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Neighbor harassment

Neighbor harassment can range from nasty comments to actual assault. Options for stopping it include talking it out, filing a police report, or hiring a lawyer.

Before you can take legal action to stop neighbor harassment, you must first be sure that what you are experiencing fits the legal definition of harassment.

First, you must find out if the neighbor’s harassment is intentional. This means that they must be deliberately doing something upsets you or causes you harm. If your neighbors don’t know their actions are causing you distress, this is likely the result of a misunderstanding, not intentional harassment.

Examples of neighbor harassment

While harassment laws vary between states, counties, and towns, there are some actions that most commonly constitute harassment.

Boundary disputes

You and your neighbors may have different ideas about where your property line is. Your neighbors might try to disregard property boundaries by building a fence that stretches into your yard or leaving items on your property. 

Animal issues

Some cities have clear laws about the number and type of animals that residents can keep on their property. You could report your neighbor for violating these regulations. However, if the issue about an animal arises from another cause, like you consider the animals to be dangerous, make too much noise, or produce offensive odors, you might have to take other steps to resolve the problem.

Noise

Most communities restrict the level of noise that residents are allowed to make, and there are usually regulations about when they can make that noise. If you suspect your neighbors’ activities are violating local laws, you might be able to take legal action to make them quiet down. 

Property damage

Your neighbors’ actions may cause damage to your property. Such damage is often caused by water. 

Your neighbors will only be responsible for some types of water damage on your property. For example, they can’t be held responsible if natural runoff from their property is damaging your land, but they could be held responsible if alterations they made to their property cause damage to yours. Different courts will take different approaches to resolving this issue.

Other types of property damage — such as if your neighbor drives into your fence — could also be grounds for your taking legal action.

Nuisance

Nuisance refers to any activity that intentionally harms or annoys others. This might be a stinking pile of garbage on your neighbors’ lawn or other indecent conduct that affects you in some way.

Threats, violence, and physical contact

Sometimes, neighbor harassment goes beyond causing you discomfort and costing you money to causing you bodily harm.

If your neighbor makes threats against you, participates in other verbal harassment, is violent toward you, or makes unwanted sexual contact, this constitutes a serious form of harassment. When your neighbors make you feel unsafe, you should take immediate action to put a stop to their conduct.

Resolving conflicts with your neighbors

Are you being harassed by a neighbor? Here are some reasonable steps for you to take to put an end to the problem.

Discuss the issue with your neighbor

If you don’t feel like your neighbors pose a physical threat, the first step may be to respectively discuss the issue. You might find that your neighbors didn’t know how much their conduct bothered you, and the issue could be resolved right away.

Document the issue

When you notice an ongoing pattern of harassment, you should document what is going on. Keep a record of incidents, and write down any action you took to remedy the problem, such as if you spoke with your neighbors about it or you called the property management company.

Find a mediator

If the issue with your neighbors isn’t so bad that you want to engage in a legal battle, but it is bad enough that you need outside help to deal with it, a mediator might be the solution you need.

An experienced mediator is an objective third party, so they can help people on both sides of the issue come to an agreement.

A mediator might be more useful in some situations than in others. For example, if property deeds don’t stipulate clear boundaries for your properties, the mediator could help you establish a new boundary line. A mediator might also be a good choice to help with animal disputes and noise issues.

Litigation and protection orders

Litigation refers to the process of taking legal action. You might have to file a lawsuit if your neighbor damaged your property and refuses to pay you for your loss.

If your neighbor is threatening you or has caused you physical harm, you might have grounds for obtaining an order of protection. For this to happen, you must call the police, and they must arrest your neighbor. After the arrest takes place, and if there is a pending criminal case against your neighbor, the court can issue a protection order.

How a lawyer can help

If you cannot resolve the situation on your own, a lawyer can help you in the following ways:

  • Gather evidence. Your attorney can advise you on how to gather the evidence you need to prove that your neighbor has taken serious actions against you.
  • File a complaint. The entity with which you file your complaint will depend on your circumstances, but your lawyer can help you make sure you file the complaint correctly.
  • Go to court. With a trained legal representative on your side, you are more likely to win a court case dealing with neighbor harassment.

When you’re choosing your lawyer, select someone who is familiar with not only your state’s laws but also the laws within your county and city. Also be sure to ask your lawyer if they have experience in dealing with neighbor harassment situations like yours.

Writing a demand letter

A demand letter is a formal notice from an attorney that informs your neighbors of the action you want them to take. The letter will state a deadline for the desired action and the consequences of not carrying the action out.

For example, the demand letter might state that your neighbors must clean up their yard, get rid of an animal, or pay for property damage by a certain date. Typically, the letter states that if the neighbor ignores the demand, a lawsuit will follow. If your neighbor doesn’t comply, the letter will serve as evidence of your earlier attempts to resolve the issue.

Fortunately, a demand letter from an attorney may be enough to get your neighbors to change their behavior. The simple fact that you are willing to go to court can send a powerful message.

When to call the police

In some situations, it may be appropriate to contact the police:

  • You feel that you or someone else is in danger, either because of a verbal threat or physical violence.
  • Your neighbors are engaging in disorderly conduct. Each state has different rules that relate to disorderly conduct, but the term always refers to actions that are unruly and obnoxious and that disturb the peace.
  • Your neighbors are causing intentional loud noises that violate city ordinances.

If you are a renter

Much of above information applies to renters as much as it does to property owners. However, renters, especially those who live in apartments, might face some special circumstances that relate to lease agreements.

If your neighbor is engaging in an activity that, while it isn’t illegal, annoys you and violates the lease agreement, you should tell the property manager about the problem. The manager might issue a notice to your neighbor to stop their behavior.

