Today I’m going to answer a random legal question on the internet. This person is asking if they can sue their neighbor for harassment. There was a dispute over the fence and property line, which apparently had escalated to the point where a neighbor had even called the authorities and harasses him when he’s in the neighborhood.
I’ve been practicing law for over 10 years in Los Angeles mostly handling civil litigation claims and injury claims. I have litigated neighbor disputes and even served as an attorney for home owner associations which often get dragged into the dispute.
A Neighbor Dispute Can Be Emotionally Draining
Neighbor disputes are terrible. You have to see that person all the time. They get personal, emotional and escalate very quickly. They can make your life miserable and get very petty.
First try to de-escalate
It can be helpful to try to de-escalate the situation as much as possible. Legal action should not be your first resort. It often doesn’t really help and only makes things worse.
What I mean by deescalating is going to the neighbor and just talking to them, listening to them and acknowledging whatever it is. You don’t have to agree, but just listen and acknowledge whatever it is bothering them. I recommend a book called Never Split the Difference (affiliate link supports blog posts) which talks a little about this.
When talking to the neighbor listen and repeat what they are saying. Like I said, don’t agree. Do not argue. Just listen.
After you have listened, and shown to them that you understood. Then present your problem or solution. I know, easier said then done but much cheaper and faster than litigation. Some courts also have a free mediation program that can help.
Restraining Order for Neighbor Disputes
If the neighbor’s making threats to your life or violence, you can consider a restraining order.
You may qualify for a civil harassment restraining order if:
- The person you want to restrain has stalked, harassed, sexually assaulted, or threatened you with violence;and
- The person you want to restrain is your:
- family member more than 2 degrees removed, like an aunt or uncle, a niece or nephew, cousins, and more distant relatives, or
- another person you are not closely related to
Definitely consult with an attorney and the police if your neighbor is threatening you with violence or any of the above. A good resource on restraining orders in California are the California Courts websites.
Nuisance Cause of Action for Neighbor Disputes
There’s an actual cause of action, or you can file a lawsuit, for something called nuisance. In order to prove that your neighbor has created a nuisance, there’s different elements. You have to show something that’s harmful to your health, indecent or offensive to the senses and obstruction to the free use of property, willfully obstructed the free passenger use of the property or fire hazard, things like that.
Jury Instructions are a good resource on what you have to prove. Click here for the jury instruction on nuisance.
I have definitely seen neighbor disputes escalate out of control, where the cost for attorney’s fees is more than anyone could have ever imagined and far more than the damages in the case. So take that into consideration before you go ballistic on your neighbor.
If you are thinking about hiring an attorney – check out this video and free guide for information you should know so you don’t lose money.