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Tips for Handling Noisy Neighbors

October 23, 1994|CORA JORDAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's 2 a.m. You're trying to sleep. You feel a pounding sensation in your head. At first, you think it's a headache. But then you realize it's the funky disco beat blasting from your next-door neighbor's stereo, reverberating through your bedroom and rattling your windows.

Before you pound on the neighbor's door and yell something you'll regret or, even worse, resign yourself to living with the noise, try some more constructive alternatives.

1--Talk to Your Neighbor

Your first step is to talk to your neighbor and try to resolve your differences in person. It's hard to believe, but sometimes neighbors are not aware that they are causing a disturbance. Even if you're ready to punch somebody's lights out, try a little sugar instead.

2--Get a Copy of Your Local Ordinance

Your next step is to get a copy of your local noise laws. Most cities and counties have ordinances that control the times, types and loudness of noise. For example, many local ordinances prohibit unreasonable vehicle noise (like honking the car horn early every morning for a car pool) or dogs barking all night long every night.

Noisy neighbors are in for a warning or even a fine. You can look up your local ordinance at city hall, a public law library or the public library. Make at least two copies of it, one for your neighbor and one for yourself.

3--Warn Your Neighbor in Writing

If things don't improve, ask your neighbor again--this time in writing--to quiet down. Don't make threats, but state that if the situation doesn't improve you'll be forced to notify the authorities. Enclose a copy of the noise ordinance. Keep a copy of your letter; you'll need it if, as a last resort, you later sue your neighbor.

4--Suggest Mediation

Most cities offer free or low-cost mediation services, which means they provide an impartial mediator who will sit down with you and your neighbor and try to help you resolve your differences.

Just call the mediation service; someone there will contact the neighbor and suggest mediation. (These people are very good at convincing others to give mediation a chance.)

5--Call the Police

If you have done all of the above and your neighbor has responded by turning up the volume, now is the time to call the police (or the Animal Control officer if the problem is a barking dog). Try to get the police to come while the noise is occurring.

Of course, you can call the police on a noisy neighbor the first time the music gets too loud for your taste. But the police will be more sympathetic to your situation if they see that you have tried to solve the problem on your own.

6--Sue for Nuisance

If all else fails, you can get your neighbor's attention--and maybe some money--by suing in Small Claims Court. You can sue your neighbor for nuisance if your neighbor's noise unreasonably interferes with your enjoyment of your property. In the lawsuit, you ask for money to compensate you for the interference with your right to peacefully enjoy your home.

Small Claims Court is easy and inexpensive, and you don't need a lawyer. You will need to show the following:

--There is excessive and disturbing noise.

--Your enjoyment of your property is diminished.

--You have asked the person to stop the noise (your letter should be enough to prove this).

To prove your case, you can use police reports, witnesses, recordings, your own testimony and the testimony of neighbors or other witnesses.

California quitters who share these attitudes are not the sort of people likely to bring economic dynamism to neighboring states. The amount you'll want to ask for will depend on how much the noise bothered you. Did you lose sleep? Were you unable to carry on your usual activities, such as reading, playing music or talking to friends? Decide on a reasonable dollar amount per day, and multiply that figure by the number of days you've been seriously bothered. The amount of money you can ask for in Small Claims Court is limited to $5,000 in California.

Reprinted with permission from "Neighbor Law: Trees, Fences, Boundaries and Noise, " 2nd Edition , by Cora Jordan (Nolo Press, Berkeley). Book is available in bookstores or by calling (800) 992-6656.

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