Real Estate harassment, legal question

What recourse does a real estate seller have if their neighbor has it out for them and harasses or scares away potential buyers? My parents are having trouble with one of their neighbors and he’s putting up signs, scaring off buyers and claiming he’ll do “everything in his power” to stop a sale.

My parents already have a lawyer helping with this, as there’s an underlying legal matter with the neighbor, but I’m just interested in finding out if there are other options they should be pursuing to stop this from continuing.

Restraining order?

IANAL, but I think we need more information before we can even attempt to help:

  • what do the signs say?
  • where is he posting the signs?
  • how is he scaring off potential buyers?
  • what is is motivation for denying a sale?

Sure. The sign is a 4x8 sheet of plywood propped up in his hedge, facing my parents house. The sign says “Buyer Beware, Lawsuit, 867-5309” In red spraypaint.

Some potential buyers just turned around and left without even going into the house, one other called the number and got an earful about how he’s suing my parents (he isn’t) and how he’ll do whatever it takes to prevent a sale.

His motivation? There’s a property line dispute that my parents have already agreed to settle in his favor, it’s just taking time (too much time, granted) to get the lawyers drafting it up and before the planning board. He didn’t call or go through the lawyers to complain about it, he just put up his sign. My parents have already moved away, so they had no idea the sign was up in the first place, so it’s not like putting up a sign gets immediate action.

What I’m not sure about is whether or not he’s going to actually take down the sign after it’s settled. Since we’re not around much, he could just leave the thing up out of spite even if there’s no dispute whatsoever. That’s kind of the motivation for my question, my parents have lawyers (supposedly) working on the line dispute, but I wasn’t sure, generically, if there’s a way to prevent this sort of act, which can cost tens of thousands in reduced sale price.

Still not clear on the motivation. If everything is in motion what does he hope to accomplish by jamming a sale?

You sound as if you somewhat unsure your parents are actively taking care of this boundary line dispute. From a practical perspective they really should clear this matter up entirely before marketing the property. If there is some action recorded against the property it will probably show up in a title search, and in any case will likely cause concerns for the buyer’s attorney whether they know about it going in or not.

He’s probably freaking in figuring that your parents moving away and putting the property up for sale means they have no serious interest in settling the dispute in a timely fashion, and this is his crude attempt to force the issue. If this thing has been back-burnered and dragged out as long as you indicate, and the lawyers are moving with turtlesque speed on getting it done it’s not entirely crazy for him to fear this, even though his actions are over the top.

IANAL either but I think your parents need one.

I’m hoping his motivation is to just light a fire under everyone’s butts to get it settled, and that this will all go away once the docs are signed.

I’m trying to avoid this thread being entirely about my parents situation, though. It just occured to me that a cranky, jerk neighbor could do just this sort of thing with no provocation at all, and I have no idea what one could do in response.

Hard to have really good grounds for a suit if he’s telling the truth.
If “Consumer Reports” printed that information no one would say anything about it.
While he’s certain being a little bit “jerky”, if my house’s property line had been subject to a dispute at law, I would have appreciated knowing that prior to investing the kind of time and money it takes to buy a house.
Now if he was lying, I’d imagine you would have a much better legal theory for damages.
Still, though, that sucks.

Circumstances aside, I wouldn’t want to move into the place w/ a guy like that for a neighbor. I’d guess that most people would feel the same.

Here is my non-lawyerly take:

  1. The sign is on his property, so there is not much you can do there
  2. The sign implys that there is an active lawsuit involving the properties. If there is no lawsuit then you could probably, under threat of liable, make him take down that sign. There would be nothing to keep him from putting up another sign that says "“Buyer Beware, Legal action in progress, 867-5309” or “Buyer Beware, property line dispute, 867-5309”. I don’t think you can abridge his freedom of speech so long as he’s telling the truth and is on his own property.
  3. As astro says, the property line issue should have been completely resolved before the house was put on the market. He currently has a promise from your parents to resolve the issue in his favor. I’m sure he likes that thought. Upon a sale, that promise becomes valueless. I’m sure he doesn’t like that thought. He’s scared. Or an ass. Or both.

As to the larger question of “What can one do when a neighbor decides to make your house sale difficult?”, the answer may boil down to “Unfortunately, not much”. So long as they stay on their property (or, in some cases, public property) and speak or print only the truth, then they are within their rights. An analogy could be drawn between his actions and those of any person or group staging a protest. There are legally proscibed ways to go about it and if they stay within those bounds, it’s perfectly legal.

Good luck!

Is it possible the zoning ordinances would cover something like this?

I agree that this should have been done more promptly than it has. Fires have been lit under butts and other options (easments) are being explored to expidite an agreement.

WRT the larger question, I suppose that as long as he doesn’t spread false information that he can put up whatever sign he wants, no matter how ominous, in an attempt to scare off buyers. Zoning probably won’t help here, it’s a pretty rural area, and the sign ain’t exactly billboard sized.

Funny thing is that he hasn’t exactly been the worst neighbor, they lived next to him for almost 40 years. He’d come over to chit chat over the hedge with my dad, that sort of thing. One bad survey and the gloves are off!

Tortious interference with contract/prospective economic advantage is the first thing I immediately thought of when I read the subject line. I’m not going to get into the details because that would actually require me to some serious research as I don’t have much experience with this tort. Your parents lawyer should be aware of this, however. At the very least, you can have your parents’ lawyer draft a letter to have him cease and desist under threat of civil suit.

Ask their municipality about its sign regulations. You may be able to cut him off that way, at least as far as signs are concerned. I wouldn’t be surprised if the local officials are familiar w/ this guy and would be willing to help you. You might also find out more from the planner/zoning administrator, because if the issue needs to go before the planning board, then I doubt it’s really a legal issue since a court probably has authority over the planning board.
Good luck!

js_zoning administrator_africanus