The focus in this section involves a subject which has existed from the beginning of time - the neighbor dispute. The point in time when neighbor disputes become more significant than a “minor annoyance” differs from case to case, but these disagreements have the potential to quickly evolve into a criminal investigation. The discussion, below, is focused on Los Angeles’ jurisdiction.
I have found “intervention” at the earliest possible stage to be the most effective solution in neighbor dispute cases. Because these problems are “personal” and often involve highly-charged emotions, it is best to allow a Los Angeles Neighbor Dispute Attorney to help facilitate productive solutions.
Causes of Disputes
Some common catalysts to neighbor disputes include issues about: noise, pets (loud unleashed dogs), property conditions (lack of maintenance, unpermitted structures), and unlawful property use (garage conversion w/ tenants, operating business at location).
While causation of neighbor disagreements sometimes rests with one person, a substantial cause involves a perception of “disrespect” held by one or more involved parties, which perpetuates hostile interaction between all of them, and leads to escalating problems.
How do these problems escalate?
At some point, a “tolerance threshold” is reached by one of the neighbors. Maybe by this time, one neighbor has set up a surveillance camera to film the “violations.” The other party sees this as an invasion of privacy, and threatens a restraining order. Or maybe there has been a harsh exchange of words between the parties. Each side then digs in his or her heels, and productive solutions seem impossible. Eventually, someone complains about the situation to the city (i.e. License & Code, Police, or Animal Shelter), and a formal investigation begins.
Eventually, the city expends a large amount of resources to deal with the dispute. Less time is then allocated to other city functions. Finally, “higher-ups” in the city become unhappy because of this drain of resources. A call is then made to the local prosecutor to “haul everyone into court.”
The prosecutor calms the city department bosses down, and explains that a criminal court case involving a neighbor dispute will “tie up” city employees in a courtroom for extensive periods of time, with an unclear outcome or final solution. The prosecutor believes (hopefully) that there is a better way to resolve this problem, and maintains the criminal court option as one of last resort. Instead, the prosecutor puts on his Community Prosecutor hat, rolls up his sleeves, and gets to work.
A Community Prosecutor works with various city agencies to mediate community disputes and improve the local quality of life. Part of that process is helping the police department free up officers from repeat calls for service at neighbor disputes (it isn’t unusual for police to be called out 5 times a week on some of these calls, wasting extensive resources).
Developing solutions for neighbor disputes
A Community Prosecutor is oftentimes requested by the Community Resource Officer (CRO) or other city department personnel to participate in neighbor disagreements. The CRO and Community Prosecutor generally meet involved persons individually, and then ultimately bring all of them into a meeting room to discuss solutions to the problems.
It is helpful when the parties have attorney representation at these meetings, since it provides a buffer to diffuse the tense emotions, as well as provide clarity about the realistic solutions. (While it is not uncommon for one or more neighbor to demand a formal written apology letter accompanied with full compliance of each and every demand, this is generally not a plausible option.)
So, How to You Explore Solutions?
If you are involved in a neighbor dispute, your attorney will likely learn about your concerns and goals, and explain the give and take process of resolving a neighbor dispute. Depending on whether you have issues with a neighbor’s conduct, vice versa, or both, your concerns and goals are likely similar: formulate a solution which allows you to peaceably live in your neighborhood without future problems.
Los Angeles Neighbor Dispute Resolution
If the city is involved in your matter, your attorney will likely contact the local agency responsible for related problems in the affected neighborhood, and speak to the CRO (or similar designated officer). As I briefly explained earlier, the community resource officers’ responsibilities are focused on community solutions, rather than arrests and/or court. CROs tend to be open-minded and good problem-solvers, willing to carefully listen to all sides of a dispute and propose common-sense solutions. Your attorney will likely propose solutions which would be acceptable to you, at an early point of the process, allowing your goals to be included in the dialog. A prosecutor may participate in this process if “higher-ups” are pressing for a prompt solution.
If the problem is not solved in a meeting with a CRO, and a prosecutor has not yet been involved in the matter, your attorney may also contact the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, which has a program called Dispute Resolution Program. This program can also be helpful in solving problems in the local community. In DRP, a problem is mediated by an unbiased “mediator” who tries to negotiate a fast, mutually acceptable solution to all of the involved parties. This process can be done in person or by telephone. Mediators can also provide referrals to outside services to further assist in finding solutions.
If you are in a dispute with your neighbor, and it has reached the point where your day-to-day life is significantly impaired, you should seek professional help from a Neighbor Dispute Attorney.
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