4 Property Damage Disputes Between Neighbors: Who Pays?

Real estate, Money

While the vast majority of us will (thankfully) never have to rebuild from devastating disasters like Hurricane Sandy or the Moore, Oklahoma, tornadoes, we are likely to endure more mundane property damage—the kind that occurs, say, when the neighbor’s kid sends a baseball sailing through your oversized, double-pane window or a city tree starts loosening the brick pavers of your driveway. Do you have to pay for the repairs—or is it the other guy’s responsibility? Here are four not-so-uncommon scenarios and the legalities of who pays for what when.

Scenario #1

A tree from your neighbor’s yard falls and crashes through your roof. Now, you suddenly have a skylight you never really wanted.

Responsibility: Unless you can prove that your neighbor was negligent in some way (i.e., the tree was dead and was a known hazard) the cost of repairs lies with you. Ditto removal of the tree.

Scenario #2

You blow out a tire when you hit a pothole while driving down a city street.

Responsibility: It depends. You can file a claim with the city for the cost of replacing your tire, but be aware that very few of these types of claims are approved (in Los Angeles, for example, only 10 percent get the green light). One reason claims are often denied is because the pothole is so new, the city did not have a reasonable amount of time in which to fix it (in Louisville, Kentucky, for example, the city has 48 hours to fill a pothole). If you think your claim has been wrongfully denied, you can repeal the decision and even take the city to small claims court—and, of course, incur more fees.

Scenario #3

Your neighbor installs new gutters on his home that results in rainwater being directed toward your property. Now when it rains you notice water seeping into your basement and mold beginning to grow.

Responsibility: Laws vary from state to state. In some states, if a property owner changes his landscape in such a way as to cause damage to another’s property, the person who made the change is at fault. One hitch: The change has to be deemed “unreasonable.” Is the installation of new gutters unreasonable? Courts decided on a case-by-case basis. Other states, however, view runoff from rainwater as something everyone has to endure, which means the neighbor installing new gutters is off the hook.

Scenario: #4

When your upstairs neighbor leaves for two weeks in January and turns his heat way down to cut costs, his pipes freeze and water gushes into your apartment.

Responsibility: Since the pipe burst due to your neighbor’s negligence, he likely will be responsible for the damage. If you can’t get quick resolution from your neighbor, however, you might want to file a claim with your homeowner’s insurance and let them try to get reimbursed from your neighbor’s insurance (assuming he has some).