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Disagreeable neighbors? Legal options vary

It’s one of the facts of community living: Where you have neighbors, you can have problems. There are some things you can do about annoying neighbors and some things that could land you in legal trouble.

Start by talking to your neighbor. Share what’s bothering you. Keep your composure and try to approach the conversation from a place of kindness and curiosity.

You could even help rectify the situation if you’re willing. For example, if you’re really bothered by someone’s weedy flowerbeds, offer to help. You might find out that something is going on in your neighbor’s life (an illness, for example) that’s preventing them from taking better care of their yard.

If you feel the situation is too dangerous to attempt a conversation on your own, consider involving the police or your local code enforcement department. Either one can help you evaluate whether the situation falls under their jurisdiction.

If your neighbors are renters, you might also start by reaching out to their landlord. You can find this information by looking up local land records online or visiting your county assessor’s office. The landlord may have no idea that problematic behavior is occurring and could rectify the situation with the threat of eviction.

Here are some guidelines for dealing with certain neighborhood challenges:

  • Barking dog: If conversations get you nowhere, you might call the local police with a nuisance complaint. Then again, barking dogs may not be a priority for law enforcement. If that fails, you could enlist help from a lawyer to file a suit (or threaten one) for nuisance behavior.
  • Blocking your view: Unless protected by a local ordinance or subdivision rule, you do not have a right to your view. Neighbors are free to plant trees or erect permitted structures that block your favorite sightline. If tree trimming would improve your view, you may offer to pay for it. Never conduct the work yourself or hire someone to conduct it without written permission.
  • Flying a drone over your backyard: Find out if your state has drone laws covering hobby users. If not, you may still have a legal case for trespass, private nuisance, or invasion of privacy.
  • Messy backyard: Check your local laws. There may be regulations regarding trash or unkempt lawns. Once you alert your local officials, your neighbors could be fined for non-compliance.
  • Constant partying: Your immediate remedy for loud music and yelling is to call the police. Repeated complaints to local authorities can help you build a case for a nuisance suit.
  • Ugly fences: Unless your community has a local statute regulating fences, you generally can’t force your neighbors to replace an unsightly fence or other fixture in their backyard.

Talk to your local police department and local municipal staff about how to address a nuisance neighbor. They can help you strategize ways to solve the issue, with appropriate support.

Neighborly conversations are generally advisable as the first course of action. If the problem persists, consult a lawyer to review your options. Mediation might also be appropriate before you head to court.

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