I want to remodel my garage, which has been falling into disrepair for years. The electrical installations are ancient, the walls are falling apart, and the ground needs to be torn up. To do all this, I the contractors say they need access to my neighbor’s adjacent land. My neighbor and I don’t have a very friendly relationship, and when I tried to ask, he quickly shut me down and said it would be out of the question. What should I do?
From your perspective, there are really two questions here: First, can you convince your neighbor to let your contractors onto his property? And second, if you can’t, can you force him to allow them?
Let’s look at the second question first. To “force him,” you would essentially need to get a court order instructing your neighbor that he must allow your workers onto his property to the extent reasonably necessary. This would mean halting your contractors, delaying your renovation, hiring an attorney, and commencing a lawsuit against your neighbor for equitable relief. (Equitable relief is essentially a court ordering that someone do or not do something.)
Alternatively, if you went ahead and instructed your contractors enter his property without permission, your neighbor might call the police and then run to court seeking an injunction and suing you for trespass. Your legal defense to this would be private necessity – a defense to a change of trespass in which you claim that under the circumstances, you had no choice but to commit the trespass. Even with this defense, you would still be forced to pay your neighbor nominal or punitive damages.
For a number of reasons, you’re better off trying to negotiate with your neighbor than trying to force his hand. First of all, anything that involves the court system is likely to be a long, expensive and stressful process. A private negotiation between you and your neighbor would likely be more civil and, no less important, less expensive and time-consuming.
Your neighbor may have said “no” when you quickly approached him. But that doesn’t necessarily end the negotiation. Sure, having your contractors slightly on his property would be an inconvenience for him, but everyone has a price. Approach him once more, this time prepared to make an offer.
There are a few possibilities here. You could offer him a certain amount of money for each day of work; you could offer him something more creative like use of your tennis court, swimming pool or parking spot; or you could offer him some combination. Everyone has a price. And most likely, the price of negotiating with him will be less than the price of running to court.