Living next to neighbors can be challenging. When disputes arise, it can be tempting to ignore them or try to deal with them on your own. However, it’s important to take action before things escalate to a point where legal action is necessary.
This guide outlines steps you can take to handle a dispute with your neighbors, from documenting the problem to going to small claims court if all else fails. By following these steps, you can hopefully resolve the issue and regain a peaceful living situation.
If you believe that the dispute you’re dealing with may potentially lead to legal action down the line, it’s a good idea to document what is happening in detail. Make notes every time issues arise, detailing the date, what happened, and any other helpful details. If applicable, take photos or video. If the issue progresses and you take further action, make note of that, as well.
Doing this will help document your case for the police, mediator, or court if things get to that point. You can also use it as a tool when you talk to your neighbor.
While it can be difficult to confront your neighbors when there is an issue, this should still be your first course of action anytime you have a dispute. It’s possible that your neighbors may not even realize that they are disturbing you. Letting them know directly (and politely) what the problem is and asking them to stop the problematic behavior may be sufficient to resolve the issue.
If in-person conversations do not lead to a resolution, the next thing you should do is understand whether what your neighbor is doing isannoying or illegal. Begin by determining what type of dispute you have, whether it’s related to noise, pets, parked cars, property lines, or something else. Then, research your local ordinances and homeowner’s association bylaws to see if any policies forbid your neighbor’s behavior. If you’re not sure where to find the relevant laws, it can be helpful to contact a local lawyer.
Once you have an idea of the laws that apply to your dispute, you can make a copy and provide it to your neighbor. Let them know that what they are doing is illegal, and tell them that you would like to resolve things without going to the authorities. Continue to keep a polite, civil tone, as people tend to respond better to that than threats or aggression. Hopefully, once they understand the severity of their actions, your neighbors will cease the behavior.
If your neighbors still do not stop the problematic behavior – or even retaliate through more extreme behaviors - your next step will be to call the police. Instead of calling the emergency line, call your local police dispatch. Usually, the police’s interference will be enough to make your neighbor stop what they are doing.
If, at this stage, things haven’t been resolved, you may want to proceed to mediation. This is usually cheaper, less time-consuming, and less intensive than going to court. Your local homeowner’s association may have a mediation board you can use. If not, most cities have free or low-cost mediation services. Whichever route you go, having an impartial professional sit down with you and your neighbor may suffice to help you finally come to a compromise.
A dispute will rarely progress to this point if you take all the previous steps. But if it does, you may have no choice but to take legal action. In most states, you have a right to quiet or peaceful enjoyment of your home. If your neighbor’s noise or activities interfere with your enjoyment of your property, you may have grounds to sue them. You can even ask to be compensated for the loss of enjoyment.
For guidance about how to proceed with legal action, you should talk to an attorney who can help review your case, sort out your next steps, and understand the pros and cons of various actions. You might begin simply by having your lawyer write a letter on your behalf explaining the law.
If your lawyer advises you to do so, you may end up having to go to small claims court. In some states, you do not need an attorney to go to small claims court, but the help of a lawyer in preparing for court may still be worthwhile. Work with a lawyer to come up with a justifiable, reasonable estimate of your damages that you can back up with evidence. Note that, in most states, the maximum amount you can sue for in small claims court is between $2,500 and $15,000.
If you win your case, follow up with the clerk at the court about your next steps and how to collect the money due to you.
Hopefully, once you’ve gotten to this point, the problem will be resolved once and for all. However, if the dispute happens again, you’ll most likely find that the police will take your side if you have a past court decision supporting you.