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Nasty Neighbors:
How to Deal with Neighbors Whose Habits Drive You Crazy

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.

nasty neighbors

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 department.

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 away."

A Neighborly Checklist

nasty neighbors

Before resorting to drastic measures, try talking to your neighbors. There's a chance they may not even know you're upset.

If your feud is ongoing and does not seem to be settling, the following steps may help you resolve the dispute civilly:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.).

  3. 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 the line.

  4. 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.

Try Mediation

Finally, if the above steps do not work, and possibly even before you get to steps 2-4, suggest a mediation session to your neighbor.

"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 agreement.

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.

Recommended Reading

How to Combat the Growing Problem of Loneliness and Social Isolation in Our Lives

How Burglars Target Which Homes to Rob, and How to Keep Yours Off Their Hit Lists!


Baltimore Sun

ABC News

City of Concord

Sacramento Magazine

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