How to Deal With Nuisance Neighbors

by Alison Williams

If you live close to other people, it can be easy for something that starts as a minor irritation to become a big issue. If your neighbor lets his dog bark all day, blocks your view with an ornamental hedge or keeps you awake with parties or loud music, then your home can feel like the last place you want to be. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Building and maintaining good relationships with your neighbors can help with resolving problems before they get too big, and, if all else fails, there are laws that can help you seek redress and force your neighbor to stop being such a nuisance.

1. Communication

Building a good relationship with your neighbors often means that when problems happen they can be resolved quickly. If you are friendly and helpful, your neighbor is more likely to take your needs and comfort into account. However, if your neighbor doesn’t want to be friendly when you approach him, or you live somewhere where neighbors come and go, building a relationship can be difficult. Even in these situations, however, it is important to be friendly and communicative when a problem arises. Your neighbor may genuinely not realize how his behavior is affecting you. Knock on his door and have a chat about the problem, or invite him round for a coffee. Explain what is happening and why you are upset. Try not to get angry, but remain calm and friendly. Have some suggestions for your neighbor that will help to clear things up. For example, if he is playing music loudly and it is keeping your kids awake, explain this, tell him what time they go to bed and ask him to please turn the music down at that time.

2. Give a Warning

If being friendly and trying to resolve matters doesn’t help, then you need to warn your neighbor that you will take things a step further if the situation doesn’t improve. Contact your local government department to find out what ordinances there are for your town or city governing nuisances such as noise. Take a copy of the appropriate ordinance and show it to your neighbor. Alternatively, if you live in an apartment building or a condominium, you may have private regulations drawn up by your landlord or by your homeowners association. Again, show these to your neighbor. It is a good idea to keep a diary of the times the nuisance occurs, with specific details of what happens and how it affects you. You can use this evidence if you need to take further action.

3. Mediation

If the above steps don’t work, consider using mediation. Mediators will listen to your concerns and will also listen to what your neighbor has to say about the situation. They will then offer advice on how your dispute can be resolved. A mediator is impartial – she does not make judgements, just listens to the facts and gives an opinion on a resolution. The American Bar Association suggests contacting your state’s department of consumer affairs to see if it has a dispute resolutions office, or seeking out bar associations that may offer free mediation services.

4. Contact the Authorities

If mediation fails or if your neighbor is not interested in taking part, then you should contact the relevant authority for advice and assistance with further action. The nuisance may be covered by your local government’s zoning code. Call your city hall or council and find out if there is a regulation relating to your situation. If so, you can then file a complaint either with the city attorney or with the zoning board. If you do this, then the authority takes on the case for you and you do not have to worry about costs. However, should your neighbor be found to be in violation of the code, any fine he pays will go to the city authority – you will not receive monetary compensation. If you live in a condominium or a cooperative, then take up the matter with your governing board. If your neighbor’s activities are bothering other residents, a joint complaint would be most effective.

5. Small Claims Court

You can take out a claim against your neighbor yourself. According to the American Bar Association, the maximum you can usually claim through a small claims court is between $2,000 and $5,000, at the time of publication. You can file a claim at the clerk’s office – staff there should be able to answer any questions you have. You will receive a date for the hearing through the mail. It is important that you collect as much evidence as possible for the hearing – the diary that you have kept detailing the nuisance and its effects on you and your family will be useful. The judge will listen to the evidence and let you know his decision, again through the mail, along with details of any compensation awarded. A small claims court can only give compensation. It cannot force your neighbor to stop the nuisance behavior. However, if the nuisance continues, you can take out a further claim, potentially receiving monetary compensation each time. If this is still not enough to convince your neighbor to stop being a nuisance, then you will need to file an injunction in a regular court. You should contact a lawyer about taking this step.