Friday, August 1, 2014

Common neighbor disputes, part 1; Noise, pets, and water.

Robert Frost, the great American poet once said, “Good fences make good neighbors.”  While it probably wasn’t the most elegant thing he penned, it could be the most accurate.  Yes, we’ve all had run-ins with neighbors, those strangers who become an important part of our lives just because of their proximity.  The rule goes that if a neighbor is good, you probably won’t even notice them, but if they’re bad…they can make your life flat-out miserable.  

Whether you live in a house with a spacious yard, are stuffed close in a McMansion, or have neighbors above and below you in a condo or apartment, we’ve all had issues: loud parties on Tuesday nights, dogs who like digging up our grass, neon yellow paint colors, pink flamingos in their front yard, and not paying their fair share for that dreaded instigator of neighborly conflict –the shared fence.  

You could get mad, you could scream at them, you can even send your dog to their lawn and paint your house in pink and purple polka dots out of spite, but there may be a better way to handle challenging neighbors.  Good communication and a level head are your best allies, but knowing some of the laws and regulations also prove invaluable.  So here are a few guidelines on 3 of the most common challenges among neighbors: noisy neighbors, pet complaints, and flooding and water issues. 

Noisy neighbors.

Neighbors who are excessively loud are one of the most difficult blights to deal with because how-loud-is-too-loud is such a subjective thing that’s hard to measure.  Additionally, a backyard party on a Saturday night that goes until midnight may not offend most people, but an older or crabby neighbor might call the police.  (And the police have to come if a complaint is made, regardless of who is right or wrong.)

Condos and apartments are even more difficult with noise complaints because you usually have 3 or even 4 neighbors above and below you.  Condos usually have association rules and apartments have policies that look to minimize noise complaints.  Any grievances can be directed to the condo association or apartment management.

For homeowners, most municipal codes have some sort of clause that lays out what constitutes a noise problem.  For instance, it may define it as, “an unreasonable annoyance, disturbance or offensive activity that unreasonably inhibits another neighbor from using their property.”

There are a few things you can do: to take the subjectivity out of it, you could take an acoustical test that measures exactly who loud the neighbor is on the decibel meter.  Documenting that is a good start in case a civil action or complaint ensues. 

Before it gets to that, try to talk to the neighbor.  Ask them politely if they could give you notice when they’ll have a gathering or event where the volume will be up, are doing early construction, etc.  Ask for a pre-arranged beginning and end time to the noise.  Hopefully, they will respect you communicating and respond.  It’s a lot better than calling the police every time things get loud.  

Other common noise complaints are over noise that is “habitual or mechanical in nature,” like a loud bar down the street or a machine shop.  Usually the City’s Code Enforcement Department is the place to contact to monitor the noise from businesses.

Here is the Sacramento Police Department’s website page that deals with noise complaints: 

Pet complaints.

You may have a crazy cat lady living next door who lets them infest the neighborhood, or a neighbor who has roosters who come alive at 3 am, but usually pet issues revolve around dogs.  There are three kinds of issues with dogs: excessive barking, relieving themselves on your lawn (the dogs – not the neighbors,) and dangerous dogs not properly leashed or fenced.

If a dog barks excessively – which usually happens when they leave a dog unattended in the yard – it falls under some of the same standards as noise complaints.  

Leash laws are laid out in most municipalities, requiring dogs to be properly leashed or behind locking fences for public protection.  If a dog is not, your city or municipality will take it very seriously because it’s a huge liability if the dog attacks someone.  Condos or apartments or homes with a Homeowners Association will have additional regulations that may get as specific as weight, size, and type of pet.  

Dogs relieving themselves on their lawn also fall under the verbiage of municipal leash laws.  Generally, pet owners have a civic responsibility to clean up after their pet.  

All animal and dog complaints are handled by the City's Animal Care and Control Division, so give them a call before you contact the police.  Here is Sacramento County’s web page on animal control and complaints:

Flooding and water issues.

Noise and pets may be incessantly annoying, but nothing can harm your property as quickly as water damage.  Usually this occurs in apartments or condominiums where the upstairs neighbor has a pipe burst, bathroom leak, or appliance like washing machine, icemaker on a fridge, or dishwasher malfunction.  When that happens, there is very clear accountability who is responsible (the neighbor) and who has to fix it (the condo association or apartment manager.)  In California, the law always falls on the side of tenant rights so it’s a simple process to make complaints and force them to make it right.   

But water problems also occur between side-by-side neighbors.  This is often from faulty irrigation or bad sprinklers that cause flooding, kill neighbor landscaping, or even reach the house and cause property damage.  

Of course you should document any water damage with photos/videos/and a log, and report to the proper municipal complaint agency or association.  But with water damage, another very important issue could rear its ugly head: mold.

Water damage over time causes mold, which causes serious health concerns that lead to hospitalization or even death in extreme cases.  There’s a whole line of litigation that deals with mold but be aware that a landlord or condo association is responsible for remediation if mold exists, which includes replacing damaged sheetrock or other materials and proper city inspection.   If you are having respiratory or health problems that you think are coming from mold (especially if you have children) then you can buy homeowner mold testing kits and from there, contact mold inspection and remediation companies. 

Here is the Environmental Protection Agency’s web page on mold issues: 


Look for our next post in this serious, when we tackle neighbor parking issues, trees, and fences!

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