Thursday, August 28, 2014

Common Neighbor Disputes, Part 2: Parking, trees, and fences!

In our last blog, we covered common neighbor disputes like excessive noise, bad pets, and water damage. We received great feedback that people found our discussion of these issues helpful, so we decided to roll up our sleeves and try to referee more neighbor disputes. Here are five more common problems between feuding neighbors:

Bad neighbor parking.
At condos or apartments, parking disputes usually only occur when a guest parks in a residents space, which is easy to document and file a complaint. However, with private homes on public streets, the issue becomes a little bit more complex. The nightmare scenario for a homeowner is that they purchase their dream home and then have bad neighbors and their guests park their cars directly out front, day and night! But the street is public so anyone can park anywhere they wish, for as long as they want – right? While homeowners or residents do not have legal and exclusive control over the street parking spots in front of their homes, there are usually civic guidelines based on reasonable standards.

For instance, if the neighbor or guest parks their car in front of your home for a period longer than the municipal ordinances allow (72 hours in Sacramento,) you’d have the right to proceed with a formal complaint. Additionally, if a vehicle is too loud, elicits some sort of harm (like leaking oil) or prevents you from enjoying and preserving the value of your property, there may be legal recourse.

RV living on a neighbor’s property.
It’s not legal for anyone to occupy or live in a recreational vehicle, even if it’s on a residential property. So if a neighbor is doing this –whether they live in there or have guests in the RV, on their property or on the street, then you can document it and file a complaint. In most places you are allowed to park a recreational vehicle on your own property, you just can’t live in it. Once again, your city or county will have specific ordinances and codes that outline permissible parking for a RV or any vehicle – but just like you can’t live in your car, you can’t live in your motor home.

Overhanging trees.
While some neighbor disputes are caused by very clear issues, other problems sit in a gray area. For instance, what if your neighbor has a tree that sits on his property, but with a branch that extends into the air space over your property line? That’s more common than you might think, and the problem usually comes to a head when one of four things happens: the tree starts shedding leaves, berries, or debris into your yard, the tree shades or obstructs your view, the tree limb breaks and falls into your yard and causes damage (or looks like it will soon,) and finally, if you take out your saw and cut down the tree limb.

Here’s the good news: If a neighbor’s tree causes a nuisance – like from falling debris – and encroaches into your land, you may abate the nuisance by trimming the overhanging foliage, branch or limbs, as long as you act reasonably as to not seriously injure or kill the tree. But in most states, like California, if you seriously damage a neighbor’s tree – even if it’s hanging over your property – your neighbor may be able to recover damages (usually what they paid for the tree or replacement cost.) There are even strict laws that persecute people who intentionally damage or kill trees with jail!

So who owns the tree if it takes up space in both yards? In California, under Civil Code § 833, if the trunk of a tree stands wholly on the land of one landowner, that landowner owns the tree regardless of whether its roots, foliage, or branches have grown onto the land of another. If your neighbor ignores the problem of his tree’s branches growing into your property line and the tree causes damage, he will be financially responsible. However, if that damage comes from a storm or earthquake – an “act of God” – then the tree owner is not deemed responsible.

Tree roots
While you’re bickering over pesky tree branches with your neighbor, a bigger problem sometimes spreads beneath the soil – the tree’s roots. Roots encroaching onto and under your property can be a serious problem as they may crack sidewalks, damage pools, or even crack your home’s foundation. Once again, there is a legal reasonable standard for a homeowner to address a nuisance or something that causes damage to their property. You may sever the roots of a neighbor’s tree if they are causing damage or clearly threatening to do so. However, if you do this with negligence that harms the tree, the owner of the tree may sue you. That’s why it’s best to use a professional when cutting out roots – not only will they have a professional opinion what is necessary and document the whole process, but they’ll be able to do the job with the least harm to the tree. And what’s even better is that you can pass the bill for their professional services right over the fence to your neighbor – who is legally liable for expenses incurred as a direct result of roots from a tree on his property.

