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Amending Fences: COVID-19 Brings Issues Involving Neighbors and Property Boundaries

Amending Fences: COVID-19 Brings Issues Involving Neighbors and Property Boundaries

The changes to our lives brought about by the coronavirus pandemic—lockdown, social distancing, and remote work—have made us all spend more time at home. For many homeowners, property and boundary issues were only minor frustrations or simply too time-consuming to focus on, but have now come to the forefront.

These issues may be new or longstanding, but the lockdown has made them unavoidable. They usually (though not always) involve a neighbor’s use of their property or conduct.

Examples include a fence that’s built over the property line, or is a dilapidated eyesore; a neighbor who constantly uses your driveway to get to their property; a deed description that’s revealed to be inaccurate; an encroachment by a neighbor on your land (or vice versa); a structure that’s too close to your boundary line, or significantly obstructs your light or ventilation; and any other violation or disagreement over property space and use.

Because these disputes typically occur between neighbors, which have to continue living next to each other, the best approach is always to work things out amicably. Even when retained by a client, our first action is usually to send a communication that is cordial and cooperative, to maintain the neighborly relationship and de-escalate an untenable situation.

It’s important to note, however, that in New York State property rights can be established (or lost) if an issue is ignored for a period of 10 years or more.

This includes title through “adverse possession,” by which a person may claim ownership of a property or portion of a property which isn’t theirs and without permission from the legal owner if they have been continuously occupying the land.

Similarly, a person making continued use of another’s property without permission, such as driving over their driveway, may be able to claim a legal right of use, known as a “prescriptive easement.”

Given the current homebound reality, our firm has experienced an uptick in these and similar issues, by both private and commercial property owners. Since “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” we aim to resolve these matters before they turn problematic or litigious. If you are currently facing such an issue or anticipate one, feel free to contact us. We’re here to help.


Richard Apat is the head of Vishnick McGovern Milizio LLP’s Real Estate Litigation Subpractice. His work includes boundary disputes, adverse possession, easements, partition actions, breach of real estate contracts, specific performance, down payment forfeiture, fraudulent deeds or transactions, building collapse cases, and other commercial real estate litigation. He can be reached at rapat@vmmlegal.com and 516.437.4385 x152.