There’s nothing quite as challenging as having a toxic or difficult neighbor. There are so many reasons you might not like dealing with your neighbor.
It could be simply that you and your neighbor have differences in your lifestyles that lead to disputes or disagreements. There are also situations where a neighbor might be doing some egregious that requires a legal solution.
Small claims court may be where you find yourself ultimately if you’re dealing with a bad neighbor, but it shouldn’t be your first remedy.
Some of the most common issues between neighbors include:
- Boundary disputes, where neighbors can’t agree over who’s property starts and ends where.
- Some neighbors fight over animals, including both pets and livestock. For example, if your neighbor’s dog keeps wandering on your property, you may have a problem with it. Increasingly people are interested in having chickens and livestock in their yards, even when they live in suburban neighborhoods, so the smell and noise can create disputes.
- Some neighbors are just a general nuisance. In the legal sense, when someone is a private nuisance, it means they aren’t physically invading someone else’s property, but they’re still causing a loss of enjoyment. A public nuisance is someone who’s potentially affecting the safety, health, and welfare of the general public.
- Noisy neighbors are never fun to have. The noise might be a dog barking all night or maybe someone who’s regularly having guests over until all hours of the night.
- There are some ordinances in local areas that prevent neighbors from blocking the view of the people who live around them, but there are still often disputes that arise because of obstructions.
Dealing with a Difficult Neighbor
Before you jump right in and threaten to sue your difficult neighbor, there are things you should proactively do to try and manage the situation.
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First, it’s important to make sure that you aren’t, in fact, the bad neighbor. We all tend to see things from our own perspective, which is normal, but before you take action to deal with your neighbor, assess your own behavior in an honest way.
You want to make sure you’re not doing something that’s problematic for them.
Are your pets friendly and quiet? Do you keep them on your property?
Do you keep the noise down, especially at night and early in the morning?
Are you respecting all the property lines?
If you’re sure you’re not actually the bad neighbor, then there are some steps you can start to take.
First, you want to try your best to have a friendly relationship with your neighbor, no matter how hard it might be. Most neighbors in America don’t even know each other’s names, and that’s one of the big reasons everyone can seem so litigious and it’s so hard to solve conflicts in a peaceful way.
If you haven’t already introduced yourself to your neighbor, do so. If you have a rapport with one another, it’s going to be much easier to discuss a problem.
You want to set the tone for your relationship with your neighbor, so give them a head’s up if you’re going to be having a party, doing construction, or anything’s going to be going on at your house that might affect them.
You have to go into your interactions with your neighbor, assuming they have good intentions, and realize that most people don’t want to annoy their neighbors. They just genuinely don’t realize what they’re doing.
You also have to be cooperative if your neighbor comes to you with an issue.
If you’re going to talk to your neighbor about an issue you have with them, don’t ambush them. Call them and set up a time to talk. Try to meet in a shared space, like the sidewalk. Don’t be accusatory when you speak to your neighbor. Instead, suggest ideas you’ve come up with as far as how you can solve the problem together. It’s important to offer solutions.
If that doesn’t work, you can check disturbance and noise ordinances and write a letter to your neighbor, which formalizes your complaint. Keep a copy of the letter for your records.
While the goal is to peacefully work things out and solve any conflict, that’s not always what happens, so you might want to document everything just in case you do need it for court.
Before you take legal action, you should talk to your HOA or local housing department to make sure that you have a leg to stand on with your complaint. There are certain situations where your neighbor might be bothering you, but whatever they’re doing is well within their rights.
Resolving a Dispute in Small Claims Court
If you have a dispute with your neighbor, and you believe they owe you money for damages, then you might go to small claims court.
Small claims court is for those cases that have a low dollar value. You can present your case to a judge without going through the formalities of traditional court, and you don’t have to pay expensive legal fees.
The maximum dollar amount a court can award is limited. It’s as low as $2,500 in Kentucky and up to $25,000 in Tennessee. Typically, small claims limits are between $3,000 and $15,000.
Most disputes that involve money can be dealt with in small claims court. It’s a pretty simple process to present evidence showing that someone owes you money they haven’t paid you.
You can usually file claims that are based on legal theories that you can use in other courts. Examples include intentional harm or personal injury.
In small claims court, the litigants bring their claim.
The process usually starts with the plaintiff paying a filing fee. The parties might try to negotiate some type of agreement. Then, there’s a court hearing where they can speak to the judge directly. Both sides present their evidence and make their arguments, and then the judge will issue a verdict.
What If Your Neighbor is Harassing You?
Sometimes disputes between neighbors can get very serious. Neighbor harassment is an example of this in action.
Bad neighbors can be part of life, but harassment isn’t.
If you think that someone is watching you or purposely doing something that’s harassing toward you, you need to take steps to deal with the situation.
Harassment is something that’s intentional and repeated. For example, if your neighbor accidentally backs into your mailbox once, that’s probably not harassment. Continued bad behavior can be, however.
Neighbor harassment can include making offensive or discriminatory comments toward you, contacting law enforcement repeatedly for small things, or playing loud music during quiet hours or after you’ve asked them to stop.
If they come onto your property or bother your kids or pets after you tell them not to, engage in disorderly conduct on shared property, or are engaging in intentional acts to try and get you to move away, these are also examples of harassment.
Stalking you or watching you, landscaping, or building over your property lines can also be categorized as harassment.
There are distinctions between civil and criminal harassment to be aware of.
Criminal harassment is when someone is harmed, or even if your pet is harmed.
If you’re being harassed by a neighbor, you can take the issue to small claims court and represent yourself. You’ll need strong evidence.
If you need help, you can also hire an attorney. Some of the attorneys who might be helpful depending on the specifics of the case include real estate attorneys, civil claims attorneys, criminal lawyers, or a landlord-tenant law attorney.
As hard as it may be, it’s important that you don’t engage in the same behavior as your neighbor. Walk away when they try to engage with you. You don’t want them to have a record of you behaving in the same way, even if they started it.
What you should do is consistently gather evidence. Take photos and videos of what’s being done and write down the day and time of incidents. If the situation warrants it, you might file a police report, which adds to your record of the situation.
If you sue your neighbor, you’ll gather evidence and review the evidence with the police and your attorney, as well as possibly the judge. You will speak in court or privately with a judge and settle your case for either money or something that will stop the harassment.
In the most serious of scenarios, you may need to get a restraining order against your neighbor so they’re forced to stay off your property.
After you’ve gone through all these steps, if the neighbor continues their behavior, they could be fined, arrested, or go to jail.
If you are being stalked or threatened, then it’s no longer a civil case. This becomes a case that might involve criminal charges. If someone is seriously harassing you or threatening to harm you, you should contact the police.
Dealing with toxic or difficult neighbors is never fun, but unfortunately, it can be something we have to deal with occasionally in our lives. Stay calm and explore all your options before taking any action.