Can I sue my neighbor for having, in effect, reduced my home's sale price?

Unfortunately, your neighbor has no direct duty to you regarding property upkeep, and thus no civil liability for failing to maintain.

Question

I live in an nice suburban neighborhood. The streets are generally clean, the schools are decent, and most of the houses on my block are well-maintained. I’m in the process of selling my home, and had hoped to bring in about $700,000. That’s based on its fair market appraisal, taking into account its basic features and location. My neighbor, unfortunately, is far less diligent about upkeep. His roof shingles are falling off, his paint is chipping, the grass is brown or nonexistent, and there are two junk cars parked permanently in the driveway. Moreover, the house has a reputation as being a place for buying and selling drugs. Cars pull up to the home at odd hours, and strangers come and go. My real estate agent tells me that, due to the neighbor’s lack of upkeep and poor reputation, she’s struggling to find buyers willing to pay my asking price. Is there any way to recover the lost sale value?

Answer

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that you could sue your neighbor after your home is sold to recover the difference between your home’s anticipated and actual value.

First of all, it’s not clear that your neighbor has actually violated any legal duties he owes to you. A legal duty is an obligation that one person has to another. A violation of such a duty can give rise to civil liability. For example, your neighbor has a legally implied duty not to build a playground on his property filled with spikey metal rods if there are children in the area, because such an attractive nuisance would likely result in those children getting hurt. But your neighbor has no legal duty to paint his house or keep up his lawn, even if his failure to do so makes the neighborhood look worse.

It sounds like he might be violating criminal statutes, by selling drugs or harboring drug dealers on his property. However, criminal statutes do not necessarily give rise to a private cause of action.

Your better remedy here may be to wait to sell your home and take steps to get your neighbor to clean up his property as much as possible. You might not be able to do much about the illegal activity, but perhaps if you approached him and offered to pay to have his house painted and the old cars removed, that investment would pay for itself. That is, you might invest $15,000 into fixing up your neighbor’s home and increase your own home’s value by significantly more than that. Your neighbor might even be willing to split the costs of such repairs, since they would ultimately benefit him long after you left the neighborhood.

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