Ahhh, fences – the most polarizing of all neighbor disputes that’s caused more Hatfield v. McCoy feuds than any other issue! Typically, a single fence sits on the boundary line between two neighboring properties. But who is responsible if the fence needs to be repaired or replaced? We see this often as the fence deteriorates but confusion abounds over which neighbor needs to pay, and how much.

The answer is clear: California Civil Code § 841 requires adjacent landowners equally contribute to maintain walls and fences between them, unless one of the two landowners chooses to let the remaining sides of his property remain unfenced. However, if that landowner later fences in his property, he will be responsible for payment of his proportional share of the original value of the common fence.

However, in real life this can be a mess, as it’s next to impossible to force a neighbor to pay if they don’t have the financial means currently (or just don’t want to pay.) Some states allow you to sue your neighbor for not maintaining his or her duty to keep the fence in good condition. But even if you wanted to rip it down and put up a new one yourself you may not be within the law. Since both neighbors share ownership of the fence, you cannot remove it or destroy it without consent.

If you finally agree and start having your fence repaired or replaced, there are specific codes you need to adhere to. In many states and cities, like Sacramento, fences can only be six feet high in your front and side yards, unless you’re issued a specific variance and building permit. This includes lattice, barbed wire, or anything added to the top of the fence to try and extend it higher. If a neighbor builds a fence unnecessarily exceeding 10 feet in height just to annoy or impede their neighbor, it may be deemed a “spite fence,” opening them up to liability. Even hedges or trees planted in a row can be deemed a spite fence!

Every city, state, and municipality may have different codes and regulations when it comes to boundary fences between neighbors, so contact your local city hall or do a little digging on the web.


We hope this general information helps you understands your rights and duties as a neighbor so you can coexist happily. But we're not done yet - look for part 3 of this series of common neighbor disputes, where we cover issues like bad additions, loud paint and ugly fountains, and huge boats on your neighbor's property!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Everything you need to know to survive the next big earthquake.

Earthquake safety preparation:

-Consult a professional contractor or earthquake retrofit specialist for a review of your home or building.  They may suggest measures like bolting bookcases to wall studs, installing strong latches on cupboards, and strapping the water heater, refrigerator, and book cases or big furniture to wall studs.

-Store heavy items on lower shelves or broad, level surfaces so they won’t fall easily.  Make sure items that could potentially fall and cause injury are in latching cabinets. 

-It’s so important to know where your gas main and water main are located in your house as well as how to turn off electricity.  Clearly mark them so they’re easy to find in the fog and chaos of an emergency.  Make sure they are easily turned by hand and not hard to turn because of rust, corrosion, or debris.

-Prepare an earthquake readiness plan and go through it several times with your family.

-This should include two designated exits if you have to leave your home in the event of a fire, explosion, or collapse, and also a designated meeting area outside the home in a safe place.

-In this plan, account for who is responsible for trying to gather the family dog or pet, and parameters when it is safe to do so or better just to leave them.

-Designate a safe room in the house where everyone can automatically gather if an earthquake strikes.  It should be a room XY

-Store flammable liquids away from areas that may ignite or explode like stoves, furnaces, and water heaters.

-Keep a disaster relief kit easily accessible in the house or garage. This should include a first-aid kit, at least 3 gallons of water per person, dust or gas masks, a whistle, gardening gloves, blankets, sturdy boots or shoes, goggles, a battery powered flashlight, a battery powered radio, and a battery-powered or rechargeable cell phone power source.   It’s recommended you store enough rations for 24 hours with no food or water and 3 days without power or communications.

-Store all of your important financial and data records somewhere safe that you can access digitally – like a backup storage server, the Cloud, or via a web-based email.  This should include all of your insurance information.

When an earthquake begins:

-Generally, it’s advised that you Drop, Cover, and Hold On when an earthquake strikes. 

-But DO NOT get under a doorway.  For some reason, this is perceived as a safe place in event of an earthquake but it’s actually one of the worst places to be.
Try to find a strong desk or very sturdy table to get under and cover up.

-If you cannot get to one of those, at least stay along an interior wall, which is free of potentially falling objects and structurally sound. 

-If you are cooking or have an open flame source, hot iron, etc. then try to turn that off immediately before you take cover.

