Dear Barry,

Shortly after buying my home, a problem developed with my neighbor. She built a fence about 3 feet on my side of the property line and now refuses to take it down. Is it legal for her to do this? I’m afraid that she may claim ownership of that part of my property if I do nothing. Am I allowed to take down her fence if it is on my property? –Robin

Dear Robin,

Your question is one for an attorney, not a home inspector, but here are a few observations and ideas that may be of help. When someone presumes to use another person’s property for a number of years, they can eventually assume permanent legal use on the basis of what is called a “prescriptive easement.” Therefore, you need to set this matter straight while the issue is still young.

First on the agenda is to obtain legal advice so that you know your rights and options under law. Unfortunately, legal procedures often involve protracted litigation, and this can be so costly that you come out losing, even when you win. In some cases, the creative, do-it-yourself approach can alleviate the need for courtroom dramas and legal fees, so here’s a possible solution that should be reviewed with an attorney before proceeding:

Step 1: Verify the actual location of the property line. This can be done by reviewing site maps or construction plans at the building department, or by hiring a licensed surveyor.

Step 2: Go to the building department and obtain a permit to build a fence, precisely on the property line. If you are told that a permit is not required for a fence, tell them that the fence will be 7 feet high. The building code requires permits for fences over 6 feet in height. Then proceed to have the fence constructed by a licensed contractor and approved by the municipal inspector.

Step 3: The neighbor’s fence in now located within the confines of your yard, separated from your neighbor’s yard by your permitted and approved fence. At that point, you simply remove the maverick fence that is within your yard. If, in response to these procedures, the neighbor sets foot on your side of the new fence, trespassing is still illegal. Simply call the police.

Best of luck with this situation.

Dear Barry,

What are the most common signs of foundation problems, and how much do repairs of this kind typically cost? –Sam

Dear Sam,

There are two basic kinds of foundation problems:

1. Cracks and displacement, usually caused by unstable soil conditions, tree roots too close to the foundation, and/or faulty construction;

2. Decomposition of the concrete or mortar, usually resulting from age, ongoing moisture exposure, or a substandard concrete mixture.

There is no formula for determining foundation repair costs. This depends entirely upon the extent of the problem, the size of the job, and numerous other variables that would affect the amount of labor and materials needed to make necessary corrections. If you suspect problems with your foundation, an inspection by a licensed structural engineer is recommended.

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

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