mediation, which can be faster and less costly than going to court. However, protecting your property and rights is also important, so don’t hesitate to seek professional advice if necessary.

What Should I Do if My Neighbor Is Mining?

Under property law, you have the right to both lateral and subjacent support, which means that your neighbor’s mining activities should not cause your land to collapse or suffer any damage.

It’s best to have a conversation with your neighbor about these concerns. They may not fully understand their activities’ potential impact on your property. Clear, open communication can often prevent misunderstandings and disputes.

Mining activities are typically heavily regulated. You should familiarize yourself with local, state, and federal laws concerning mining activities. These regulations often cover aspects like safety measures, environmental impact, and the rights of adjacent property owners.

Keep a record of the mining activities, particularly if they’re causing any physical changes to your property or impacting your use and enjoyment of your land. This could include taking photographs, keeping a diary of activities and their impacts, and retaining copies of any communication with your neighbor.

Depending on the scale and type of mining, you might want to consult a professional, such as a geologist, structural engineer, or environmental scientist, to assess any potential risks to your property.

If you notice damage to your property, it’s time to consult a property lawyer. They can guide you through the process of protecting your property.

Should I Contact a Lawyer if My Support Is Threatened?

If your right to lateral or subjacent support is threatened, contacting a lawyer should be one of your first steps. A property lawyer can review the details of your situation and provide advice tailored to your circumstances.

LegalMatch is a valuable resource for finding a property lawyer. It’s a free online service that can match you with a pre-screened, qualified attorney in your local area.

To use LegalMatch, you simply submit your case online, and interested property lawyers will contact you. You can then review their qualifications, experience, fees, and reviews from previous clients and select the lawyer who is the best fit for your needs.

While facing property disputes can be stressful, remember that you have rights and resources available to you. With the right help, you can protect your property and peace of mind.

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