Q: An old rockery wall that keeps my uphill neighbor's property from collapsing onto mine is pushing forward into my yard and beginning...
Q: An old rockery wall that keeps my uphill neighbor’s property from collapsing onto mine is pushing forward into my yard and beginning to crumble. I’m afraid it’s going to collapse entirely and have asked my neighbor to fix it because the wall is on her property. She says it’s my problem alone because the rocks that are causing the problem are now on my land. What should I do?
A: “It’s just not true that if you have a rockery that’s breaking apart and falls onto someone else’s property then it becomes the receiving property’s problem,” said Seattle attorney Karen Willie. “The law would never work like that.”
If your neighbor owns the rockery, your neighbor also owns the repair job. Willie said you’d be prudent, however, not to simply make that assumption.
“Some of these rockeries have maintenance agreements, and sometimes there are hidden property-line issues,” she explained.
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A review of your title should reveal the existence of any maintenance agreement.
You might also check with your city’s building department because building a rockery wall sometimes requires a permit, which is connected to an address. That would tell you who owns it.
A land survey of at least this one boundary would do the same.
Let’s say it’s your neighbor’s. What then? Willie suggests you send her a registered letter advising that the wall is her responsibility and that she must rectify the problem. Having an attorney write it will carry added weight.
“Sometimes neighbors are savvy on this and they’re waiting for you to write a letter or start a lawsuit so they can turn it in to their insurance company,” she said.
Generally, the liability section of a homeowner’s insurance policy will cover this kind of issue.
Willie has two final suggestions: Don’t ignore this problem because it could devalue your property. And, assuming it is your neighbor’s responsibility, don’t react to this person’s foot-dragging by getting frustrated and fixing it yourself.
“Once you take it into your own hands, you take on any liability as well,” Willie said.
Q: My girlfriend keeps getting solicitations from real-estate agents and others interested in buying her property.
The solicitations are always addressed to her first name, which she rarely uses except for official documents like home-ownership and property-tax records.
Isn’t it illegal to use this information to solicit business; if so, where can she file criminal charges against the people doing this soliciting?
A: The home records you refer to are government records.
As such, they’re public information “to enable citizens to monitor their government and to ensure accountability in the democratic society,” according to the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
This means anyone can view them, and these days that’s not hard to do, because many counties make such records available online.
What state law prohibits is using lists of such records for commercial purposes.
“But one of the problems is that there is nothing in the law that provides for the policing of it or imposing any penalties for violating it,” said Stan Roe, who works in the King County assessor’s office.
Roe said he “knows for a fact” that at least one company is violating the law, “but there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Realistically, this means the best your girlfriend can probably do is get her name removed from commercial mailing lists.
For more on this, as well as a primer on privacy rights, check out www.privacyrights.org, the Web site of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
Q: We’ve been unsuccessful in deterring a neighborhood cat from using our tidy flowerbed as its personal toilet.
I know there are leash laws and pooper-scooper laws for dogs, but does this law also apply to cats. If so, how can I get in enforced?
A: Neither the city of Seattle nor King County, which undertakes animal control for most of the county, has such laws for cats. However, both make it unlawful for owners to permit their animals to damage someone else’s property.
Likewise, it’s illegal for animals to trespass, said Al Dams, assistant manager for King County Animal Services.
But because cats are loathe to follow orders, Dams suggests you talk with the owners.
“There are things they can do: build an outdoor cattery that’s essentially just an enclosure that’s outdoors, or they can keep the cat indoors.”
If the cat’s owners are uncooperative, you can file a complaint with animal control in your town. Generally, this results in fines beginning at about $25 and potentially — but rarely — escalating up to $1,000.
If the animal is feral, or you don’t know who its owner is, your animal-control agency may be willing to loan you a humane, no-kill trap.
The cat would then go to a shelter.
Under no circumstances can you harm it. If you do, “you could end up telling it to the judge,” Dams said.
Home Forum answers readers’ real-estate questions. Send questions to Home Forum, Seattle Times, P.O. Box 1845, Seattle, WA 98111, or call 206-464-8510 to leave a question on a recorded line. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Sorry, no personal replies. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.