-Expect debris or objects to fall from above so take shelter in a safe position with hands overhead.
Avoid going near windows (glass or debris from the outside may injure you,) large mirrors, under chandeliers or hanging objects, near bookcases, tall heavy furniture that could tip over, or near fireplaces.

-Do not move or exit your home until the shaking stops.

-Expect fire alarms and sprinklers going off in apartment buildings, condos, or commercial buildings.

If you’re outside during an earthquake:

-Find an open area and stop, get to the ground, and cover up your head and neck until the shaking stops.

-Avoid being under trees or too close to houses, buildings, billboards, or other structures.

-Look up to see where you are in relation to power lines and poles. 

-If power lines do fall on your car, DO NOT get out or try to move.  Use your phone or horn to signal for help.

-If you are driving, pull over in an open location and stop and brace yourself.  Of course try to avoid (or get off of) bridges or highway ramps or overpasses.

-If you are on the beach or in a low coastal area when a bad earthquake hits, get to higher ground immediately after the shakings stops – tsunamis are at risk of following a strong earthquake.

After the shaking stops:

-Collect yourself and remain calm.  Thinking clearly and acting definitively is crucial to staying safe because the danger is by no means over just because the earthquake ceased. 

-Check yourself for injuries and then call out to others in the house to find them and make sure they are not inured. 

-If someone is seriously injured, it’s recommended you don’t move them unless they are in harms way.

-Go over your earthquake emergency plan in your head and even vocalize it.

-When it’s safe, turn off the electricity, gas main (SO important!) and water main.

-Expect aftershocks or tremors after a large earthquake.

-If it’s safe, proceed to the designated gathering area and locate your emergency supply kit.  Be conscious that there may be plenty of items that fell or were displaced during the quake in your path, or even items that could still fall, so make your way cautiously.

-If your home appears badly damage or you hear noises or see any continued shifting in the structure, exit immediately.

-If you smell gas, get everyone outside and open windows or doors if possible.  Do not use electrical appliances as even a little spark can trigger an explosion. 

-Once you are in a safe place, check your cell phone and send a group text to your emergency contact list that you and your family are safe.

-Expect cell phone communications to be interrupted or overloaded.  Keep trying, and possibly send a text as well as trying to call.

-Once it’s safe to do so, unplug all major appliances inside your home – when the power comes back on, it could cause fires or short circuits.  Turn off the electrical main or turn off the breakers, but never do so if you see frayed or damaged wiring or have to stand in water to do so.

-Try to bring your wallet and house and car keys with you, but only if you are 100% sure it’s safe to collect them.

-Be aware of debris that might possibly fall like tree limbs, roofing, gutters, and damaged chimneys.

-Make sure everyone puts on heavy footwear, goggles, and heavy gloves if you have to make your way across badly damaged areas.  Nails, glass, and other broken debris cause just as many injuries as earthquakes. 

-Exercise caution when opening any closet doors, attic hatches, cabinets, etc. because items probably shifted during the quake and will fall out.

-Call 911 to report injuries or gas leaks but try to reserve calling for emergencies.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The 10 most amazing swimming pools in the world!

Chongwe River House pool.
Zambia, Africa.
How many pools in the world allow you to watch elephants? The pool at this African resort and guest house is the perfect natural setting to lounge beneath a ancient Winterhorn tree while taking photos and watching wildlife on the banks of the Chongwe river. Even the poolside furniture is crafted from fallen native trees and the ceiling of the lodge is decorated with colored river pebbles. 

Oberoi Udaivilas pool.

Lake Pichola in Udaipur, India.

This luxurious resort in southern India actually can boast that they have two of the most exotic pools pin the world, a swimming pool spa overlooking a lake and a square pool in the center of a courtyard, mimicking the symmetry of the Taj Mahal. They certainly don't lack for size - both are over 88 feet long and one is over 78 feet wide!  

Starry lit pool at Jumeirah Dhevanafushi resort. 
The Maldives.
Sitting like an oasis in the middle of the tropical Indian Ocean, the Maldives are home to one of the finest resorts in the world, stretched over two otherwise deserted islands.  The white sand beaches and palm trees draw visitors by day, but at night, stargazing in the reflection of the world famous Jumeirah Dhevanafushi pool is the main attraction.

