File civil lawsuit for property damage?

Pipe installation leaves lawn a disaster zone

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jun. 20, 2011

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Pipe installation leaves lawn a disaster zone

Benny Kass
Inman News™

DEAR BENNY: While we were out of town, my neighbor and a well installer destroyed 400 square feet of my lawn, leaving us with ruts, dirt piles and dead sod. In addition, they buried 40 linear feet of water pipe and electrical cable on our land without our permission. I have a recent land survey to validate our claims.

They refuse to repair my lawn, or remove the pipe or cable. The sheriff has refused to take any action. What are our options? --Suszan

DEAR SUSZAN: And you call those people your "neighbors"? I understand that the sheriff might not want to get involved, even though (if your facts are correct) there was an illegal trespass onto your land. Police (and sheriff's) departments are extremely busy with more serious crimes. I am in no way belittling your situation, but you have a civil remedy: File a lawsuit for wrongful trespass and damage to your property.

Generally speaking, our courts follow what is known as the "American rule on legal fees." That means that each side pays his/her own legal fees, unless (1) there is a provision providing for attorneys fees to the prevailing party in a legal document -- such as a lease or real estate sales contract; (2) there is a provision providing for legal fees in a statute in your state -- you will have to have an attorney give you this advice; (3) a pool of money has been collected as a result of a court judgment obtained by an attorney -- such as in a class action; or (4) the court finds that the action of the defendant was not so outrageous that punitive damages (including legal fees) should be ordered.

I don't want you to get your hopes up about this fourth category, but from your description, your attorney should be able to make a strong case for punitive damages against your "neighbor."

P.S.: After writing this response, someone sent me a provision from the Virginia Code. I thought it would be of interest to my readers, as you may have similar language on your state laws:

"Section 15.2-1717.1. Designation of police to enforce trespass violations.

"Any locality may by ordinance establish a procedure whereby the owner, lessee, custodian, or person lawfully in charge as those terms are used in Section 18.2-119 of real property may designate the local law enforcement agency as a 'person lawfully in charge of the property' for the purpose of forbidding another to go or remain upon the lands, buildings or premises as specified in the designation. The ordinance shall require that any such designation be in writing and on file with the local law enforcement agency."

DEAR BENNY: I paid off the mortgage on my townhome years ago. Should I have received something (the deed?) indicating that I own it? I contacted the lender last year and (a representative said the company) would send me something "in a few months," but ... never did. Can you tell me what I should do? --Doug

Also a similar question from another reader:

DEAR BENNY: I paid off my mortgage two years ago; however, the only document I received from the credit union is a statement saying that the loan has been paid off. Where is the title or deed? --P.D.

DEAR P.D. AND DOUG: I will respond to both of your questions.

When you get a mortgage loan, you are required to sign a whole bunch of legal documents -- many of which are (in my opinion) irrelevant, unnecessary and/or duplicative.

However, there are three documents that are very important. First, the settlement statement (called a HUD-1). In the past year, it has been amended considerably by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and presumably is aimed at providing more complete information about the services and fees involved in a homebuying (or loan refinancing) situation.

I recommend that readers (1) review the HUD-1 very carefully before you sign it, and (2) keep that document in your possession until you sell your very last house. There are expenses contained in the HUD-1 that may assist in reducing any capital gains tax you may have to pay when that home is sold.

Second, you sign a promissory note (the IOU to the lender). Once again, read it carefully before you sign that document; it contains information about the interest rate, the date on which the loan must be paid in full.

Also, if you are getting an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) it will explain when your interest rate will be adjusted and the formula on which the new rate will be determined. Your lender will keep the original, but you should not leave the settlement (escrow) office without getting a copy of absolutely every document you signed.

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