Before you file a complaint, take the time to review your lease agreement to see if your neighbor has violated any provisions. Otherwise, the property manager will most likely not intervene.

Howard Robert Roitman | Dec 15, 2012

Nuisance

Nuisance Legally, the term “nuisance" is traditionally used in three ways: to describe an activity or condition that is harmful or annoying to others (example- indecent conduct, a rubbish heap or a smoking chimney) to describe the harm caused by the before-mentioned activity or condition (example- loud noises or objectionable odors) to describe a legal liability (responsibility) that arises from the combination of the two. The law of nuisance was created to stop such bothersome activities or conduct when they unreasonably interfered either with the rights of other private landowners (example- private nuisance) or with the rights of the general public (example-public nuisance). The tort of nuisance allows a claimant (formerly plaintiff) to sue for most acts that interfere with their use and enjoyment of their land. A good example of this is in the case of Jones v Powell. A brewery made stinking vapors which wafted onto a neighbor's property, damaging his papers. As he was a landowner, the neighbor sued in nuisance for this damage. But Whitelocke J, speaking for the Court of the King's Bench, said that because the water supply was contaminated, it was better that the neighbor's documents were risked. He said "it is better that they should be spoiled than that the common wealth stand in need of good liquor." Nowadays, interfering with neighbors' property is not looked upon so kindly. Nuisance deals with all kinds of things that spoil a landowner's enjoyment of his property. A subset of nuisance is known as the rule in Rylands v. Fletcher, where a dam burst into a coal mine shaft. So a dangerous escape of some hazard, including water, fire, or animals means strict liability in nuisance. This is subject only to a remoteness cap, familiar from negligence when the event is unusual and unpredictable. This was the case where chemicals from a factory seeped through a floor into the water table, contaminating East Anglia's water reservoirs. Free market environmentalists would like to expand tort damage claims into pollution (example-toxic torts) and environmental protection.

Scott E. Chapman | May 28, 2012

What Can Be Done About Anonymity On The Internet?

There are so many negatives to anonymity, yet so many positives. If it were not for the massive amount of false spew that I've witnessed damage so many lives, I'd be much more likely to be in favor of anonymity on the Internet. However, what was a good idea is 230(c) is no longer so and the anonymouns user on the Internet being protected by their ISP's lack of liability has turned many parts of the Internet into a junk yard of false information. What people would never say in person, they now say in public...not just public...but they announce it to the world. What's worse is that a schoolyard lie, is now common tactic on the Internet and at social media sits. Sure its been great to hook back up with old friends that I would have NEVER found. But, with this benefit has come too large of a negative, too much of a harm. If you have an antagonist on the Internet that stalks or harasses you, then you understand. If you don't, you likely won't understand. Today, the first place an employer goes to assess their candidates is the Internet (so does you date, your new friend, your family, any contact, period). So, if there is false information out there is can and will most likely be devastating and you won't even know it sometimes. All it takes is one report by an anonymous 'hater' and your integrity is in question. The reader has no idea what is true or not. They don't know if you are actually a sham, a scam, a hack, a thief or a person of character, compassion, drive, intelligence and efficiency. The fact that it is called into question will make the reader question and more than likely back away from associating with you. Put it this way, if you hear a rumor around the neighborhood that the single guy living on the corner is a child molester, you would NEVER let your kids even walk in front of the house. Now that would just be in the neighborhood. Take the same rumor and put it on the Internet and this man on the corner is now globally named and even if he is the head of the Salvation Army, his integrity will be calleld into question by whomever reads the rumor. Why? Because we don't want to take chances on it being true. The reader has reason to have caution, the subject has reason to be distraught. The only solution is to uncover the masked commentor, unless 230(c) is repealed. If you want to keep you anonymity, we need to have another level of screening. The private sector will do it. They will filter the false information on the Internet, if we hold them accountable for the content they provide. You can kick and scream about it all you want, but there is only two solutions to this problem, either expose the anonymous commentor or hold the website accountable the host (website, ISP, whatever) will make sure the the information is correct or take it down. What if 230(c) stated that the host (website, ISP, whatever) was liable for all content posted on their site, UNLESS they required non-anonymous posts. Of course it would cost more, it would take more resources to verify whether someone is who they say they are. However, it can be done, even if it might not be 100%, it could become the norm and the Internet could be a place of more than just spew competing with truth. Do you remember the days before the CAN-SPAM Act? It was getting so bad that it was not worth having an email account anymore. Just to check your email from a friend you had to sift through 40 emails a day from porn and medication sites. That is no longer the case, is it? Now you have to opt in to much of that & the source must tell you who they are and how to get off the list...in other words, there is no anonymity allowed in spamming. The result has been a huge improvement. Spam is not dead, but it has become controllable. Of course, the majority of the problem comes from overseas, but its an improvement. If we ever want to cut down that CRAP that is posted on the Internet, this route is going to need to be confronted. The fact that Congress and the Senate is fighting over how to approach this issue right now is positive & negative. I'll bet they will not get it right, though I hope they do. Take for example the New York competing bills attempting to ban anonymous comments from websites. ( S.6779 and A.8688). While I think the legislation is proposed with good intentions, it does not seem to be well thought out. Both sides of the bill can site case law and example after example as to why they are right. The truth is keeping anonymity causes damage and getting rid of it causes damage. Which damage is worse. Well, that's when it gets personal. Unfortunately, this is one of those issues that will never be 100% agreed upon. Until then, the Internet is still the Wild Wild West and if you are gonna shoot someone, you just may get away with it, you may get lynched or you may feel the power of the law.