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posted: 2/21/2014 12:01 AM

Pets are cool, but irresponsible pet-owners are not

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Q. My neighbor has two Chihuahuas. They are nice little dogs, but they're always squeezing through the fence in his front yard to tear up my garden and poop on my lawn. I have talked to my neighbor several times about this problem, but he just shrugs his shoulders and says there's nothing he can do. I don't want to harm the little buggers, but I'm at my wits' end. What do you suggest?

A. I love dogs -- I have three myself -- but I don't like irresponsible dog owners.

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I had a problem similar to yours with a neighbor's dog a few years ago. When I told her about the trouble that her wandering pooch was causing, she quickly went to the local home-improvement store and bought some inexpensive plastic mesh, about six inches high, to line the bottom of her picket fence so the dog couldn't get out anymore.

Problem solved.

Alas, it seems that your own neighbor won't take such responsibility for his pets. You clearly have the right to remove the dogs from your property when they unexpectedly visit, but you do not have the right to harm them. That means you can use "reasonable force" to shoo them away, such as chasing them with a soft broom. However, hurting or killing the dogs -- even though they would be trespassing -- would be illegal unless you were acting in self-defense. It also could trigger a lawsuit by the dogs' owner, and maybe even criminal charges against you.

Phoning the local animal-control agency might be a good idea if the dogs venture onto your property again. Many cities and counties now charge more than $75 to an owner whose pet must be corralled and then taken to a community's animal shelter. After paying such charges one or two times, your neighbor might improve his fence or take other measures to ensure his pesky pooches won't get out again.

An alternative is to sue your neighbor in small claims court because he has been unresponsive to your verbal pleas.

Start by putting everything in writing. The next time the cheeky Chihuahuas come onto your property, send the neighbor a certified letter stating the date and time of the unwanted visit. Also estimate the cost of the damage (like replacing rose bushes or buying soil) and request that he repay you.

Receipts for any money you paid to repair the damage caused by the dogs certainly would bolster the case that you present to a small claims court judge. Photos or a video of the dogs romping or digging in your yard also would help, especially if the pictures have been electronically time-stamped and dated by the camera.

A final option would be to file a claim for the damage the dog causes with the company that provides your homeowners insurance. However, it's doubtful that the destruction would exceed your deductible. And even if the insurance company paid, filing a claim would do little to encourage your neighbor to keep his roaming Rovers from invading your yard again.

Q. If I file for bankruptcy, would it wipe out the $2,600 I owe to my condominium's homeowners' association?

A. Maybe yes, or maybe no. If the HOA hasn't filed a lien against your condo for the unpaid dues, your bankruptcy filing likely would erase the debt. But if the homeowners' association has indeed placed a lien against your home to recoup the money, you'll likely have to pay off the outstanding bill and may face foreclosure if you don't.

HOA rules vary from complex to complex and state to state. Contact a local bankruptcy attorney to find out how the rules and state laws apply to you.

Q. We live in a mountainside community. Last year, the county hooked up all of the homes in our neighborhood to the region's main sewer system so we no longer need our septic tanks, but levied a $3,047 special tax assessment on each property to pay for it. Is the amount we paid tax-deductible?

A. Sorry, but no. According to Internal Revenue Service Publication 530, Tax Information for Homeowners, property owners like you "cannot deduct amounts you pay for local benefits that tend to increase the value of your property. Local benefits include the construction of streets, sidewalks or water and sewer systems."

In other words, the IRS figures the new sewer hookup increased the value of your home because most folks don't like dealing with the hassle, cost and possible problems of a septic system. That means you'll probably get a higher price when you eventually sell.

Though you cannot deduct the $3,047 special tax assessment on your upcoming return, you can add the amount to the cost basis of your home to reduce any taxes you might owe when the property is sold.

All homeowners should get a free copy of IRS Publication 530 by contacting the agency at (800) 829-3676 or by downloading it from www.irs.gov.

Real estate trivia: Insurance companies paid an average of $29,752 for each dog-bite claim in 2012, according to the latest statistics compiled by the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute in New York.

• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.

© 2014, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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