Neighbor is exploiting shared property line. What can I do?

By Ronda Kaysen

Q: A shared alley separates my Staten Island house from my neighbor’s. The property line runs down the middle of the alley, so we each own half of it. A gate attaches the two properties. My neighbor put a padlock on the gate and has not given me a key. So I have no access to my property from that side — I can’t access the air-conditioning condenser and equipment. I have written to my neighbor asking for a key, but she has not responded. What can I do? If I need to make repairs on that side of my house can I cut the lock with a bolt cutter?

A: You can cut the lock if it’s restricting access to your property. But first, give your neighbor the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he missed the letter and doesn’t know that you can’t access your own property. Knock on his door and ask her if he received the letter. Ask for a spare key, and take it from there.

If he doesn’t respond, or if he rebuffs your request, write a second letter. Send this one certified mail so you have a record that you sent it. Include a copy of the original letter with the second one you send him, as well as the key for the new lock that you plan to install so you don’t have to go to the trouble of writing her again if you have to change the lock.

However, before you put on a new lock, make sure that the gate should be locked at all. If a utility meter, for example, is on the gated side of one of your houses, it’s certainly possible the gate needs to remain unlocked.

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