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How to Deal With Bad Neighbors

Dealing with bad neighbors can make time spent at home feel stressful. Since your home should feel like a safe and relaxing place to unwind, you’ll want to find courteous, respectful ways to get along with your neighbors and to discourage bad behavior.

Start a Conversation

Your neighbors might not realize that they have irritated you unless you speak up. Maybe they assume that you can’t hear the music they blare at 3 a.m., or perhaps they don’t realize that their overgrown backyard has encouraged a thriving rodent population that spills over into your garden.

Start off on a good foot by visiting your neighbors with a gift. Think of something simple and free or inexpensive, such as a plate of homemade cookies or a bottle of wine you never intend to drink.

Explain that you’re frustrated by whatever your bad neighbors have done, and ask if there’s any way they can make the situation more tenable for you. This approach puts the ball in your neighbor’s court. Instead of telling them what to do, ask if they have any suggestions.

Talk With Landlords or Homeowners’ Associations

In some cases, you can take your dispute to a higher authority. If your neighbors’ behavior violates the terms of a lease or a homeowners’ association (HOA) agreement, you could report the problem and let authorities deal with it. For instance, if you know that your neighbors rent their home, contact the homeowner. Ask if he or she can help resolve the situation.

The same goes for an HOA. Contact a board member or property manager and report the issue. He or she can let you know if there’s cause to intervene.

Research Local Laws

You can’t accuse someone of violating the law unless you know how the law works in your area. Noise ordinances, for instance, vary from one jurisdiction to the next. Some don’t have any at all, while others enforce extremely strict rules. You can also research issues regarding property lines, garbage, wildlife, and other problems that often come between neighbors.

If you’re not sure about a law, ask a local police officer. You can also involve an attorney if you’re dealing with a particularly egregious offense, but don’t spend your money unless you’re left with no other choice. For instance, if a neighbor infringes on your property line, you might feel justified in consulting a lawyer. However, if you’re simply dealing with rudeness, try to resolve the problem on your own.

Call the Police

You can always call the police if you have a dispute with your neighbor. Issues that involve breaking the law, such as using drugs, making too much noise, or disturbing the peace often represent enough cause to involve law enforcement.

When police officers respond, provide as much information as possible, then ask for a copy of the police or incident report. Keeping the paperwork will help you develop a paper trail, which might prove necessary if you wind up in court over the dispute.

The police usually can’t tell you about a neighbor’s background or criminal history, so you might want to investigate for yourself. You might learn that the person who lives near you has a dangerous history, in which case you could move to eliminate the problem. Moving might seem like an extreme solution, but it can remove you from a negative situation.

You might need to contact a different authority. For example, some neighbor complaints revolve around pets. In this case, you could call animal control or a similar organization in your community. These professionals deal with animals at large and other issues that could put your safety at risk.

Get a Survey

If your complaint deals with your property line, don’t start a fight that you might not win. Old documents can sometimes prove difficult to read, so consider hiring a surveyor to mark your property line and to provide you with documentation. You might discover that you thought your property line ended two feet beyond its actual termination.

Offer to Help

When you’re dealing with a messy neighbor, try to think empathetically before you get angry. Perhaps your neighbor has had to take on a second job to pay the bills and doesn’t always have time to mow the lawn or trim the hedges. Similarly, your neighbor might have suffered a debilitating injury or other tragedy in his or her life.

If you want to keep your relationship cordial, mention the issue and offer to help. For instance, you could recommend a lawn service you know that charges reasonable rates if you’re tired of looking at overgrown grass. Similarly, you might offer to take your neighbor’s garbage cans to the curb on trash day to save him or her the trip. Little suggestions like these can drop a hint and encourage reciprocation.

File a Lawsuit

If the situation with a bad neighbor becomes extreme, you might have to file a lawsuit. You can either file the suit in small claims court, which usually has limits of between $3,000 and $5,000, or you can file in civil court. Either way, you’ll ask the court to compensate you for any losses you’ve incurred because of your neighbor.

Before you file, figure out whether you’re filing a private nuisance or public nuisance suit. A private nuisance means that the neighbor has interfered with your right to enjoy your property. Examples could include barking dogs or loud music. When you file a public nuisance suit, you’re alleging that the neighbor’s actions have caused physical damage to your property or affect the welfare of the general public.

Lawsuits can take weeks, months, or even years to settle, so prepare for a long journey if you decide to take the legal route. Consult a lawyer even if you’re headed to small claims court, so you know you have all the documentation you need.

If you’re dealing with bad neighbors, try to solve the problem with a polite conversation or a little compromise. An investigation into the neighbor’s background might also help, but don’t escalate the situation unless it becomes necessary.

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