They nag about noise. They bark about baying dogs. They complain about fallen leaves or cats that prowl their lawns. They call the police when parties go on into the wee hours.
They're the neighbors, and they're angry.
Resident disputes -- whether they're over trees, views, property lines, noisy gatherings, late-night construction, pets or parking -- can become nasty, destroying a neighborhood's sense of community or, much worse, turning violent.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 19, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 59 words Type of Material: Correction
Mediation -- An article on neighbor disputes in the Jan. 2 Real Estate section said Joumana Silyan-Saba was executive director of the Asian Pacific Dispute Resolution Center. She is the program director. The story also said Barbara Goldfarb was a mediator with the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. She is with the Los Angeles city attorney's dispute resolution program.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 23, 2005 Home Edition Real Estate Part K Page 5 Features Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Mediation -- A Jan. 2 article on neighbor disputes said Joumana Silyan-Saba is the Asian Pacific Dispute Resolution Center's executive director. She is the program director. Barbara Goldfarb is a mediator with the Los Angeles city attorney's dispute resolution program, not the Los Angeles Bar Assn.
More than a dozen neighbor disputes in the city and county of Los Angeles erupted into violence in 2003, and police estimate at least that many in 2004 when that year is tallied. Some people ended up in the city attorney's office facing disorderly conduct charges and forced mediation. Four died and at least half a dozen went to the hospital in 2003.
But disagreements needn't end this way. Many can be resolved through mediation, a peaceful and inexpensive route to settling problems.
Lance Widman of the South Bay Center for Dispute Resolution in Hermosa Beach has seen hundreds of disputes in the 15 years he's been a mediator.
"Some people come to us, some go to their church for help, some just tough it out and hope people will move," said Widman, a professor of political science at El Camino College who first began mediating with the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. But with the difficulties and expense of moving, especially for homeowners, toughing it out is impractical and may only cause the problem to fester.
"Whatever starts it, by the time we see it, these disputes have grown to the point where people aren't speaking, they aren't waving hello, they're not looking out for each other and all the neighborliness is gone," he said. "People tell me they're staying in their homes to avoid running into their neighbors."
Los Angeles County-funded mediation services work with about 700 sets of unhappy neighbors a year over issues including who should pay for tree trimming and misunderstandings fed by language barriers.
Noise, boundary and view disputes and friction over home and yard maintenance top the list of the most frequently mediated problems. Unruly pets and kids and parking complaints follow closely.
"We had a woman come in and cry because she felt like she couldn't go out in her frontyard when the neighbors were home," Widman said. "People need to talk to each other so they can have some peace."
Terry Dushenko, a Hermosa Beach resident, went to mediation with his neighbors after disagreements over his sprinklers. The Dushenkos had tried to work out the differences over several months without succuss.
"They felt it was too much water, so we'd reduced the frequency, then the frequency and amount, then adjusted the sprinkler so it pointed away, then took more steps," Dushenko said. "No matter what we tried, their perception was that there was too much water, and things were getting testy.
"We were frustrated that we were trying to accommodate them and getting nowhere and they felt that we weren't trying to solve the problem," he said. Fortunately, the Dushenkos knew about mediation through neighbor Widman, whom they turned to for help.
The neighbors not only worked out a barrier system, things improved so much that they are now sharing the job of replacing a fence, he said.
"Going to mediation, and hearing their side and being heard, alleviated the tension dramatically and made it so we could be neighbors instead of combatants," Dushenko said.
Kenneth Sullivan, a Colorado mediator, once saw a case of four neighbors on a cul-de-sac who all had restraining orders against each other by the time they turned to mediation.
Mediators work with neighbors to help them craft their own agreements in order to avoid dragging the argument out longer and spending money on costly attorney fees. If mediation fails, the next step is arbitration or a lawsuit, both of which involve a judgment of facts by a third party, and the solution is legally binding.
In the last five years, Los Angeles County has funded 15 mediation programs to help with neighbor conflicts. Those programs provide free or low-cost -- usually less than $20 -- help from about 2,500 volunteer mediators, according to Ester Soriano, who manages the county's dispute resolution program.
Neighbor dispute mediation is also offered by churches and by the city attorney's office, which gets its referrals from the police. The mediators have at least 40 hours of training, followed by supervised practice sessions and supervised mediations for their first year of practice.
Senior and residential complexes, such as Beyond Shelter, which has built more than a dozen affordable apartment complexes for seniors and poor families, often have mediators on staff to deal with disputes.
No group or region has the corner on un-neighborly behavior, however. Mediation center clients come from neighborhoods from the beach communities to East L.A., from Long Beach to Westlake Village.