By Roberta Kleinman, BAPA Coordinator of Property Preservation Services
Q: Help! My neighbor’s dog barks all night long and is ruining my sleep. How do I get the dog to stop barking without making an enemy of my neighbor?
A: BAPA often receives complaints from homeowners who are at the end of their proverbial ropes because of some neighbor’s annoying behavior. Typical examples of complaints (some actual and some theoretical) include a resident who works nights and needs to sleep during the day, but has a neighbor who practices his electric guitar all day long. A family has installed an access door that allows their three dogs to go out at all hours of the day or night, but when a raccoon ventures into their back yard at 3 a.m., the ensuing commotion rouses the entire block from its sleep.
Then there’s the couple with the big, organic vegetable garden whose neighbor’s above ground pool has collapsed, flooding the garden with 16,000 gallons of chlorinated water. Twice. Or the homeowner with the beautifully manicured lawn who can’t abide the rusting array of non-functioning vehicles he sees among the dead shrubbery and foot-tall weeds in his neighbor’s yard. The list of ways in which a neighbor may, intentionally or unintentionally, provoke another’s ire is virtually endless, while the courses of action our society sanctions for responding to such provocation are much more limited.
BAPA’s mission does not officially include resolving disagreements that arise between neighbors. But we believe it is in the community’s best interests to ensure that people have a place where they can talk over their complaint about a neighbor, so that a small problem doesn’t fester until it turns into a raging feud. Depending on the situation, BAPA staff may provide suggestions and referrals for various types of resources and remedies.
If excessive daytime noise is the problem, we’ve found that a pair of earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones can take the edge off a neighbor’s discomfort without risking an unpleasant confrontation. If the parties are still on speaking terms, the mediation of a neutral third party, such as a local minister, might be helpful. For more complicated disputes, we often direct the parties to free mediation services provided by the Center for Conflict Resolution, 11 E. Adams St., Chicago (312-922-6464.)
If someone is physically injured, or his or her residential property sustains actual damage, as a consequence of conduct engaged in or authorized by a neighboring homeowner, the former may initiate a claim against the latter (with or without legal assistance) seeking recovery from the latter’s homeowner’s liability insurance. Referrals to qualified attorneys are available from any of the area bar associations in the area, e.g., the Chicago Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service (312-554-2001.) For residents of limited means, information about free (pro bono) or low-cost legal services may be obtained by visiting the website of the Chicago Bar Foundation at http://chicagobarfoundation.org/find-legal-help.
Of course, if the complaint concerns an unsafe condition at a nearby property that could have adverse consequences on the well-being of the complainant’s family, it would be advisable to consult an attorney experienced in employing litigation strategies that go beyond the typical demand for mere monetary damages, including, for example, certain equitable or injunctive remedies that may be required to eliminate a particularly offensive private nuisance of this nature. When a violation of one or more of the city’s relevant municipal codes is believed to have occurred, a phone call to 311 or the 19th Ward Office, or a report made online to the city’s web site, will start the wheels of an investigation rolling. Finally, when criminal conduct is suspected, one or more anonymous calls to 911 to report the allegedly illegal activity will draw the police department’s attention, and that alone may be sufficient to put an end to certain undesirable activities.
Beyond employing the foregoing examples of government-sanctioned remedies, there are legal limits to what actions a long-suffering neighbor may take, with or without BAPA’s assistance. When all else fails, BAPA’s best advice to anyone who may have a complaint about a neighbor is to form a block club. Members of a block club may establish voluntary noise restrictions, property maintenance standards and other behavioral guidelines that, when accepted by a majority of the residents of the block, would be enforced simply through the power of peer pressure. Peer pressure is sometimes the best, and occasionally the only, way to bring a difficult neighbor into line with everyone else on the block.
Disclaimer: Opinions presented here are the author’s alone, and may not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Beverly Area Planning Association. Be advised that the author of this column is not a licensed attorney. The information contained in this article is general in nature and is not intended to, and should not, be relied upon by you, the reader, as personal legal advice or a legal opinion concerning your particular situation. The information also may not necessarily reflect the most current statutory or municipal code developments. You should always seek assistance from qualified legal professionals and other knowledgeable real estate experts when dealing with decisions affecting your residential property.