What Can I Do if My Neighbor's Animals are Creating a Problem?
Most people will tolerate the occasional barking of a neighbor's dog or even the clucking of a few hens from next door. But if your neighbor's animals are creating a problem, such as a threatening dog which is off leash, or a cat using the kids' sandbox as a litter box, you may decide to take action. Local and state laws regulate how people can keep animals in residential areas, so understanding these regulations is one of the first steps toward resolving an animal-related dispute (after direct negotiation with your neighbor).
As a last resort in these types of disputes, you may file a civil lawsuit for nuisance and seek a court order demanding that your neighbor remedies the problem in a timely matter (see Property Rights: My Neighbor is a Nuisance, Your Neighbors' Right to Farm, and Dog Bites and Animal Attacks for related information).
Resolving the Problem Directly with Your Neighbor
The best option for addressing a constantly barking or dangerous dog, a loud rooster crowing at the break of dawn, or a cat repeatedly sneaking into your house, is to talk to the neighbor responsible for the offending animal in a non-confrontational manner. The chances are that they are not aware of how much of a problem their pet is causing.
For example, Neighbor A acquires five hens he plans to raise in the backyard for eggs. Neighbor B's dog, normally quiet and well-behaved, begins barking nonstop and clawing underneath the fence upon hearing and smelling the chickens first thing in the morning (the coop is next to the fence). The dog's barking wakes up Neighbor A, who becomes sleep deprived and agitated.
Neighbor B, meanwhile, also is frustrated because other neighbors are now complaining about her dog's barking. But after the two neighbors discuss the problem, Neighbor A agrees to move the chicken coop to the other side of his yard and Neighbor B agrees to wait until later in the morning to let her dog out.
If your neighbor's animals are creating a problem that cannot be resolved through discussion and negotiation, you may be able to invoke a local ordinance or state law. Laws regulating pets and other animals often have the terms "dogs," "animal control," or "animal law enforcement" in the title. The following animal behavior, pet owner actions, or other conditions are typically regulated by such laws:
- Number of animals allowed per household
- Types of animals allowed in a home
- Length of time and frequency of dog barking allowed
- Leash requirements for dogs
- Requirement to clean up after your pet
- Rabies vaccination requirement
As a rule of thumb, the police department probably will usually not be able to help you (except for extreme or urgent situations); call your local animal control service instead. If they believe your complaint has merit, then they may contact the owner of the offending animal with a warning. If the problem continues, the neighbor may receive a citation (similar to a traffic ticket, which the neighbor can simply pay or challenge in court).
If repeated complaints to the appropriate local animal control authorities do not resolve the dispute, then you may want to consider filing a nuisance lawsuit in court. If the suit is successful, the court may order the owner of the animal to either remedy the situation (as dictated by the court) or face steep fines (or even jail time) for disobeying a court order. The court generally will intervene with an order only if it considers the problem both "substantial" and "continuous."
If you are considering filing a nuisance lawsuit because your neighbor's animals are creating a problem, you might want to consult a real estate lawyer in your area.