Portland Neighborhood Conflict Resolution, Home Buyers or Sellers

portland neighborhood conflict

New homes come with new sounds in the night, new appliances to figure out and a new trash pickup schedule to remember. For many home buyers, however, the biggest adjustment to make may be with your neighbors.

Every neighborhood has its own set of unwritten rules, but there is only one Portland City Code (or applicable city/county code for your area). In addition, if your home or condo is part of a Homeowners Association (there are 70+ in Portland alone!), there may be other restrictions that affect your property.

Let’s take a look at what some of the most common challenges are for neighbors in the Portland metro area, and where to turn for help. Keep in mind that we are real estate agents, not legal professionals, so always verify the rules with the appropriate governing body (whether your HOA, the city of Portland, Multnomah or Washington County, or the city where you live) before taking action.

Portland: Home of Good Fences?

Sure, fences can be helpful for creating privacy in tight urban spaces and keeping animals in or out of the yard. They also can cause strife, from disagreements about what kind of fencing is best to legal face-offs about property lines. In fact, according to a recent story in the Oregonian, fences and trees are in neck-in-neck for the top position on the “Most Complained About” list for Portland-area officials.

As a general rule, fences are legal as long as you (or your neighbor) built them on your own property and follow appropriate setbacks — rules governing how far from the property line a fence or other structure can be built. There are also zoning restrictions on how high fences can go; as a general rule those over seven feet tall require a permit in the City of Portland.

For home sellers with front-yard fences, keeping it well maintained is an essential aspect of maximizing your home’s curb appeal. If any fences are over the height restrictions for your jurisdiction, or needed a permit but never got one, talk to your real estate agent. The issue will likely come up in the home inspection and could delay closing.

What about ugly fences — yours or your neighbors? Peeling paint and rotting wood could be considered a code violation. Check with the Portland Bureau of Development Services or the governing body in your area.

Noise, Smoke, and Other Irritating Invisibles

This is where that “neighborhood culture” thing really comes in. Cities like Portland, Beaverton, Hillsboro, and Gresham, as well as unincorporated Washington County, technically have “quiet hours” of somewhere around 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Individual homeowners associations and neighborhoods may have different expectations. Nowhere are things like smoke or the odor of particular plants regulated, although burning brush and debris is definitely a no-no without a permit.

Portland Trees: A Beautiful Menace?

Generally, real estate agents love trees as they can help homes sell faster and for more money (not to mention their simple beauty and the importance of trees to our planet). But neighbors can be surprisingly antagonistic about someone else’s trees, as the Oregonian reports.

Many tree-related conflicts can be resolved by understanding the basic tree rules. First, no matter where a tree was originally planted, branches that encroach onto another property are that property owner’s responsibility. Every homeowner has the right to trim back tree branches that touch their house or other structures — in fact, it’s a very good idea to do so.

The second thing to remember about trees is that they grow back quite readily, especially in the tree-friendly Portland climate. If a tree’s branches pose a nuisance or block a nice view, but they’re fully on the neighbor’s property, it doesn’t hurt to ask them to do some trimming. Just keep in mind that they have the right to say no.

A neighbor’s dead or dying tree can also be considered a code violation. In Portland, the Department of Urban Forestry is tasked with making those decisions. They advise calling (503) 823-TREE (8733) for advice, as well as for any requests about plantings done by the City of Portland, such as median trees.

Dispute Resolution Basics

A smile and a friendly wave from the neighbors when you come home is just about the best neighborhood feature available. What’s it worth? Sometimes, resolving conflict within neighborhoods can take a whole team. But starting with the basics, it may just take a conversation and some research into what the rules really are.

Whether it’s a pile of garbage outside the house, a falling-down shed or an illegal short-term rental, making some friendly inquiries of your neighbors is the best way to start. Keep them from having to go on the defensive by giving them the benefit of the doubt. For example, you could start out by saying that you’re new to the neighborhood, or that you’re planning on selling your home, then ask, “What’s the plan for those bags of stuff in your yard?” This question avoids assuming that the “bags of stuff” are actually garbage and also implies that you believe there is a plan. They might reply that their garbage service was stopped but that they’ll be getting a dumpster in the next week. Or they may not have a plan at all. If that’s the case, politely asking them to clean it up is perfectly reasonable.

If nothing happens, the next step would be to call in an anonymous code violation. The city or governing body will contact the property owner and sometimes issue a citation. However, a citation may not be the motivator needed, either. That’s when mediation can be helpful.

Free Mediation for Portland and Beaverton Home Owners

Got a tough neighbor? Don’t give up hope. Mediation can really be ground-breaking for long-standing issues as well as new ones that flare up and make you want to hide in your house forever. There are mediation specialists all over the Portland metro area, but only free services (that we know of) for residents of Portland or Beaverton. Resolutions Northwest in Portland places an emphasis on not just helping neighbors find common ground, but giving them the skills they need to resolve future conflicts without outside assistance.

Beaverton’s Dispute Resolution Center shares a similar philosophy, and also claims an 80% success rate for the mediation cases it takes on. In addition, 95% of clients they surveyed said they would recommend mediation to someone in a similar situation.

October 29, 2018

Stephen FitzMaurice

Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor is a top 5% real estate agent in the U.S. A Principal Broker in Oregon, Managing Broker in Washington, he has been licensed since 2003 for residential real estate sales. Call his team in Oregon at 503-714-1111 or in Washington at 360-345-3833.

4% max to sell a home in Portland and SW Washington.
4.25% max to sell a home in Salem and Bend.
Over 2,000 homes sold.