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Keep Calm and Neighbor On

It’s a Not-So-Civil World Out There

We’ve all had to deal with those neighbors at one point or another. You know, the ones whose high schooler is the lead singer for a death metal band that practices on Tuesday nights until eleven-thirty at night. In their garage, which is twelve feet from your toddler’s bedroom window. Did I mention the toddler is a light sleeper?

Okay, so maybe I’m still steaming a bit from that one. But you get the picture: annoying neighbors, preventing you from enjoying time in your home. Could be noise, such as a band rehearsal or barking dog. Could be the offensive odor of trash piling up in a neighbor’s yard. Could even be the light shining in your bedroom window at three in the morning from your neighbor’s art installation, complete with halogen spotlights. Whatever the unique annoyance is, there are several steps you can take to restore peace.

If it’s safe to do so, talk directly to the neighbor. Be reasonable, and act as a thinking, caring human being. Problem solve without trash-talking or attacking. Have realistic expectations, and try to see the situation from another viewpoint. For instance, if you have a neighbor who throws loud parties that go into the wee morning hours, try talking to that neighbor and finding a mutually agreeable solution. You may be surprised at the outcome.

Take it to the homeowner’s association. Of course, human nature does not always lend itself to the ability of individuals to work things out themselves. People can be belligerent, unreasonable jerks and rational complaints go unheeded. If you’ve given it the ol’ college try and found the results wanting, go to your homeowner’s association, if you have one. Chances are, the neighbor’s behavior is a violation of the association rules, and the board could help you enforce them.

Call law enforcement. Consider calling the police, but only if the neighbor’s behavior could amount to a noise violation or other criminal act. Telling the police that you do not like the pink flamingoes in the neighbor’s lawn is not helpful. But if the annoyance amounts to violating law, asking for help from the police is appropriate and can yield results. Explain the situation clearly, and succinctly, and then let them do their job.

Consider court. Going to court should generally be a last-resort action, especially if doing so involves suing your neighbor. You do have to continue living next to one another, after all, so weigh this option carefully. If your neighbor is doing something that unreasonably and substantially interferes with the use and enjoyment of your property, it could be what is called a nuisance. If you prevail in a nuisance suit, the judge would likely tell the neighbor to stop engaging in the troublesome behavior, and you might get some monetary damages as well. However, the goal is to restore the use and enjoyment of your property, so a prohibition against the neighbor’s nuisance-inducing behavior is often the most appropriate remedy.

Above all, don’t feel badly standing up for your rights and enlisting help from others as well. Your home should be a place where you feel safe and can enjoy yourself without interference from others. And remember to be a decent human being through it all. You may just find that it comes back to you if you have a child who has a penchant for singing in a death metal band.

Kelly Hall, Esq., is a full-time mom and part-time attorney. Through Legal Ease in RFM, she contributed articles about family law, legislation, and other legal issues for four years until she moved out of the area with her family in 2014.
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