Q I live in an area of single-family homes with values of $80,000 to $90,000. Most of the houses are owner-occupied by married couples and families, but some of the houses are being rented to groups. While these groups do not cause trouble or create a nuisance, I plan to sell my home soon and am concerned that I will have trouble selling or will have to lower my price because of these renters next door. This is a family area. My question is whether I have grounds to sue the owners of these properties for the loss of value of my property. Do these owners have a legal responsibility to avoid taking actions (i.e. renting to nonfamily groups) that cause me to suffer monetary damage?

A Tenants do not cause problems; people do.

I suspect that there are probably as many family-owned houses that are in a state of disrepair as there are similar houses that are rented to tenants.

Clearly, if your next-door neighbors -- owners of the property -- did not keep their house in decent condition, you would have the same concerns.

First, you have made a basic assumption that your property's value has decreased because of the group tenants in your neighborhood. Do you have any documentation for this statement? You certainly should justify your beliefs by obtaining an appraisal of the property, asking the appraiser to give you a definitive statement on whether your property's value has in fact decreased. And if there is such a decrease, can you really blame it on the group tenants, or are there other factors contributing to it?

Once you have documented that there is a decrease (or perhaps that the property values are not rising as fast as they should be) then it makes sense to discuss the situation with the owner of these properties. I certainly cannot recommend filing suit.

The problems of proof are quite difficult, and the time and expense involved in such a lawsuit -- even if you were to win -- would not be worthwhile.

And I strongly believe that you would probably not be able to win at all.

However, there certainly are other avenues to explore. If, for example, the property is zoned for single-family residents, and the owner is renting to two families, for example, or if the owner is violating other zoning and housing code requirements, then you certainly have the right to complain to the appropriate government officials. Again, before you take these steps, you should discuss your concerns directly with the owner. It may very well be that the owner is unaware of the problems, and certainly shares your concerns that the property values should not be decreasing.

If, on the other hand, after you have fully explored the problems with the owners, and they are still unwilling to take any action, then you should be free to consider other options. You can complain directly to the housing and zoning authorities in the county or city where your property is located. You may find that your city or county elected officials also will be responsive. You may also find that your neighborhood citizen association will want to help you, because it, too, is concerned about neighborhood values. And if you find other neighbors who share your concerns and will be willing to join you in your efforts, this strength certainly will help you make your case.

But just because there are tenants living near your property does not mean its value will automatically decrease.