Try these mediation steps before resorting to legal confrontation in a neighborly dispute
Whether the problem is loud parties, grass-killing canines or nuisance foliage, difficult neighbors can make the American Dream seem like a nightmare. A residential clash can escalate quickly, but experts say it’s best to avoid taking it to court.
“The best way to resolve these disputes is by person-to-person discussion,” says John K. Weston, attorney and partner with Sacks, Weston, Petrelli, Diamond and Millstein in Philadelphia. “Not only is this the quickest way to end the matter, it’s also most likely to preserve a good neighbor relationship.”
If the neighbor continually ignores your in-person requests, then you may need to call the police, Weston says.
An alternative to seeking a cop or lawyer is to mutually agree to enlist a skilled professional mediator who can hear both sides of the argument and offer a resolution. Local nonprofit community service agencies often offer mediators for a small fee.
“Mediation is especially helpful because it allows a neutral mediator to help the parties find common ground and realistic solutions,” says Ryan Locke, an Atlanta-based attorney.
Finally, there are a few legal actions you could take. Start with a cease-and-desist letter to your offensive neighbor from a lawyer.
If that doesn’t work, consider filing a suit in small claims court, which doesn’t require an attorney and typically involves a fee of $100 or less. However, either party has a right to appeal to the county-level trial court (often a minimum $200 fee), where lawyers usually are required.
“Actual litigation should be a last resort. Lawyers are expensive and the litigation can extend for months or years, although with property boundary disputes, this may be unavoidable,” Weston says. “Do an honest cost-benefit analysis before you move forward. And never assume that your neighbor will fold once you sue him.” – Erik J. Martin