Dogs. It seems people love ‘em or hate ‘em. But when they bark all night or defecate on your lawn, we all tend to fall in the latter category.
The same goes for other household pets, and backyard chickens, too. Those animals that can be so cute, cuddly and loyal (or in the case of the chickens, productive) can also be a real nuisance, even a safety hazard. So what’s a good neighbor to do?
The first step should be a friendly chat with your neighbor (the key word here being ‘friendly’). Go in with the assumption your neighbor has no idea that your pet has been bothering you and offer possible solutions. Think of it as an opportunity to build a friendship. It’s the simplest, fastest and, often, most effective way to solve the problem.
If that doesn’t work, you can look into your municipal’s ordinances. In La Crosse, for example, pet owners can face fines between $170 and $500 if they don’t immediately and properly remove any fecal matter left behind, fail to restrain their animals in all places outside their own property or create a nuisance. (Visit https://library.municode.com to see the ordinances in your municipality.) Once informed, you may continue the conversation with your neighbor, or call the police or animal control the next time the problem occurs.
If serious problems persist, keep a log of the issues. If you have security cameras, capture and keep any video evidence. You can also take photos and video recordings of your own. You can use these to avoid a situation where it’s your word against theirs and to seek further legal remedies if needed.
An attorney may also be a good idea. They can send your neighbor a demand letter. That usually gets their attention. Or they can help you with mediation—where you and your neighbor work out an agreement through the help of a third party. And, if your case arises to the level of nuisance, they can help you file an injunction and/or civil lawsuit.
In legal terms, a nuisance could be one of many practices that threaten your enjoyment or use of your property. With private nuisance cases, courts will look at three factors. First, they’ll look at fault and whether your neighbor has intentionally, negligently or recklessly interfered with your use and enjoyment of your property. This is where it becomes essential to have documentation of your conversations with your neighbor about the problem.
Second, they’ll look at whether that interference was substantial, that is, whether an ordinary member of the community with normal sensitivity and temperament would feel the same way you do as plaintiff.
Finally, they’ll examine whether your neighbor has been reasonable in trying to address the issue. In doing so, they’ll consider the extent and duration of the disturbance, the harm it has caused, the defendant’s motivation and other issues in an effort to weigh, and try to balance, the interests of both parties.
If a nuisance poses an immediate safety threat, it may qualify for an injunction. Keep in mind that injunctions are drastic measures, so you’ll want to consult with your attorney about the wisdom of that route before taking any action.
By Cheryl Gill, La Crosse Consumer Lawyer at Johns, Flaherty & Collins. For a consumer lawyer in La Crosse WI, call her at 608-784-5678.