How to Handle Bad Neighbors the Legal Way


iStock.com/Damir Khabirov

You’ve done months of research, found the apartment of your dreams and signed the lease. However, when you finally move in, you discover that your next door neighbor is a chronic late night reveler. Or maybe you lived in the place of your dreams to have someone move into the next unit and drop piles of trash outside the building every day.

Learning to deal with annoying neighbors is an essential part of renting. Sometimes you will find out how to avoid neighbors and keep the peace. Other times the problem becomes too intense. You don’t want to get into legal trouble by acting out of frustration. Before you reach your breaking point, learn about the legal steps you can take to deal with bad neighbors legally.

What makes a bad neighbor?

What makes a neighbor a bad neighbor? What annoys a tenant may not bother anyone else at all, and what we perceive as bad situations can range from outright annoying to illegal. You will find a few main types of bad neighbors, such as the following:

  • Noisy neighbors: From couples in the next unit throwing themselves into screaming matches around the clock and late night revelers to the kid who keeps playing music, loud neighbors can disrupt your home sanctuary.
  • Messy neighbors: Who likes to come home for the trash bags in front of the apartment? This type of neighbor. You may also find tenants with pets who don’t bother to clean up after their furry friend.
  • Hostile neighbors: Maybe the person next door never says a word to you, or maybe you have a neighbor who is actively mean to you.
  • Dangerous neighbors: Neighbors who engage in illegal activities, such as dealing in drugs or creating a physical threat to you, go beyond the everyday trouble. Some neighbors are downright dangerous.

Seems familiar? You are not alone if you have terrible neighbors on your hands. Dealing with neighbors comes with the territory of living in apartments. It is essential to learn how to legally manage situations with neighbors.

What a bad neighbor does will ultimately determine the kind of legal remedies you can use. For example, you may need to be okay with hearing a dog barking occasionally during the day or soundproofing your apartment. The noise that violates city ordinances, however, could allow you to pursue legal action.

Bad neighbors – what to do legally

There are a few steps you can take when dealing with bad neighbors without getting into legal trouble yourself.

1. Try a polite cat

First of all, try to have a simple conversation with your neighbor. A conversation could clear up misunderstandings by solving your problem without making matters worse. Your neighbor might not realize that you can hear music at 3 a.m., for example. A quick and polite discussion can ensure that all parties are on the same page.

Keep in mind that you may have to continue living next to a bad neighbor. Diving head first into a legal dispute that you ultimately didn’t need can create additional stress and problems.

Of course, if your neighbor engages in criminal or dangerous behavior, you will need to take this activity more seriously from the start. However, you can tackle issues like a dog barking while your neighbor is at work, for example. Tackling the trash left outside your door only requires kindness and a straightforward speech. You could achieve the desired result and stay on good terms with your neighbor.

2. Work with a mediator

If a polite interview doesn’t do the trick, you may want to consider bringing in a mediator. An impartial third party can help you and your neighbor solve the problems you are having so that you can find a solution that is acceptable to everyone.

3. Involve your homeowners association

Suppose you are renting a property that comes with an association of owners, such as a condo. In that case, you can get the HOA involved if your annoying neighbor doesn’t solve a problem after you’ve had a polite conversation. HOAs typically have guidelines and policies for resolving neighbor-to-neighbor disputes. Meet with your HOA to explain the situation and determine the appropriate next steps.

In addition, HOAs can regulate a variety of areas, including the following:

  • Home businesses
  • Noise
  • Pets

In other words, if your annoying neighbor isn’t following the regulations and guidelines, the HOA has the power to step in. Your HOA can remedy the problem on your behalf in these cases.

4. Refer to local zoning and ordinance laws

You are not unlucky if your community does not have an association of owners. Instead, take a look at your local zoning and ordinance laws. If you can prove that a neighbor broke local law, you can file a petition asking for an injunction or damages in small claims court.

However, before presenting the petition, you might consider contacting your annoying neighbor again. Try writing a personal letter with information about local noise and disturbance ordinances that apply to your situation and offer a constructive solution. Your neighbor could take over and solve the problem with better behavior.

5. Contact local authorities

Sometimes bad neighbors are bad enough to require the involvement of the police. If you don’t feel safe, you may need to go this route. Let authorities know how you tried to resolve a problem – it’s always a good idea to keep documentation of the harassment in progress. The police will investigate and you will likely have to appear as a witness if your case goes to court.

Dealing with neighbors comes with its challenges, especially if you live next to someone who bothers you. Learning to deal with bad neighbors without having legal issues yourself is an integral part of apartment living. By behaving politely and keeping the law on your side, you can prevent terrible neighbors from ruining the experience of living your best life in the home of your dreams.

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