Q: A shared alley separates my Staten Island house from my neighbor’s. The property line runs down the middle of the alley, so we each own half of it. A gate attaches the two properties. My neighbor put a padlock on the gate, and has not given me a key. So I have no access to my property from that side — I can’t access the air-conditioning condenser and equipment. I have written to my neighbor asking for a key, but she has not responded. What can I do? If I need to make repairs on that side of my house can I cut the lock with a bolt cutter?
A: You can cut the lock if it’s restricting access to your property. But first, give your neighbor the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she missed the letter and doesn’t know that you can’t access your own property. Knock on her door and ask her if she received the letter. Ask for a spare key, and take it from there.
If she doesn’t respond, or if she rebuffs your request, write a second letter. Send this one certified mail so you have a record that you sent it, said Eric D. Sherman, a real estate lawyer and a partner in the Manhattan office of the law firm Pryor Cashman. Explain that you need access to your property and would like a copy of the key by a set date. If you don’t receive a key by the deadline, tell her that you will cut the lock and replace it with a new one.
“If the deadline passes and you still haven’t heard anything, cutting the lock seems reasonable under the circumstances, as long as you give a key to your neighbor,” Mr. Sherman said.
Include a copy of the original letter with the second one you send her, as well as the key for the new lock that you plan to install so you don’t have to go to the trouble of writing her again if you have to change the lock.
However, before you put on a new lock, make sure that the gate should be locked at all. If a utility meter, for example, is on the gated side of one of your houses, it’s certainly possible the gate needs to remain unlocked.
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