Katikies hotel pool.
Santorini, Greece.
The pools at this magnificent Greek resort on the Santorini Islands allows you to take in the most amazing views of the sea and and calderas around you, or lounge on fluffy pillows in the shade of natural stone grottos and caves.  

Pool at Boucan by Hotel Chocolat.

St. Lucia.

One of the most divine infinity pools in the world, Hotel Chocolat's swimmable water feature offers views of the lush jungle around a working coco plantation and Piton Mountain that transform you back in time.  The pool is lined with black quartz and offers plenty of comfortable areas to lay around complete with complimentary hotel iPads and a constant breeze, thanks to the elevation.

Pool at Richard Branson’s Necker Island Resort.

British Virgin Islands.

When you're one of the world's most iconic billionaires, it's nice to get away some times, so Sir Richard Branson built his own resort on Necker Island in the charming BVI's.  The good news is that the 74-acre private island is for rent; not just a room, but the whole island!  The price tag is a mere $60,000 a day - a pittance for all of those billionaires!  

Blue Lagoon Geothermal Resort pool.

GrindavĂ­k, Iceland.

Iceland is truly one of the world's hidden treasures, but with their friendly culture, short plane ride to New York, and breathtaking landscape, it's becoming far more popular.  Any trip to this unique country demands a dip into one of the many natural geothermal pools, heated by the vast underground volcanos and hot springs. There is no better place to spend a day in natural heated pools and at the spa than at Blue Lagoon in Grindavik!  

The Joule Hotel pool.

Dallas, USA.

This 5-star hotel built in 1927 is one of the oldest in Dallas, yet it is far from traditional.  It's famous for its 10th-floor pool that amazingly cantilevers out 8 feet into thin air. Just to make sure your routine swim turns into an invigorating experience, the protruding end of the pool is made of clear glass, so you can see the city and street below - and they can see you!

Hotel Caruso pool.

Ravello, Italy.

If you travel to Italy and become overwhelmed with the bustling city of Rome and the touristy enclaves of Florence and Venice, take a trip to Ravello, where you can relax at a hotel built from a 11th century palace.  The Hotel Caruso includes one of the most beautiful infinity pools int he world, dropping right down a sheer cliff into the Amalfi Coast.  But exercise caution - one you witness the most enchanting sunset of your life from the edge of this pool, you'll never want to leave!

Pool at San Alfonso del Mar Resort.

Algarrobo, Chile.

This private resort 100km from the capital city, Santiago, has the world's largest swimming pool, a marvel of modern construction so big you can even kayak and sail on it. Boggling the mind, this salt water pool is 3,323 feet long and spans 20 acres, with a maximum depth of 115 feet. It holds 66 million gallons of water pumped in from the neighboring Pacific Ocean. The pool only cost $2 billion to build and about $4 million a year in annual maintenance! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mold in your home can be a serious health risk - here's what you need to know to stay safe.

There is an enemy lurking in your home - almost undetectable, slowly spreading while you sleep, growing uninhibited until it can damage your family’s health.  We’re talking about toxic mold, which can spring up behind the walls and under the floors wherever there is a source of moisture.  There are more than 200 types of mold, but with and with 1 in 12 Americans affected with asthma or some respiratory illness, mold in the home can severely affect your health – or even cause hospitalization or death in extreme cases.  Luckily, if you’re buying a house there are very specific mold disclosure laws in California, and we always recommend you get a thorough home inspection, which should be able to identify potential problem areas.  But it can’t hurt to be careful and proactive, so here is a quick primer on the problem of mold in your home:

What is it?
Mold is an organic fungus and part of the natural environment.  In the outdoors, mold serves a purpose by breaking down dead organic matter like leaves and dead trees.  There are over 200 types of mold and it can come in several colors – like black, green, gray or white.  Some molds are visible and give off an odor, but others are virtually undetectable.  The most dangerous molds give off mycotoxins, which can cause severe illness.  Mold grows where there is consistent moisture or dampness.  Therefore, mold growth in houses or apartments is a major problem that could impact the resident’s health and should be taken seriously. 

