Q: I purchased a single-family home. My next-door neighbor put down railroad ties two feet over onto my property and connected them to my fence.

My property was surveyed by a company and I have the survey which shows that my back yard fence is a foot from my property line. Now I would like to connect my fence all the way down to the front yard. Do I have the right to remove his ties and put up a fence on my property?

Also, my next door neighbor has three families living in his home with about eight cars on the yard. I was told to do nothing because my neighbor has a gun. Can you tell me what the right thing is to do?

A: Is it possible that your neighbor didn’t realize that he crossed over onto your property with his railroad ties? Many times, property owners think that their property line ends where the neighbors’ fence began.

The neighborly thing to do in most cases would be to discuss these issues with your neighbor. Most neighbors will usually say “Fine,” and you could proceed to cut the railroad ties and install your fence.

If you have a problem neighbor, you could still approach him and discuss the issue. If you’re uncomfortable doing that and you feel threatened by your neighbor, you would need to weigh whether you would even want to address the issue.

Depending on the size of your land, you could simply continue your fence along the same path and avoid the issue of the railroad ties. Your fence wouldn’t go to your property line but you would have your fence and avoid the issue.

Your neighbor could make claim that he might have gotten rights to your land, but you could always send him a note telling him that he has your permission to keep the railroad ties on that part of the land that is yours.

It’s not easy to advise you on what to do when it’s clear that you feel that any action you take could cause you harm. Do you know the neighbor? Can you assess the risk of violence with this person? There are times in life where the legal answer might suggest you move in one direction, but the right “real life” answer may be the opposite.

Legally, you might be entitled to cut his railroad ties and install your fence, and your first step should be to discuss the issue with your neighbor. If he agrees with you, you’ll be pleasantly surprised but then can proceed. If he’s less than receptive, you know you might be in for trouble. If neighbor is looking for trouble, you have to reassess the importance of installing the fence the way you want it.

Most municipalities have zoning regulations that dictate how many people can safely live in a home or how many unrelated individuals in an immediate family can occupy a dwelling. If your municipality has those rules, you could approach the agency that enforces the municipal codes about the issue.

If the authorities cite your neighbor for code violations, that won’t help your fence cause. And if your neighbor is unstable, and is angry or hurt by the actions taken by the local authorities, you certainly wouldn’t want him to find out that you had anything to do with the authorities knocking on his door.

If you have the resources you’ll want to discuss the situation with a real estate attorney who can advise you further as to your rights and legal options. If you don’t have the cash to spend, see if there is a law school in your area that offers a free legal clinic. You might want to sit down with them to assess your options.

Your safety and the safety of your family come first. So, even if you have the legal right to remove the railroad ties, your best option may be to leave them where they are.

April 23, 2009