Noisy Neighbor? The Law Knows No Duty

Gretchen L. Geisser Petersen      Apr. 19, 2016

Who is it?  Which neighbor is “that neighbor” – the loud, unruly one who just seems to attract trouble?  Unfortunately, too many neighborhoods have “that neighbor,” hosting late night parties, parking their cars or RVs wherever they please, blasting their television or music, or maybe just being ornery and difficult to get along with.  Now, imagine, that you decide to sell your home.  Did it ever cross your mind that you might have a legal obligation to disclose to the buyers that your across the street neighbor is “that neighbor”?  Fortunately for home sellers in New Jersey, the Third Circuit recently decided the answer to that question is no.

In Phoenix v. U.S. Homes Corp., 628 Fed. Appx. 825 (3d Cir. 2015), the plaintiff-homebuyer brought an action against a residential home development company alleging fraudulent misrepresentation, nondisclosure and a violation of the state consumer protection statute arising from the purchase of a home across the street from an unruly neighbor.  The Court was faced with the issue of whether the home development company had a duty to inform the homebuyer of the across-the-street neighbor’s “harassing, hostile, and volatile behavior.”  The neighbor became problematic after the company sent him a letter demanding that he not park his cars in front of the plaintiff’s home and that he “cease and desist” from taking any further actions which may interfere with the company’s ability to conduct business or the plaintiff’s privacy.  The plaintiff claimed this letter caused the neighbor to “retaliate against her by engaging in a pattern of harassing conduct.”

The Third Circuit upheld the New Jersey District Court’s decision, finding that the nondisclosure claims failed because the company “had no duty to disclose off-site social conditions, such as the personality traits of a neighbor.”  Though a seller of property has a duty to “disclose off-site conditions that are material to the transaction,” here the company had “no duty to investigate or disclose transient social conditions in the community that arguably affect the value of the property.”

While there are some conditions, both on and off-site, that a real estate seller must disclose, an annoying neighbor isn’t one of them.  If you are burdened by a neighbor who insists on parking his car across your driveway or playing his music unnervingly loudly, you can take solace in the fact that, when it comes time to sell, you don’t have to tell the new buyer about it!

The Attorneys at Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba have extensive experience advising buyers and sellers of residential and commercial real state on a wide variety of legal matters. For additional information or assistance contact Gretchen Geisser.

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