Few things are as challenging as dealing with an obnoxious neighbor. Whether you rent an apartment or own a single-family home, you have to tread lightly when dealing with someone next door. But being thoughtful and careful in how you approach the problem doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stand up for your rights.
As a tenant or homeowner, you have a right to enjoy your property. When your neighbor's behavior goes above and beyond obnoxious and becomes a nuisance, you may have a legal claim.
When you are dealing with excessive noise, dogs constantly barking, lights flooding your windows, offensive odors, prostitution, or drugs, consider taking the following steps.
Talk to Your Neighbor Directly
When your neighbor is annoying and obnoxious consistently, don’t stew on the problem. Work up the nerve to reach out about the issue. If possible, schedule a time to talk outside, either at the property line, on the sidewalk, or in the hallway.
Have a solution to offer. If your neighbor refuses to talk, is not amenable to the proposed solution, or makes no effort to correct the behavior, make a second (or subsequent) request in writing before going further.
Talk With Your Landlord
As a tenant, you benefit from the convenant of quiet enjoyment. This is “an implied lease provision in every residential lease,” stated Joseph S. Tobener, a partner at Tobener Ravenscroft LLP. “It assures that the tenant will be able to enjoy the unit without substantial interference.”
An implied provision does not have to be written in your lease. You are granted this right under your state law. Your landlord cannot force you to waive this right, either.
This right entitles you to access your rental property and enjoy relative peace and quiet. You are not entitled to total silence. But instead, you have the right to be free from overwhelming, distressing, and offense sounds, odors, or activities.
Mr. Tobener noted examples of substantial interference with quiet enjoyment of property included “criminal activity, noise, construction, late-night parties, overcrowding, trespassers, and sewage overflows.”
When you are experiencing some type of substantial interference, report it to your landlord. They should take steps to enforce each tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment of their unit.
“Often, landlords will say, ‘It is between the neighbors.’” According to Mr. Tobener, “This is a big mistake. The landlord must show that affirmative steps are being taken to address the issue. Failure to act can give rise to liability.”
Steps your landlord can take are to write a nuisance letter to the offending tenant, move you to a new unit, and, when necessary, start the eviction process.
Contact the Homeowners’ Association
If you are a condo, townhouse, or homeowner with an HOA, this is your best resource to resolve an obnoxious neighbor. Talk with your HOA board or file a formal complaint against your neighbor. Document the date and time of the occurrences. When possible, file police reports regarding the offensive conduct.
The HOA should take action to enforce its covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs). This includes documenting the issue and citing the offending homeowner or renter. Penalties for nuisance behavior could involve fines or suspension of certain rights and privileges of being a member.
Report Your Neighbor to the Police
Your neighbor might be committing a crime. Certain obnoxious behavior might violate local ordinances. The most common example is loud noise after a certain time at night. Or, your neighbor’s behavior may be a misdemeanor or felony offense, such as prostitution or selling drugs.
Mr. Tobener recommends tenants and homeowners be aggressive in collecting evidence against nuisance neighbors, which entails reporting the incidents to the police.
“A tenant should get as many police incident reports as possible,” said Mr. Tobener. “It is also important to keep a calendar or log of all interferences and to report these in writing to the landlord. Working with other tenants in the building is very helpful as well. If multiple tenants are complaining about a nuisance neighbor, the landlord has to act.”
Is Your Neighbor a Nuisance? Contact an Attorney
If your neighbor, whether it is a fellow homeowner or tenant, is creating a serious nuisance, you may have the right to file a civil lawsuit.
A nuisance can be either private or public. A private nuisance is one that unreasonably or unlawfully interferes with a person’s use or enjoyment of their property. You can file a private nuisance lawsuit for compensation and for an injunction against the nuisance.
A public nuisance is an unreasonable or unlawful interference with the general public. Typically, a public body has to deal with this type of issue, which is why it is essential to contact the police.
“If a tenant suffers from long-time exposure to a nuisance neighbor, they are entitled to recover rent paid and emotional distress for the time period when they had to deal with the nuisance,” according to Mr. Tobener. “When a tenant is forced out of a unit, they can recover moving costs, the economic loss of the value of the unit, and emotional distress of having to vacate. If the lease contains an attorney fee provision, the tenant can also recover attorney fees.”
Homeowners can pursue compensation for any physical injuries or property damage they sustain as well as for emotional distress.