Even though most people consider themselves to be reasonable and
easy to get along with, most people also have had the uncomfortable
experience of running into a dispute with one of their neighbors.
Whether commercial or residential properties are involved, neighbor
disputes run the gamut from loud noise, to cars parked in front of
driveways, to tree roots or overhanging limbs, and to boundary line
disputes. The list of things neighbors can get into fights about is
endless and often emotionally charged.
These kinds of disputes can be a source of extreme stress and
frustration. Moreover, if you are in the right, the issue in
dispute is one you care deeply about, and your neighbor or
adjoining business owner refuses to be reasonable, you will likely
have to initiate litigation to get the matter resolved. While it is
in the interest of any attorney to say so, it is still true that
hiring an attorney to enforce your rights increases the likelihood
of obtaining a desirable outcome in a dispute. Yes, attorneys are
costly so you should decide how important the dispute is to you
before retaining an attorney. Moreover, attorney's fees are
often not recoverable in neighbor disputes.
Code of Civil procedure section 1033.5(a)(10)(A)-(C) provides
that attorney's fees are recoverable as costs only when
authorized by contract, statute, or law. Many neighbor disputes
simply do not fall within that purview since there often is no
contract, statute, or law specifying that attorney's fees can
be awarded to the party who prevails in the dispute.
However, under certain circumstances, attorney's fees may in
fact be recoverable to a party who prevails in a neighbor dispute.
That is, Penal Code section 496(a) states: "Every person who
buys or receives any property that has been stolen or that has been
obtained in any manner constituting theft or extortion, knowing the
property to be so stolen or obtained, or who conceals, sells,
withholds, or aids in concealing, selling, or withholding any
property from the owner, knowing the property to be so stolen or
obtained, shall be punished . . . [.]" Penal Code section
496(c) states: "Any person who has been injured by a violation
of subdivision (a) . . . may bring an action for three times the
amount of actual damages, if any, sustained by the plaintiff, costs
of suit, and reasonable attorney's fees."1
For example, if there is a dispute regarding the location of a
fence you have erected on the property line and your neighbor
removes your fence, you arguably would be entitled to your
attorney's fees if you prevail in court. If your neighbor
decides to engage in self-help by removing a tree from your yard
because the branches cross the property line, you arguably would be
entitled to your attorney's fees if you prevail in court. Even
if your neighbor removes your holiday lawn declarations, you
arguably would be entitled to your attorney's fees if you
prevail in court.
Every attempt to resolve a neighbor dispute should take place
before initiating litigation. However, in addition to other
factors, such as future good relations with your neighbor and the
aggravation of litigation, whether Penal Code section 496 appears
to apply to your neighbor dispute should also be a factor to
consider when deciding whether to hire an attorney to have a court
resolve the dispute.
1 In addition, a party who prevails in an action
regarding the enforcement of Covenants, Conditions, and
Restrictions ("CC&Rs") of a common interest
development is entitled attorney's fees pursuant to Civil Code
section 5975. CC&Rs also often have a prevailing party
attorney's fees provision.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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