Dear Barry,

My neighbor has a brick shed built against the side of my garage. It encroaches onto my property and prevents me from painting the garage wall. I’d like him to remove it, but he refuses because it was there before I purchased the property two years ago. The city building department sent him a notice, but he won’t tear the shed down. What should I do? – Yve

Dear Yve,

The refusal of neighbors to be fair and equitable is one of the sad realities of the human condition, whether it be on the community, national or international level. But your concerns are practical, not political or philosophical; so let’s examine the circumstances and possible solutions.

Clearly, your neighbor is trespassing where he has no permission or reasonable rights. On the other hand, you purchased an existing problem, and the number of years it has existed could have a significant legal bearing on the case. For clarification in this regard, you’ll need to consult an attorney. The city building department, however, seems to have rendered an opinion in this regard, but there remains the question of whether they will exert any muscle in the way of enforcement.

In retrospect, the best time to address this situation would have been while you were purchasing the property. But good ideas often emerge in the clarity of hindsight. Had you considered the matter at that time, you might have specified removal of the shed as a condition of the sale, thereby obligation the sellers and their agent to negotiate a solution with the neighbor. Now you own the problem, and your best efforts may or may not lead to the resolution you desire.

Your first approach should be to insist that the building department take action regarding code enforcement. A letter from your attorney could help to motivate them in this regard. Better still, try complaining to your city council representative. This can have a highly motivational effect on bureaucrats of all stripes.

Another way of viewing this situation is to consider the real life value of painting the side of your garage. The cost of upgrading the appearance of that wall is permanent bad relations with your neighbor. That, of course, is a personal choice that you’ll have to make.

Dear Barry,

My home inspector reported a problem with a gas water heater, but the seller’s plumber disagrees with the inspector. The water heater is installed in a utility closet, directly in front of the forced air furnace. The inspector says the workspace in front of the furnace is restricted, but the plumber says this violates no provision of the plumbing code. If this condition is a problem, I’d like to have it repaired. How do we determine whose evaluation is correct? – Sherry

Dear Sherry,

Everyone is correct, but the home inspector is more correct. The plumber is correct when stating the water heater placement violates no provision of the plumbing code. However, the problem involves a violation of the mechanical code, governing the installation of the forced air furnace, not the water heater. A minimum workspace of 30 inches is required in front of the furnace. If the water heater is installed within that specified workspace, then it will need to be moved to enable contractors and other persons to adequately service the equipment. Moving the fixture will entail modification and adjustment of the water and fuel connections, as well as the exhaust flue.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at

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