GET OFF MY LAWN! THE CLASSIC CASE OF THE INTRUSIVE NEIGHBOR
By: Barry L. Miller, Esq., Offices Orlando.
Most everyone has neighbors, most everyone can tolerate their neighbors, but what happens when those neighbors become intrusive, annoying, harassing, or just plain obnoxious? The law recognizes in each landowner the right to use their property as they see fit; however, the law requires that an owner of real property use the property in a reasonable and lawful manner so not to deprive an adjoining landowner of any right of enjoyment of their own property that the landowner is entitled to by law. In short, a landowner’s use of their own property cannot be a cause an unreasonable harm or burden to adjoining landowners. The three typical claims brought against neighbors include, nuisance, trespass, and negligence, with each discussed in more particularity below.
“Nuisance, in law, for the most part consists in so using one’s property as to injure the land or some incorporeal right of one’s neighbor.” Beckman v. Marshall, 85 So. 2d 552, 554 (Fla. 1956) (citations omitted). Moreover, “anything which annoys or disturbs one in the free use, possession, or enjoyment of his property or which renders its ordinary use or occupation physically uncomfortable may become as nuisance….” Ferreira v. D’Asaro, 152 So. 2d 736, 737 (Fla. 3d DCA 1963) (citations omitted). In response to a nuisance, a neighbor may sue and seek an injunction preventing the neighbor from engaging in the nuisance and the court may award damages for any loss in the value to the complaining landowner’s property.
For example, in Mayflower Holding Co. v. Warrick, the Florida Supreme Court reversed and remanded a case in which the Owner of a 250-room hotel filed suit against a landowner across a street who owned and operated a nightclub and dancehall. MayFlower Holding Co. v. Warrick, 196 So. 428, 428–29 (Fla. 1940). Mayflower alleged that the nightclub was a nuisance as the club emitted loud music, laughing, dancing, clapping of hands, talking, moving of chairs and tables, the rattling of dishes, the use of loud speakers between the hours of 12:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. Id. Mayflower alleged that these sounds disturbed their guests and resulted in a loss of approximately $15,000.00 per season in revenue. Id. The trial court dismissed the action and the Florida Supreme Court reversed finding that “[t]he testimony shows a loss to the property of the plaintiff superinduced by the defendants in the operation of their business in a total disregard of the lawful rights of the said plaintiff.” Id.
Secondly, a intrusive neighbor or adjoining landowner may be liable for trespass in a civil action. A trespass is defined as the willful entry or remaining upon the land of another without being authorized, licensed or invited to enter. See McKiver v. State, 55 So. 3d 646, 649 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011). A person does not need to physically enter onto the property of another to constitute a trespass, the trespass may be made by object or structure as well. For example, if A was to stand on his property line and throw a shoe onto the property of B, a trespass would have occurred despite the fact that A never physically enter B’s property himself. See Anchorage Yacht Haven, Inc. v. Robertson, 264 So. 2d 57, 61 (Fla. 4th DCA 1972). Moreover, structures such as trees, overhangs, awnings, and the like may also constitute a trespass. Id.
The last cause of action for such an annoyingly intrusive neighbor is grounded in negligence. Negligence is the breach of a duty which causes damages. A landowner owes to their neighbor a duty of reasonable care in the use of their property. Thus, when the landowner acts carelessly, intentionally, or recklessly, he or she may be found liable for damage caused by the carelessness. For example, in Bunyak v. Clyde J. Yancey and Sons Dairy, Inc., the Second District Court of Appeal found that a dairy farmer may be liable in negligence for damages caused to a neighbor’s property when a lagoon filed with cow manure overflowed and ran downhill, coating the neighbor’s property in cattle excrement. Bunyak v. Clyde J. Yancey and Sons Dairy, Inc., 438 So. 2d 891 (Fla. 2d DCA 1983).
In conclusion, whatever the use of one’s property, such a use should not cause unreasonable damage or harm to the property of another. Barry Miller Law is familiar with all aspects of real property law. If you, or someone you know, has legal questions concerning real estate, contact Barry Miller Law for assistance at 407-423-1700 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.