DEAR BENNY: We bought a house in a semi-rural part of Maryland about a year ago. We were seeking the peace and tranquility of the country, and the former owners told us how quiet the area was and how you could sit on the back porch and watch the deer in the meadows.
It seemed idyllic, until the weather started to warm up. Apparently, the 20-acre farm immediately behind our property also changed ownership last winter, and the new owners use every semi-pleasant day to shoot their guns. They also let friends and neighbors shoot their guns there, and it is almost like living next to a shooting range. It disturbs our peace and quiet and scares our dogs.
We tried calling the police, but were told that as long as they weren’t firing within 1,500 feet of a dwelling, it was perfectly legal. We tried talking to the neighbor about this, but were basically told it was their property and they weren’t doing anything illegal, so too bad if we didn’t like it.
What are the chances of a private nuisance lawsuit working in a case like this? Can this type of lawsuit be brought without the help of lawyers? Thanks. – Sam
DEAR SAM: Any lawsuit can be filed without the assistance of a lawyer – it’s called “pro se” – but I cannot recommend it in your situation. In order to prove that your neighbors are engaged in a private nuisance, you will need expert witnesses in addition to yourselves to tell the court, “Yes, they make so much noise with their guns that it disturbs sleep, scares kids, etc.” You will also need to present case law on what are the elements of private nuisance.
To prove your case, there is a three-fold test. First, was your neighbor at fault? Next, has there been significant interference with you? And finally, was the neighbor’s conduct reasonable? This will take a lot of time and research for you to meet these three tests.
I suspect that if the neighbors only shoot their guns by themselves, you would not have a case. But if they have lots of friends over, then they may actually be conducting a shooting range, which may be illegal in your state.
My suggestion: Guns are a hot button ticket nowadays, so talk with your local politicians and see what they can do. Perhaps the county government could investigate and impose curbs on when they can shoot and on how many people they can allow on their premises to participate in the shooting.
DEAR BENNY: Exactly what does “fee simple” mean? I have seen this word many times, and it is even in my deed. – Sylvia
DEAR SYLVIA: As you know, we lawyers have to speak our own language. Our common law comes from England, where at one time they had the feudal system. The king owned all of the land and doled out parcels to favorites: lords, earls and the like.
Actually, the king enfeoffed the parcels. To enfeoff means to “invest with a feudal estate.” And a fee was given by way of this investment.
So what’s a fee simple? Simply stated, it means that the owner – your lord and ladyship – owns the property absolutely. There are no strings, no clouds, no encumbrances attached to the property that cannot be easily remedied, such as paying off a mortgage or any outstanding real estate tax.
In other words, your home – your fee – is your castle.
KASS is a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. He is not providing specific legal or financial advice to any reader. Questions for this column may be submitted to: firstname.lastname@example.org