Most are familiar with the Judeo-Christian principle that “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thysef.” Unfortunately, not everyone actually practices this principal. And not all “neighbors” are created equal.
What legal options do property owners have when their neighbors breach the peace? Imagine the following scenario. You finally arrive home around 8:30pm on Tuesday night after a twelve-hour work day. You’re exhausted. You want to enjoy a nice, peaceful evening in your condo. As you plop down on the couch and turn on the tv to catch up with the news, you’re startled by a loud thud on the ceiling directly over your head. You turn down the volume and alert your ears to determine what the sound was. Is that stucco from the ceiling that just fell in your hair? A few minutes go by and then you hear – and feel – the loud thud again. Then you hear loud barking. And then another thud. Then more barking.
This continues for the next hour. And the next hour. Until 4am in the morning.
Now image that the above scenario carries over into the next evening – and the next week.
What would you do if this happened to you?
Condominium living offers many wonderful benefits and luxuries. Convenient work-out centers, community swimming pools and spas, low maintenance, etc. But sometimes living in such close proximity to neighbors comes with challenges as well.
Neighborly behavior is regulated in three ways. First, most communities include Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) or at least Rules and Regulations that the residents must abide by. Second, most cities impose noise restrictions on neighborhoods. And third, common law precludes property owners from creating a nuisance.
If a neighbor breaches the peace, in most cases the first step is to politely confront the neighbor. If that doesn’t solve the problem, the victim should alert security (if available) and the local community association. Finally, if none of the above options work, the victim can file a civil lawsuit against the neighbor for a private right of action to enforce the zoning ordinance and CC&Rs.
The victim can also file an emergency application for preliminary injunction to obtain an order from the Court enjoining the neighbor from continuing the nuisance-causing conduct. If the neighbor violates the injunction, the Court can sanction the neighbor and even issue a warrant for their arrest. In addition to obtaining the injunction, the victim can also seek an award for damages and attorneys’ fees pursuant to most CC&Rs.
Litigation is only one of several options for resolving disputes with neighbors. The advantage of litigation is that it doesn’t require the neighbor’s cooperation. So when dealing with potentially unstable or unreasonable neighbors, it may be the only option. But it most cases, it is far better to resolve the dispute through some form of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation or over a beer.
If you or someone you know is in the midst of a dispute with their neighbor, call or email Mr. Charles today to determine the correct legal strategy for promptly resolving the dispute. In extreme cases – especially if personal safety is at risk – the victim should contact the police.  The victim can also seek tort damages for common law nuisance.