Advice Sought: New rural neighbor moving into a shared-land situation

Hello community, I’m asking advice on how to approach a land-sharing situation as a new rural neighbor. Sorry this is a little long, but the context will help, I hope. 

I am pleased to report that I will soon close on a property in rural New York, over 40 acres and a small home. While I won’t be able to live there full-time right away, I am eager to invest in the home and land. The eventual goal is a mostly self-supported homestead. 

The land has a large field, ~25 acres, and the prior owner (a mostly absentee owner) had a “handshake” agreement with the neighbor allowing use of the field. The neighbor hays about 15 acres (twice per year) and uses the other 10 to pasture his small herd (10-15 head). In return, the neighbor was to mow the owner’s ~1.5/2 acre lawn around the home (something the owner states the neighbor didn’t really do). This agreement has been in place for at least 6-8 years. The neighbor has erected an electric fence for the pasture and seems to have kept the pasture and field in good condition. 

I would appreciate advice and thoughts from this wonderful community as to how you think I should proceed in this situation.

  • I am aware that I’m the new person moving into an established situation, and it’s important not be a a jerk.
  • However, this neighbor is essentially getting something for nothing (he has less than 10 acres and could not have such a large herd without use of this field), and I feel it’s important to create a new agreement that isn’t simply a give-away.  
  • I don’t mind him continuing to use the field, but would want an exchange or barter in a written agreement. I’m not interested in the lawn mowing, as I’ll be up every weekend to handle that. Farmer friends in the area have suggested he raise one beefer each year for me and I pay processing costs (they have similar agreements with other farmers). 
  • I eventually plan to use that field for farming and livestock of my own, but that is a few years away. 
  • I have met the neighbor in person to get his side of things and start building a relationship. He seems friendly and eager to continue the old agreement, and talked excitedly of all the livestock trading he’s been doing lately: “I want to watch my retirement grazing from the back of my deck!” 
  • For anyone who is on either side of a similar situation, I’d love to hear what did or did not feel good in this process in your experience. 

At the end of the day, I know it’s better to have a buddy than an enemy as a neighbor, but I also feel that I need to reset the neighbor’s view of the situation without being a jerk, especially as someone who won’t be a full-time neighbor for a least a couple years.  

Thanks for any thoughts you care to share, or any questions you think I should be asking. Always grateful for the shared expertise of this forum!


  • Comments (9)

    • 6

      A sit down over a cup of coffee is needed because I think your neighbour wil be wondering the exact same issues you are.  How about  free milk or butter or grain in return for use of the land. ( never met a farmer with free cash available) BUT Farmers are the masters of barter and trade. What about suggesting YOU get some animals but HE cares for them as you are absent for now, and you split the profits??     He gets good extra farming land and critters but you get a slice of the profit for no physical or financial outlay other than buying the critters?

      AND of course with you being absent having him around gives your place 24/7 security.

      • 4

        The extra eyes on the land is definitely a plus! Especially when you  are away.

        I’d be a bit weary of having him watch your animals though. Someone with good character and morals will do a great job and will take care of your animals better than their own, but then there are the lazy bums out there that will not give the animals the care that you would. And then what happens if the animal gets sick, injured, or dies? Does the responsibility land on you or nice farmer? Great idea, but I think i’d rather him give you like half a beef or something at the end of the season from his own cows. 

        -Be Prepared-

    • 5

      SeaBee, Before you actually close, retain the services of an independent attorney to go over info in this post. It is best to NOT have any sidebar agreements.  If you continue  with this purchase, there are pending headaches. Second “handshake” party dies and ex girlfriend inherits his property rights you accepted.  She hates educators and sailors. 

      It’s not relevant re the amount of hay or herd size. 

      You are dealing with 2 distinct subjects: legal and financial.  The cow excaped the broken fence and a Farrari banged into cow. You get sued by Farrari guy.  It costs YOU money to defend your position that it wasn’t your cow.

      “Rural New York” has many places for sale and can guess more will enter market.  

      Get a good attorney and start over re purchase of a place on some land.  Avoid entanglements. 

      I would not get any real estate with pre-existing arrangements in place.  Life is short and instead of headaches with this side party, my view is to spend most amount of time with kids and job.  Extra time is to fix up BOP.  

      Not to be redundant, but NY has more real estate for sale and more attorneys than cows.

      I would not get mentioned place.

      “You will find obstacles enough; what does anything I say matter in comparison?”

      Franz Kafka, THE CASTLE

      • 6

        Good points there Bob. Too many people today are sue-happy and even though we want to think the best in people and society, there are a few rotten apples that ruin it for everyone.

        -Be Prepared-

    • 5

      Congratulations on the land purchase! I hope that turns out to be a great investment, prep, and future home for you. But it does sound like you are in a bit of a sticky situation there. 

      While I don’t have personal experience in this kind of situation, I  have seen people get into big trouble if they don’t document, document, document everything. Watch any episode of Judge Judy and you’ll know what i’m talking about. DO NOT keep up the handshake agreement. Protect yourself and get something in writing like you said. 

