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Neighbor Disputes

One of the most stressful and ongoing situations that anyone can face is a difficult and contentious neighbor. Even in the best of circumstances, any escalation of conflict with this sort of neighbor inevitably makes a bad situation only worse. When called or petitioned to intervene, both the Police and the Courts will often, and understandably, take the attitude of “Why can’t you …. just get along?!?!” and simply treat both sides as being unreasonable or at fault.

Truly effective remedies can be very difficult to obtain from either the Police, who are limited to enforcement of criminal laws only, or the Courts which are limited to compensation of “actual” damages that can be quickly eclipsed by the cost and delay of obtaining judicial relief. So what can you do? If all reasonable efforts to resolve ongoing neighbor problems have failed, there are some important guidelines to follow.

First and foremost, never lose your cool. Never respond in kind, whether verbal or physical, to the uncivil or inappropriate conduct of a neighbor. “Tit for Tat” or an “Eye for an Eye” will, most likely, just land you in jail. Try to stay on your side of the property line and, if at all possible, retreat from any physical aggression or attack and call the Police.

Next, step back from the situation and instead, document the dispute. Rather than engaging in a shouting match, send a letter (and retain a copy), registered or certified and reasonably set forth the problem and your willingness to resolve it in a civil and reasonable manner. If your neighbor is physically coming upon (trespass), or vandalizing your property, consider motion triggered outdoor lighting. If need be, camouflaged and motion triggered game cameras can document these intrusions. Some of these game cameras will take videos and even transmit the video via wifi so that even destroying the camera is safely documented. If the behavior is more in the form of nuisance (phone calls, loud music and/or parties, verbally abusive language, revving engines, etc.) a simple video camera with microphone and date/time stamp will do.

Before you get to the point of documenting such trespass, vandalism or nuisance, it is always best to call the Police and ask them to tell your neighbor, and document that they have told your neighbor to stop such behavior. The Police will be much more likely to intervene and charge your neighbor with a criminal offense if they have previously told them to “cease and desist”.   In fact, a “civil” trespass becomes a “criminal” trespass (Ohio Revised Code § 2911.21) when it can be proved that one knew he had no right, or had been notified not to be on the property. “Criminal” telephone harassment (Ohio Revised Code § 2917.21) includes phone calls made after someone has “previously … told the caller not to make” such phone calls. “Criminal” disorderly conduct (Ohio Revised Code § 2917.11) becomes a more serious offence when “The offender persists in disorderly conduct after reasonable warning or request to desist”.

If the Police are unable to help or advise you that “this is a civil matter”, you may have no recourse but to consult an attorney to explore whether there are practical civil court remedies. Often, however, a simple letter from an attorney warning your neighbor that he is likely to face a lawsuit if he persists may be enough. Civil remedies can be in the form of “legal” remedies (money damages) or “equitable” remedies (injunctions ordering someone to stop doing something) but require lawsuits, court fees and attorney fees.

Dave McGee

This essay merely attempts to provide general information and guidance and cannot hope to speak to all or unique facts and situations. For more specific advice, contact an attorney at our offices to discuss your unique situation.
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