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Neighbors from hell
Belushi versus Catwoman. Everybody versus Hulk Hogan. How costly is it to battle your own neighbors?
March 31, 2005: 1:52 PM EST
By Les Christie, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - When Kelli Gapski and her husband bought a house north of Detroit, they thought they found paradise.

Then, new neighbors moved in next door and soon acquired a noisy Doberman-Rottweiler mix.

A work-at-home Web designer (she chronicles her neighbor troubles on www.theneighborsfromhell.com), Kelli bore the brunt of the animal's incessant barking. Prevailing upon the dog's owners accomplished little. Neither did bringing in the authorities. The neighbors bought another dog.

The Gapskis spent $1,000 to put up a fence. They paid $40 for an anti-barking device, which emits an ultrasonic tone meant to quiet a dog. The neighbors even equipped their pooch with a battery-charged collar, which issued a shock when the dog barked. Nothing worked.

So the Gapskis gave up.

"We don't deal with situations, we just move," says Kelli.

When they tried to sell, the Gapskis learned that difficult neighbors aren't just a nuisance -- they can even drive down property values.

Some states require sellers to disclose neighborhood nuisances (noise, smoke, odors), if they exist. That can discourage some homebuyers and give others negotiating leverage.

"Every time a buyer came to look at our house, the dog would go ballistic," Kelli says. "We started the house at $195,000 and had to drop it to $170,000."

She couldn't blame the buyers. When she and her husband home-shopped, if they heard a dog bark they would turn on their heels and get back in the car.

Rubbing money the wrong way

Taking on noisy neighbors can be costly and have other social consequences.

The New York Times recently reported on a well-known bond trader who took umbrage about noise from upstairs in his co-op apartment building. His actions included having the neighbor, an older retiree who had lived in the building without incident for years, arrested for assault.

The co-op board and nearly all the association's members lined up against the trader. He eventually was forced to sell his shares and move, but not before tens of thousands of dollars were spent on legal maneuvers by both sides.

Actor Jim Belushi fought a well-publicized battle with his Brentwood next-door-neighbor, erstwhile Batman nemesis, Julie "Catwoman" Newmar. The dispute involved a new wall Belushi built and resulted in a $1 million lawsuit. It ended with her apology and a $10,000 payment from her for legal fees and penalties.

Hulk Hogan and his neighbors in Belleair, Fla., have wrestled over noise and smells from the Hulkster's private menagerie.

At various times, officials have spotted five chickens, one rooster, seven dogs, one cat, bird cages, and a ferret on the property. One neighbor moved a master bedroom to the other side of the house.

Sean Connery was on the receiving end of a lawsuit in New York, where a downstairs neighbor in Connery's son's building accused the actor of making his life hell with loud music, water leaks, and rats.

What you can do

If you're enduring an inconsiderate neighbor there are some steps you can take. First, make your neighbor aware that there is a problem. Be as nice as possible.

Bill Seavey relocated recently to Cambria, Calif., where he plans to open up part of the house as a small bed and breakfast. Because neighbors may have concerns about parking, he made an extra effort to establish good relations, introducing himself early on and trying to appear as affable as possible.

If friendliness doesn't work, a warning might. Consult the local rules and regulations if you're in a condo or co-op ask the association's board about its policies, and let your neighbor know he's in violation.

The next step is to get an objective, third-party involved, a community mediator.

The last step is to use the legal system by calling the police or instituting a law suit. This can be expensive, and will probably make it impossible to patch up your relationship afterwards.

Remember, too, that inconsiderate actions can indicate deeper personality problems. If any attempts you make to alleviate the problem cause you to fear for your safety, back off. Get the authorities involved immediately.  Top of page

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