Managing a House Sale During a Neighbor Dispute

Neighbors are not always neighborly.  In fact, disagreements over such issues as property boundaries, encroachments, noise, privacy, unkept yards and parking can easily boil over from mere misunderstandings to legal disputes. 

Issues with neighbors that escalate into legal conflicts can consume disproportionate amounts of time and money.  They can especially make it difficult to sell a property due to both the possibility of deal sabotage from a disgruntled neighbor and the potential for that the new buyer to be put off when the dispute is revealed.

In Florida, failure to disclose a dispute with a neighbor can result in a post-sale lawsuit against the seller or agent.  With all of these factors, it is worth managing a sale during a dispute with the assistance of a knowledgeable real estate attorney.

Boundary Disputes

It can be especially difficult to sell a property for its full value when an adjacent neighbor claims that part of the property belongs to them.

Nuisance Neighbors

Another category of dispute concerns neighbors who make noise, create eyesores or engage in activities that otherwise negatively affect the community.  

Disputes with Homeowners Associations (HOAs)

Neighbors are not the only source of community conflict.  In many cases, an HOA may have unresolved issues with a property owner who would like to sell their property.  This could be related to additions or changes made to the property that are not authorized under community guidelines. If so, the conflict is likely to continue after the sale of the property and affect the new owner.  

“In Florida, failure to disclose a dispute with a neighbor can result in a post-sale lawsuit against the seller or agent.” 

External Obsolescence

External obsolescence is a phenomenon in which a property depreciates due to factors outside of a seller’s control.  Neighbors who behave badly or are hostile to a sale can become obstacles to the sales process.  Festering disputes can lower a property’s value depending on the tolerance level of the buyer.  At worst, disputes can kill a deal.  However, some buyers such as financial institutions or investors might not be too concerned about certain nuisance neighbors.  

If you are in the market to sell your home during a dispute, you can work with your real estate agent and your real estate attorney to determine whether a dispute is posing an external obsolescence effect on the value of your property. 

Disclosure Requirement

Sellers and their agents are ethically and legally bound to disclose major disputes with neighbors or disputes with homeowner associations to potential buyers.  It is tempting for some sellers to proceed with a transaction without potential buyers being informed of a dispute. However, doing so may cause legal problems for both the seller and the seller’s agent.  

Proceeding with Caution

It is important to consider the consequences of actions when unilaterally attempting to resolve a dispute with a neighbor in anticipation of a property sale.  Some actions can worsen the dispute or cause liability that can result in civil or criminal penalties.  For example, cutting a disputed tree down in whole or in part may result in charges of vandalism with both civil and legal ramifications.  Unilaterally deciding to build a fence to assert rights over disputed property may result in an escalation that makes it harder to sell the property. 

The best way to handle a property dispute is to take action with the advice of an experienced real estate attorney who can advise of the legal and practical consequences of every potential action.

It may become necessary to resort to legal action initiated by an experienced Florida real estate attorney in order to prevent the effects of external obsolescence.  These actions may include:

  • Sending a cease and desist letter to the neighbor or neighbors who are causing the dispute
  • Mediation with the neighbor(s) to resolve the issue at hand
  • Involvement of law enforcement where appropriate or where illegal activity is at the source of the dispute
  • Managing the services of third-party professionals such as land surveyors who can present a definitive resolution to a property dispute
  • Court action 

South Florida Law

Selling a property involves many moving parts.  However, the process of navigating a real estate sale in the midst of a property dispute can be particularly complex.  Be sure not to “go it alone”.  South Florida Law, PLLC is your legal partner, prepared to protect your best interest. We provide a variety of resources and solutions to equip buyers, sellers and agents with the protections necessary to close deals with success. South Florida Law also assists in the title insurance and title search process, handling contract matters, reviewing agreements and representing our clients in real estate transaction closings. Are you selling or buying property in the State of Florida?  If so, call us on (954) 900-8885 or use our contact form for a free consultation. 

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