      I like Bill Mason’s idea of sitting down to a cup of coffee and talk things over. Preferably with a friend or spouse who can have your back and help support you. Talk with this friend or spouse beforehand what you want out of this deal and if the nice neighbor farmer gives you some sob story, is persuasive, or gets agitated and mean, you need your friend or spouse to be the outside third party that can help steer the conversation back to where you wanted it to be and help you stand your ground.

      So sit down and go over with him on what the previous agreement was. Then say that you are not the previous owner, that this land is now yours and that previous agreement is no longer in effect, but that you do want to still help him out. Then lay out what you are willing to offer him. I like that idea of getting part of a beef (if that’s something you would like as well). Maybe a few lawn mows when you can’t make it up there. Or a certain amount of rent at the end of his season when he gets paid for his harvest. Both of you talk it over and come up with a new agreement, then you go home and write it up. Have him look over it and get it signed and notarized (which you can do at your bank for free).

      Make a clause in there that you can cancel this agreement at anytime for any reason. You have to protect yourself. But be nice and say in there that you will give him at least 6 months notice or something so that he can have enough time to find a new home for the cows, harvest his field, or whatever. 

      And just remember that this land is yours. If that nice farmer had use of it for so long for pretty much free, then he got a swingin deal and good for him. But you do not owe him anything and are under no obligation to keep up that bargain. If you do end up helping him out, make it 100% clear that it can end if you want it to, like when you move there in a few years. Set the expectation clearly in writing so that there is no confusion, and you have yourself protected.  

      Word of warning: People can get pretty nasty if they feel entitled and that the land belongs to them. I have some extended family  that was allowed to use some family property for their business for pretty much free for the past 30 years. But when the grandpa didn’t just give them the land in his will, they took a bulldozer (which was part of their business) and totally destroyed the buildings, fences, well, trees, landscaping and other features on the land. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages to their grandfather’s land because they felt entitled to it and couldn’t have it. The police wouldn’t do anything, and after talking to lawyers it would be more to take them to court than was left in the grandfather’s estate. So those scumbag family members got away with it. Not saying that nice farmer will do that, but just be cautious. 

      -Be Prepared-

      • 3

        Oh and another thought… I have family who own land and they rent out their land to a farmer to raise cattle there every year. The cows destroy a lot of the landscape, eat the newly sprouted trees, and have trampled over their tables and benches. Be aware of risks like that, as it is on you.

        The farmer who has his cattle on my family’s land gets paid some rent from the farmer, and even though it is a small amount they get even more back in tax credits because they can then claim that the land is being used for agricultural purposes. So look at if there are those kind of tax credits in your area, and that can save you some money on taxes.

        Think of the liability as well. What if farmer gets injured on your land, or his cows get loose because you didn’t maintain a fence and then turns around and sues you? I know you want to be nice(i’m the same way), but either cover your bases, or maybe not let him use your land. Sorry to be a downer, but just looking out for ya.

    • 7

      This is all excellent advice so far, thanks very much. 

      To clarify, there is no agreement that carries over from prior owner, no deeded access, easement, ROW, anything. And I have definitely had a local attorney (who is also a hobby farmer) representing me through this; I’ll be updating that office on the basis of this conversation (with neighbor and I) next week for their thoughts. 

      I will definitely get something in writing, so if he’s not willing to sign a lease agreement, no use. 

      Excellent point about liability for herd escapees colliding with Ferraris, although there are definitely zero Ferraris in this area (I am buying over three hours away from New York City for a reason).

      Finally, he is not a full-time farmer, the herd is really more of his wife’s hobby. He is a mechanic, sometime contractor and sometime farmhand. Highly experienced guy who could be a really amazing resource as a neighbor for someone like me who lacks some of those skills. 

      Appreciate the encouragement to remember that this is my land and he’s not entitled to it. I am incredibly wary of being the new guy from out of town who comes in and rattles things, so that’s good advice to keep me from starting off on the wrong foot here.

      • 7

        I sure am interested in what happens out of all of this.

        Can I ask how much a local attorney is to handle something like this? I wonder if they charge per case or per hour. I’ve always thought that anything involving an attorney is automatically going to be in the thousands and thousands of dollars. Just ignore the question if you don’t want to answer it.

        But I would get the advice from the attorney if I could afford it. They know a lot more than I would about these kind of things.

        I’ve also wondered how to find an attorney. I’d probably end up just calling up a bunch of them and asking for quotes and land with the cheapest, but I think you’d also have to consider their history, reputation, and other things too. I’m not even sure which area of law this would fall under. Contracts, real estate, what? Interesting world we live in.

    • 8

      I personally would not want anyone on my property.  Too much chance of something going wrong and then dealing with liability.  If you allow them to use your land, make sure you have it in writing they acknowledge the property boundaries.  If for example, your neighbor put up a fence but it was actually on your property.  If you didn’t have them correct the fence, after a certain amount of time, that fenced in portion of your land becomes their property.  So anytime you allow someone to use your property, have it in writing.