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Nuisance Neighbors: Can You Take the Matter to Small Claims Court?

  • Apr 01, 2022
  • The Harr Law Firm

Man covering head with pillow while neighbor yells at TVThey say that good fences make for good neighbors, but sometimes, not even the best fence in the world can make up for a really bad neighbor. Whether they’re simply unaware of it or genuinely indifferent to how their actions impact those around them, some neighbors can be a true nuisance. If you’ve tried handling the problem directly and they’re just not cooperating with your efforts, you might be wondering what other courses of action you can take. Can you take the matter to small claims court to get them to change their ways? Here’s what you need to know.

What Even Qualifies for Court?

First, you might be wondering if your nuisance claim would even qualify for a court case. Generally speaking, any activity your neighbor engages in that “deprives you of the quiet use and enjoyment of your property, or causes you any emotional or mental distress” can qualify for small claims court. Most commonly, these are going to be issues relating to noise complaints or light pollution. For example, if your neighbor has a dog that barks all night or a floodlight that shines directly in your bedroom window, this impacts your ability to enjoy your own property and is considered a genuine nuisance.

Other examples of claims might include a poorly maintained property that has a bad odor, impacting your ability to use your own backyard; frequent loud music, especially at night; or a damaged sprinkler line that causes flooding on your property. If the choices your neighbor is making has negative consequences beyond the fence line, those actions can generally qualify as a nuisance case.

What Should You Do First?

It’s typically not a great idea to jump straight to legal action when your neighbor is being a nuisance. There are many steps that you should take prior to pursuing a court case, not only for the sake of maintaining some kind of relationship with your neighbor, but to also show the judge that you’ve made a  good-faith effort to settle the matter yourself. Here’s what you should try first:

  • Have a conversation – You’re both adults, so you should try to settle your differences with an adult conversation. Let your neighbor know what the problem is, and ask what can be done to fix it. For example, if they have a dog that barks all night, you might ask if they can bring the dog indoors at night. If they have a floodlight that shines in your bedroom, you can ask that they adjust the way the light is installed so it points downwards more. Give your neighbor the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they’re not aware that it’s bothering you.
  • Document occurrences – If the conversation doesn’t work out, and they’re uninterested in resolving the problem, it’s time to start documenting the issue. Keep record of how often the problem occurs (for example, every time the dog wakes you up at night), as well as any attempts you continue making to settle this issue yourself. This might include recording the conversations you have with the neighbor or taking a photo of the notes you leave, asking them to fix the problem.
  • Involve the police – If your neighbor’s actions constitute a violation of city codes, you can also try to get the police involved in the situation. For example, a dog barking at night usually violates city noise ordinances, as would loud music. Do a bit of research into your city codes to see if you can file a formal complaint with your local police department.
  • Talk to other neighbors – Many issues related to nuisance neighbors will impact everyone who lives close to the individual in question. If a barking dog is waking you up at night, it’s probably waking up others who share a fence line with that dog’s yard. Talk to your other neighbors and see if they’re willing to engage in the other steps outlined above. If they do so and also don’t have any luck with changing the behavior of the person in question, as if they’re willing to file a suit along with you.

Building a Case

If all of the above actions don’t make a difference in your situation, you can take the matter to court. It’s important that you have evidence to support your case; you can’t simply show up in court and say, “Their dog barks and wakes me up at night.” Your detailed records of occurrences and attempts at communication will be important evidence. We can also help you subpoena records of your reports to police, if those were made. If you have other neighbors willing to file suits, they will do this separately, but all cases might be tried together.

If you have a nuisance neighbor and need to reclaim enjoyment of your home again, contact The Harr Law Firm today.