Neighbor disputes come in a variety of flavors.  Sometimes they arise out of trees that have grown to the point where they block views, or out of easements that are claimed to have been abused or abandoned, or out boundaries that are disputed, or out of damage resulting from construction.  But according to a recent FindLaw survey, the most common neighbor dispute, by far, is noise.
            Of course, the best way for neighbor noise complaints to be resolved is by the neighbors simply talking with each other and working out their issues by themselves.  Unfortunately, however, that doesn’t always work and sometimes neighbors are forced to “lawyer up.”  But that doesn’t have to lead to a long, drawn-out, expensive court battle. Sometimes a little “creative lawyering” can achieve a quick, inexpensive outcome that leaves both sides happy. Here’s a recent example:
Problem:  We represented a client who, many years ago, bought a home across the street from an elementary school baseball field.  For many years our client and the school district co-existed in harmony.  However, things turned south when the local little league, which uses the baseball field in the Spring and Summer, not only expanded their schedule to 4 – 8 p.m. every weekday evening and for 8 hours every Saturday, but also began to use the school district’s public address system for a running commentary on every batter, every play, every ball, and every strike. To make matters worse, the speakers, permanently installed on the top level of a “snack shack” behind homeplate, weren’t pointed in the direction of the first- and third-base lines were the stands were located.  You guessed it – they were pointed directly out from homeplate, and directly toward our client’s home.  Even with all of her doors and windows shut tight, it was as if, every few minutes during the baseball season, 6 days a week, the little league announcer was standing in our client’s home, shouting out the names of every batter, and announcing every play.  Not only did this noise intrusion interfere with our client’s use and enjoyment of her home (which she also used as her office), but it also potentially affected the home’s value because it would have to be disclosed to potential buyers.
           
            Our client complained to the school district and the little league for several years, to no avail.  To the contrary, although the school district gave some “lip service” to trying to be a good neighbor, neither they nor the little league took her seriously.  To the contrary, they pretty much dismissed her as the “crazy neighbor lady” who doesn’t like kids.  (Nothing could have been further from the truth.)  That’s where we came in.
Solution: It became apparent early on that neither the school district nor the little league were going to take the situation seriously without our “turning up the heat” a bit.  We did that by way of a carefully-worded demand letter.  In that letter we reminded both the school district and the little league that the ongoing noise from the baseball field constituted a “continuing private nuisance,” for which they could be liable for damages.  We also reminded the school district that, as a public entity allowing the little league to create the noise problem on the district’s property, it could be found liable for “inverse condemnation” (the wrongful “taking” of our client’s property rights), potentially making them liable to our client not only for damages but also for all of her attorney’s fees.
Fortunately, our demand letter had the desired effect. The district responded through its own attorneys, and a direct line of communication was established, lawyer to lawyer, to negotiate a creative outcome through a series of follow-up phone conversations.  That outcome included the district’s written confirmation that the old public address system had been removed and that there were no current plans to reinstall it. The district further agreed to the following conditions if a PA system were to be reinstalled within the next 10 years:
  • Advance notice: The district will give our client 60 days advance written notice, with details of the proposed system, and the commitment to work with her, or any successor owner of her home, to design, install, and operate the new system in a way that minimizes its sound impact upon her home.
  • Minimum technical specifications:  The technical specifications of any new system will meet or exceed those of a new system the district had recently installed at a different school location, and which resolved a similar problem at that location.
  • Proper installation of new speakers:  The old speakers installed on the “snack shack” behind homeplate will be removed, and any new speakers will be installed no higher than 10 feet from the ground, and oriented in such a way as to direct sound away from our client’s property.
  • Binding on any users of the field:  Any permissive user of the baseball field will be given a copy of the letter agreement and told that compliance with the agreement was a condition of their use of the field.
With this creative, informal outcome – one which likely could not be achieved in court, and which avoided tens of thousands of dollars in litigation costs – our client not only regained the enjoyment of her home, but also protected its value.
Lesson: Although neighbors should always first try to resolve problems on their own, if that doesn’t work and a lawyer has to be brought in, a carefully-worded demand letter can “grease the wheels” for a productive dialogue that can result in a win-win, without the need for litigation. And although sometimes (as in the baseball field example) that result can be achieved by the parties and lawyers themselves, sometimes it may also be necessary to enlist the services of a skilled mediator.  (Click here for our prior post on mediation.)
If you find yourself in a dispute, we can help you in several ways.  First, because we are skilled real estate and litigation attorneys with over 85 years of combined experience, we can help by negotiating creative, pre-litigation outcomes such as the one mentioned above.  Second, because Phil Diamond of this office is also a highly experienced and respected mediator, when mediation is necessary we can help you in preparing for mediation, and we can be there at your side during the entire process.  Third, if you are already represented by counsel, Phil can provide mediation services for you through his separate mediation practice, Diamond Dispute Resolution. And fourth, if mediation is either not available in your situation or if your case falls into the minority of matters that fail to result in settlement even with mediation, we are aggressive, creative litigators and we can represent you in arbitration or court.  
If you’re encountering a problem with a neighbor that needs the assistance of counsel, come to our Firm.  You’ll get the special attention of me, Phil, and our dedicated staff.  We’ll go the extra mile to see that you receive the maximum compensation and full justice you deserve.  Every one of our clients is like family.  We’ll keep you fully informed every step of the way and make sure you are part of the process.  We firmly believe that you can’t do any better than having our firm represent you.  Let us prove it to you.
If you have a dispute you’d like to discuss, please mention this blog post when you contact us and you’ll receive a free consultation (a $125 minimum value).  Call 800-553-7626 or e-mail [email protected] or [email protected].