Q: My husband and I have owned our home in the “bird streets” in Fairfield for almost 30 years. Last year, a house across the street was foreclosed and ultimately bought by someone else.
At the time we were glad there was going to be a new owner so the yard and the appearance of the place would get fixed up. Or at least we hoped so.
Turns out it was purchased by somebody who wanted to use it like a commercial building. We think the owner is some kind of contractor because he has numerous big trucks and people are constantly hauling building materials in and out. At first we thought it was just a major remodel, but it’s become obvious the place is just being used for storage.
My husband looked in the windows last night and all you can see is lumber and hardware neatly stacked throughout the house. In the evening there are always at least two trucks parked in the driveway and several along the street. First thing in the morning people show up, load the trucks, and leave. They return around mid-afternoon.
The house is not being repaired and the yard is dead. The trucks and the noise are really hurting the quality of the neighborhood. Is this legal? Is there anything we can do?
A: Home businesses are one thing. The law generally allows for them. But this sounds like something completely different.
I’m glad you gave me an idea of where you live. In other parts of the town there are housing developments with CC&R’s that would clearly prevent this type of activity. But in developments, typically older developments, residents are stuck using state law and local ordinances to see if a neighbor’s activity is somehow prohibited.
Additionally, even if an ordinance isn’t being violated, a neighbor can file a lawsuit for creating a nuisance. But let’s take one at a time.
It sounds like the owner is using a residential building as a commercial building. We’ve all seen former homes that have been converted to offices, dental clinics and even retail stores. So what exactly is the difference?
Simply put, the difference between a commercial and residential building is zoning. Zoning is just the term-of-art used by municipalities to legislate what types of uses a particular property can be put to.
When seen on a map, zoning looks like an odd patchwork quilt with all types of complicated shapes laid over a map of the city. If your property lies in a particular piece of the quilt it may mean you have a low density residential property where only one family can live on the lot. Or you may have a property in a high density residential area when you own a condominium or apartment building. And then you may own a property in one of a variety of commercial quilt pieces. Added to that are combination areas where a property can be put to a number of different uses.
In your case, your neighbor’s property is undoubtedly in a low or medium density residential area. And while that may provide for a home-based business, it likely restricts the number of commercial vehicles and undoubtedly requires the residence to be a residence. In other words, somebody has to live there.
So the easiest thing to do is to go down to the city’s planning department and talk to them about the situation. They may serve a cease and desist order on the owner and solve your problem.
You could also talk to the police department’s code enforcement people to see if there’s an ordinance they can enforce.
Finally, if all else fails, you and your neighbors can bring a civil lawsuit against the owner of the house claiming their use of the property unreasonably creates a nuisance.
The problem with this last option is the time and expense, most particularly the expense. That’s why joining with your neighbors would at least help defray the cost.
Tim Jones is a real estate attorney in Fairfield. If you have any real estate questions you would like to have answered in this column you can contact him at [email protected]