In 1999, Timothy Cerny of Maryland proposed building a pool
in his backyard. This angered neighbor David Elliott and launched
a seven-year feud between the two neighbors. Thirteen criminal
cases, two civil lawsuits, more than 100 police visits and
13 peace orders later, the feud is still ongoing.
When neighborhood relations turn sour, a mediation
center can help solve your dispute agreeably (and inexpensively).
The feud has gotten so expensive that a judge even suggested
the county buy one of the homes to end it.
"They're the modern day Hatfields and McCoys,"
said Howard County Police Capt. Kevin Burnett.
Feuds like this may sound wild, but they're not unusual.
Take actor Jim Belushi, for example, whose feud with his neighbor
of 19 years (actress Julie Newmar) resulted in a $4-million
lawsuit accusing her of harassment, defamation and vandalism
(which was later settled through mediation).
"Feuds are very serious, neighbors especially, I mean,
it's tough because, you know, it's your land! But I mean,
think about it, all over the world, they're all fighting over
what? Land, you know," Belushi told ABC News' 20/20.
What to Do if YOUR Neighbors Are Nasty
Whether your neighbors have loud parties, untended pets or
a yard overgrown with weeds (or if you are feeling your neighbor
is unfairly pointing the finger at you), what should you do?
First, it's important to realize that certain behaviors and
events are against the law.
"People get the mentality, 'This is America; this is
my property. I should be able to do what I want,'" says
Ron O'Connor, chief of Sacramento City Code Enforcement. "But
the truth is -- and you have to explain this to these people
-- the city has ordinances and codes that citizens are required
to comply with. Because like it or not, we share our properties
with our communities, i.e., our neighbors."
Cities and counties across the nation each have their own
code enforcement departments designed to help keep peace and
maintain a safe, clean environment in the community. However,
codes vary dramatically by city and county, as do the events
that violate them. To be sure of whether your neighbor (or
you) are violating a city code, contact your city's code enforcement
If you find that your complaint is in fact violating a city
code, you can call and file a complaint anonymously. After
repeated complaints, if the problem is still not fixed the
homeowner may be charged a fine.
"A lot of the time, people don't even know they have
violated a code," says Larry Brooks, chief of code enforcement
for Sacramento County. "Some are actually glad that we've
made them aware of the problem, and they want to fix it right
A Neighborly Checklist
Before resorting to drastic measures, try talking to
your neighbors. There's a chance they may not even know
If your feud is ongoing and does not seem to be settling,
the following steps may help you resolve the dispute civilly:
Talk to your neighbor. It's possible they are not aware
their behavior is offensive to you (and you should assume
they are not aware until you find out otherwise). Explain
the problem in an honest, upfront (but not accusatory)
way, and your neighbor may be willing to make a compromise.
If talking doesn't help, put your complaints in writing
and send them to your neighbor. Explain the problem again
and what the possible consequences may be (i.e. if the
matter is in violation of a city code, that you will have
to report them, etc.).
Keep a log of the issue, noting the date and time of
each disturbance, along with the details of what occurred.
Having a record may be necessary to prove your case down
Contact your neighborhood or homeowner's association
(if you have one). There's a good chance that if your
neighbor is offending you, he or she is also offending
others in the neighborhood. Often, a feud can be settled
once the offender realizes the majority of the neighborhood
shares your concerns.
Finally, if the above steps do not work, and possibly even
before you get to steps 2-4, suggest a mediation session to
"When there are no code violations, when nothing's being
broken, and neighbors are nitpicking at each other, we usually
send them to mediation," says Brooks.
Neighborhood mediation is a less expensive and effective
alternative to suing your neighbor. It involves discussing
the problem with a third, unbiased party, and coming to an
Although still widely unknown, mediation is increasing in
popularity, and there are over 500 neighborhood-mediation
centers in the United States, run mostly by courts and church
groups. In 2005 alone, some 600,000 neighborhood disputes
were handled by the centers.
"I can't think of a major city that doesn't have one,"
says Larry Ray, the executive director of the National Association
for Community Mediation.
Not only is mediation typically available for free (or for
a small donation/fee) but also it is incredibly effective.
According to the American Bar Association, about 90 percent
of feuds are able to be solved with the help of a mediator,
and, because the resolution is decided upon by the involved
parties, 85 percent are still in agreement six months later.
"The mediator makes no decisions at all," says
Cora Jordan, an attorney and author of Neighbor
Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise. "That's
why these agreements last as long as they do."
Further, if your neighbor doesn't agree to mediation when
you ask him or her, you can still contact a mediation center
for help. A mediator from the center will call your neighbor
on your behalf and urge him or her to come in for a session.
You can find a mediation center in your area by checking
the Yellow Pages or calling your local bar association or
police department. The
National Association for Community Mediation Web site
can also help you locate a center near you.
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