Mold reproduces by releasing its spores, which are invisible to the naked eye but can spread through the air.  Mold spores will only grow and spread if moisture is present.

Where can mold grow?
The scary thing about mold in the home is that it can grow virtually detected wherever there is a moisture source and needs only 24-28 hours to appear.  Mold can grow at the base of leaking windows, on the back of sheetrock, the top of ceiling tiles, under carpet or flooring, and even take hold inside your heat and air conditioning vents.  Bathrooms, basements, anywhere there is a water leak, areas of flooding, and near area where pipes or vents access the outdoors are typical areas of potential mold.

Is mold dangerous?
Mold can be extremely dangerous so should be treated seriously and with the utmost caution.  Mold spores produce allergens, irritants, and sometimes mycotoxins, which can exacerbate allergies or health problems or even cause sickness.  While most molds are not deadly, black mold and other strains can seriously affect a person’s health or even prove fatal over time.  Some molds can take a toll on your health immediately, while others manifest over time.

How can I prevent mold?
Remember the mantra, “The key to mold control is moisture control.”  Around the house, look for dripping pipes, leaking plumbing, windows, doors, or areas of the roof that allow water in, or other constant moisture sources.

If you have an area of the home that is prone to moisture, like a damp basement, buy a humidifier to take some of the moisture out of the air.  Make sure your bathrooms have good ventilation fans. 

Inspect your home inside and out for areas of mold growth, water damage or consistent water access and fix accordingly. 

What are the warning signs?
Inside the home, look for wet patches or areas of flooding.  While these are often behind the walls or in other areas hidden from eye, there are warning signs.  Look for brown or discolored patches on sheetrock or building materials.  Look for signs of soggy or rotting walls, woodwork, door and window sills and jams, or ceiling tiles.  Of course keep an eye out for drips, leaks, and standing water.  Check basements, AC pans and hoses indoors and out, and in or behind appliances like refrigerators, washing machines, or dish washers.  Check ventilation registers and inputs for signs of discoloration or dampness.  Some mold gives off an odor that’s warning sign – a damp, earthy smell, but other mold is odorless.  But remember that mold can only exist with moisture, so thoroughly examine your home with that in mind.

How can it impact my health?
If airborne mold spores are inhaled, which means they can easily affect a person’s respiratory or immune system.  People with asthma or other respiratory illnesses usually are most susceptible, and could have problems sleeping and headaches.  Other health problems that could develop from mold spore exposure are breathing problems, congestion, headache, severe or increased allergic reactions, asthma, sinusitis, and many kinds of infections.  Since mold spores are allergens, they can cause skin rashes (dermatitis,) sneezing, red and itching eyes, throat and lung issues, and other symptoms.

How can I clean it up?
It’s recommended that you hire a professional if you have a serious mold problem or any doubt about its existence or seriousness.  But some times there may be small areas of non-toxic mold that you want to clean up proactively.  You can buy a simple test kit at any Home Depot or most hardware stores.  You’ll probably also want to wear a N-95 respirator, which you can buy for $20 or so.  Wear protective rubber gloves and dispose of everything carefully when finished.  Most non-toxic mold infestations can be cleaned up by scrubbing with regular household detergent.  Some people have used biocides like chlorine bleach to clean up mold, though it should never be mixed with other detergents or chemicals and a proper respirator, gloves, and protective eyewear should be worn.   Never just paint or caulk over mold and make sure to keep it away from children.

If in doubt, hire a professional to run the appropriate tests.  If mold becomes a significant problem or you suspect airborne spores or are having any health problems, consult professionals.

Further resources.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides extensive information in the Molds and Moisture section of the EPA website.

The Center of Disease Control (CDC) offers comprehensive information on mold on their site. 

Always get a home inspection when buying a home and pay attention to the seller’s disclosures about mold and water damage.

Mold remediation companies can do a thorough inspection of your home, inside and out, and detect mold in the air by running lab tests.  They can also take samples of building materials like walls or ceilings to check for mold.  A professional inspection may cost you a couple hundred dollars but may be the best money you’ve ever spent!