It is all too common to have problems with one's neighbor. Usually these problems can be handled personally, other times not. Sometimes the problem becomes potentially violent and a civil harassment order is appropriate. However, a small claims suit can sometimes be the best way for a person or neighborhood group to force an irresponsible property owner to act after all other remedies have been exhausted. Before you start any small claims action, you may want to visit the Department of Consumer Affairs website regarding the basics of Small Claims Court filings.
This page is designed to inform you how to solve a neighbor dispute via the court system. It is strongly advised that you attempt all avenues of addressing the problem before continuing. Skipping steps in this process will result in being unprepared for court or being referred back to the beginning. Therefore, you should follow these steps in order to maximize effectiveness. Please watch the following video for an overview.
Maintain an activity log on a word processing program or on a notepad. The log should include any activity that "deprives you of the quiet use and enjoyment of your property, or causes you any emotional or mental distress." Your log should include dates and times, plus a description of the activities that disturbed you, and how you suffered as a result.
Write a letter to the property owner letting him/her know that if no action is taken within 10 business days, you or the neighborhood group will collectively sue him/her in Small Claims Court for maintaining a Public Nuisance. Send the letter certified mail with a return receipt requested. If the property owner does not act, then you may proceed with your small claims lawsuit.
Everyone in your neighborhood group must individually file a claim which may be collectively heard in court. Children under the age of 18 may sue by using their parents as their legal guardian. Contact the Small Claims Court clerk and advise them of your intent to file with the number of people involved. Pick up the forms necessary to file the suit from the clerk. Also, ask about a Small Claims Court Advisor who may be available to assist you free of charge.
Each person must fill out a Plaintiff's Statement Form. You must sue each person listed as the legal owner on the property deed. You can sue for the maximum amount allowed in Small Claims Court. An individual cannot ask for more than $10,000 in a claim. Corporations and other entities (like, government entities) cannot ask for more than $5,000. You can file as many claims as you want for up to $2,500 each, but you can only file 2 claims in a calendar year that ask for more than $2,500.
Return all of the Plaintiff's Statement forms to the Small Claims Court clerk. Ask the clerk to schedule the same court date and time for all claims. Bring a self addressed, stamped envelope for each claim. You should receive the service copies with the court date in approximately one week. To determine the cost to file a claim in Small Claims Court, refer to the fee schedule here.
When the forms are complete, a copy must be served on the person, people, or corporation you are suing. This is called "service of process." It is important to know the paperwork which must be completed for proper service, so speak with an Small Claims Court advisor for details. For a small fee, the Small Claims Court will mail your summons to the property owner by certified mail, but personal service is recommended. Someone not involved in your suit can serve the property owner, or you can hire a process server.