Q: I have a garage built on my lot long before I moved into my house. It straddles the property line. My neighbor and I each own one-half of the garage. My neighbor has failed to maintain his one-half to the point it is unsafe to use in its entirety. Can I compel him to repair his one-half? Can I remove entire structure, or can I effect repairs without his permission? (Plum Borough, PA)
A: This is a difficult situation and there are few things worse than bad neighbors. The easiest way would be to work this out with him. If that is not possible, talk to your local zoning officer. If his half of the garage is unsafe, unsightly or not up to code, the zoning officer can issue a citation and he will be given so many days to make repairs. If no such compliance is met, he can be hauled into court and fined or ordered to comply. As far as a civil or equity suit filed at the local magistrate or in the Court of Common Pleas, there is a remedy against property owners whose failure to maintain their property adversely affects adjoining or neighboring property. I once used it to get a judgment against the owner of an adjoining wall who failure to maintain it undermined the yard and foundation of my client’s house. I would need to research this cause of action more. Beware that having a judgment against another person can be useless if they do not pay or have no assets to attach. I suggest that you go through the zoning officer first.