6 Common Neighborhood Situations That Can Lead to a Liability
Learn how to handle six common scenarios that can strain neighborly relations and possibly result in liability.
Good fences may make good neighbors, but it was a damaged fence that moved Bob Hartwig up a few notches in his neighbor’s eyes. A storm uprooted Hartwig’s 90-year-old locust tree and deposited it on a fence and tree across the street. Although the neighbor’s insurance was responsible for covering the damage, Hartwig volunteered to pay the couple’s deductible and replace their tree.
“I felt I should help them out in the interest of neighborly relations,” Hartwig says.
As president of the Insurance Information Institute in New York City, Hartwig knows there’s sometimes a fine line between etiquette and liability. When trees topple, swimming pools beckon or dogs bite, relations can sour. Property owners need to know the boundaries that will help protect their neighbors from harm and themselves from future liability.
You agree to let your 13-year-old pick up your vacationing neighbor’s newspaper and feed their goldfish.
Unless you’re a professional house sitter, there shouldn’t be liability issues if a problem arises that you or your family member fails to notice. Make sure the neighbors take precautions, such as turning off their water and locking the doors of cars left in the garage. Also ask how to contact them while they’re gone.
Whenever your dog’s outside, he’s in the fenced-in backyard or on a chain.
No matter where your pet is, even if he’s restrained, you may be held liable for his behavior, whether he bites someone or damages property. Some states hold pet owners strictly liable, while others provide leeway. If kids tend to come in your fenced yard to retrieve their balls, let them know you will do it for them.
3. Hanging branches
You want to prune the neighbor’s tree, which is overhanging part of your property.
Consider safety, not just aesthetics. If a branch falls on your kid’s friend in your yard, you may be found negligent, even though it’s not your tree. When it comes to storm-related damages, people are often surprised to learn that their own insurance company generally foots the bill for damages caused by a felled neighbor’s tree.
Your daughter has her learner’s permit and you’re worried she could hit your neighbors’ car on the street.
“If someone in your family hits a parked car, you’re responsible,” says Hartwig. Politely explain to the neighbors that you’ve had close calls and need more room to navigate. “That’s usually persuasive enough” to get them to move their car, he says.
Your kids are begging to have their pals over to swim in your pool whenever they want.
Stop! A pool is already a draw—and a potential danger—without opening it to the masses. Even if someone comes onto your property uninvited, you could be liable. Most states and municipalities have laws and ordinances requiring that pools be enclosed by fences and locked gates. Always provide adult supervision.
6. Lending equipment
Your neighbor wants to try out your lawn edger—the one with the supersharp blade.
As long as you’re not concealing mechanical defects and the equipment isn’t required to be registered, you shouldn’t be liable for an accident. Still, you can never rule out a lawsuit from an injured neighbor. If you’re uncomfortable loaning the equipment, offer to do the edging yourself and let the neighbor clean up.