Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Neighbor disputes, Part 3; High grass, junk, vacant homes, and cleaning up after dogs.

Home ownership is usually one of the best experiences you can have – and a great long-term investment. But while you can choose which house to buy, you can’t choose your neighbors. Sometimes we get lucky and have wonderful neighbors we become friends with; other times we don’t strike up a friendship but maintain civility, and then…there are bad neighbors.

What can you do when your neighbor is making your life difficult? Usually with good communication, common sense, and putting egos aside, you can reach some agreement to live and let live, but in those rare cases that your neighbors are turning your home ownership dream into a nightmare, it’s good to know your rights and the local laws.

Today, we’ll cover neighbors who pave over their front yard for parking,
high grass, vacant homes, junk, big boats or RV’s, and not cleaning up after their dogs.

While civil codes differ slightly depending on your city and municipality, these are generally accepted neighbor ordinances in and around Sacramento.  

Paving their front yard for parking.
It’s a terrible eyesore when your neighbor rips out their front yard and lays down pavement instead, turning it into a parking lot. It definitely alters the consistency of the neighborhood, but is it legal?

In Sacramento, the total parking area in front or on the side of a residential yard is restricted to:
 1. 40% of the yard area on the front or side yard meeting the street.
 2. It’s ok to pave any area leading directly to the carport or enclosed garage;
 3. But in total, you cannot pave more than 400 square feet of your front or street-side yard.

Vacant homes.
Some times, no neighbor is worse than an unruly neighbor who is at least occupying the property next door. If a home is owned by an investor or family member but not currently occupied, it opens the door for serious issues; squatters and vagrants, fire or water damage, roaches, rodents, unkempt lawns, etc. 

While it’s not a violation of any County Code to let your home sit vacant, you still are responsible for maintaining its condition and safety. So if you see a neighbor’s vacant home and suspect illegal activity, unauthorized people breaking in, etc., contact the Sheriff’s Department and they will come make sure the home is properly secured. 

Additionally, it’s usually easy to find the owner of a home through tax records, etc. (we can help you.) Write them a letter alerting them to the problem – like the presence of roaches or rats that are coming from their property or high grass – and ask the problem be addressed immediately. Keep it nice and polite and offer to meet them at the property to talk about the issue with them. But document everything with photos and copies of letters, emails, calls to the Sheriff, etc. If it becomes a serious long-term problem that costs you time, money, jeopardizes your safety, or decreases your home’s value, you may have a case to recover damages.

High grass.
You can mow, trim, and weed until your front yard looks like Tiger Wood’s putting green, but if you neighbor lets their grass grow long and unkempt, it feels like wasted effort. So what are the rules for neighbors who neglect their lawns?

Sacramento has a specific city ordinance on front yard landscaping (including visible side yards.)  Generally, it’s a violation of this code in the grass or weeds reaches higher than 12 inches. Not only is this unsightly, but can be a serious fire hazard considering California’s draught and our long hot summers. The Code Enforcement Division issues citations to property owners who have high weeds or grass on a vacant lot or a lot with a structure. 

An interesting note – in 2007, Sacramento changed their residential landscaping ordinance to allow the growing of fruits and vegetables in a front yard, welcoming the change from water-wasting lawns to useful community and residential front-yard gardens.

Although we all enjoy the morning vista of a ripped soggy coach, a dilapidated old refrigerator, a crusty fish tank, tired, and piles of trash in our neighbor’s yard, keeping excessive refuse in your yard is against the law. It’s a violation of the zoning code to have junk and rubbish on the property. Our neighbors may try to impede our view of their junkyard masterpieces by hiding it behind a fence, under a tarp, or within a screened-in porch, but if it’s visible to the public, it still constitutes a public nuisance and can result in the case being taken to a Nuisance Hearing.

What is junk? Anything that is broken, not normally used or stored outdoors is dismantled, worn out, or being stored for conversion, recycling, or salvage is junk.

Big boats and RV’s.
If you’re a boat or RV owner, the good news is that it is legal to park your vehicle on your residential property. If you’re the neighbor of that person, the bad news is that it’s legal for them to park their boat or RV on their property. However, any vehicles need to be operational and have current registration, and it’s always illegal for someone to live in it. While a yacht or monstrous RV are eye sores, they are not illegal unless they cross your property line, threaten your safety (like being in danger of falling over or hit tree limbs,) they can’t harm the environment (like if they leak oil,) or otherwise inhibit the use and enjoyment of your property.

My suggestion is, if you have a neighbor with a boat or RV, bring them over a bottle of wine and become good friends so they’ll invite you to use them! (If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.)

Cleaning up after your dog.
We love pets, but unfortunately, too many owners neglect their duty to clean up after their dogs.  But carrying a bag and a pooper scooper isn’t just good etiquette – it’s actually the law. Under Municipal Code Section 6.16.220, dog owners are required to clean up after their dogs. If a neighbor’s dog makes too many deposits on your lawn without the owner making the appropriate withdrawals, or if their own property is so inundated with waste that it becomes a health and safety hazard (or just plain disgusting,) you can contact the City's Animal Care and Control Division. Remember to take photos of the offending mutt if you want to prove it’s the neighbor’s dog making the mess.

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