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.
Q: The parties bring attendees from a few neighboring states. Our entire street is taken by cars parked on both sides. They come and go at all hours. They’re noisy and can be a very disturbing sight because of their wardrobe. I believe neighbor profits from activity since partygoers wear wristbands. I already asked neighbor to at least downsize his activities. He did nothing. Entire community is affected by this! (Monroeville, PA)
A: You could just keep calling the police when the noise erupts. My approach would be to get a copy of the Borough Zoning Ordinance and read it and become familiar with the applicable portions. I would do this before I talk to the Zoning Officer. It is very likely that the borough would have noise violations and possibly even parking restrictions if the street becomes that congested. You can also have neighbors unify and attend a council meeting. You probably need to schedule ahead of time if you want to speak. The more attention the neighbor’s house gets, the more likely they are to curtail their operations and move elsewhere.
Q: There is a government subsidized group home for people that are mentally challenged that is planning to buy the lot that is across the street from my house, which is in an area zoned R-1. My concerns are that I have a fifteen-year old daughter. I learned from a police officer that’s one of the residents on the street that the group home was renting in a different location, and there have been problems. One of the residents of the home has walked around the neighborhood and been caught looking-into houses. They could also be violent or sex offenders. I would like to stop them from buying across the street. What would it take to stop them from moving in? Can a group home move into an area zoned R-1? (Baldwin, PA)
A: If they are mentally challenged, you can probably outsmart them. If what they propose is not a permissible use under the zoning code, they may have to seek a variance, which puts a very high burden on them. The question is all about whether the proposed plan meets the criteria of your local zoning ordinance. You can do many things. Go to the borough building and get a copy of the most recent zoning code and read it. You can contact the zoning code enforcement officer and tell him your concerns and ask him why the proposed use does or does not meet the zoning code. Find out from the borough secretary when borough council meets and ask the procedure for citizens to appear and address council. Also, as mentioned, join in with your neighbors and unite to oppose the proposed use. Circulate petitions against. You can also hire a lawyer to advocate for you. Do not wait until it is too late to start your legal opposition. Lastly, which I do not advise, you can arm yourself legally and take advantage of the Commonwealth’s nifty expanded deadly force laws.