Business

How to quiet noisy neighbors without going to court

DEAR MR. MYERS: Our new neighbors are the noisiest people we have ever met. If they’re not throwing loud parties and blasting their music, their kids are running around in the yard and screaming, or the husband is using loud power tools in his workshop late at night. We have talked to them about the problem a few times and even sent them a certified letter, but they have done nothing to “tone it down.” Can we sue them to get some peace and quiet?

ANSWER: Suing a neighbor is a nasty proposition. After all, you’ll likely be living near them for several more months or even years, and a lawsuit can make everyone feel uncomfortable and even build more ill will.

You did the right thing by discussing the problem with your neighbors before considering a lawsuit. Since those discussions and your letter didn’t bear fruit, you might still be able to solve the problem without going to court.

One option would be to file a police report, or even have the cops pay them a visit. Many cities, counties and nonprofit groups also offer free or low-cost arbitration services in which a retired judge or other expert will hear both sides of a disagreement and then render a decision on how to solve it without the help of lawyers.

If you decide that filing a lawsuit is absolutely necessary, you can sue for money damages, ask the judge to order the neighbors to stop the noise — “abate the nuisance,” in legal terms — or do both.

If you’re asking for only monetary compensation, you can stick to relatively inexpensive small claims court if the amount is fairly low, typically $2,500 to $7,500. But if you want the noise to stop (or at least be held to more reasonable levels), you’ll probably need to use the costlier municipal court or similar venue instead.

To win, you’ll have to prove that the noise is excessive, disturbing and affecting your own legal right to the “quiet enjoyment” of your home. You also will need to show that you have previously asked the neighbors to stop the din: That’s where that certified letter you mailed to them earlier will come in handy. Police reports, witnesses’ accounts and even tape recordings may also bolster your case.

Good luck. I hope you can resolve this nasty noise issue without getting the court involved and all the heightened animosity that may follow.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: Noise, property boundaries, trees, water issues and lighting-related nuisances are the five most common disputes among neighbors, according to online legal giant FindLaw.com.

DEAR MR. MYERS: You recently wrote that a person who receives alimony payments can usually list those payments as “income” when a mortgage application is filed. I pay alimony instead. Do I have to list it as monthly debt on the application that I am about to fill out?

ANSWER: Yes, you’ll have to list it as a debt if there’s a court decree mandating the payments. But you’re under no legal obligation to disclose the payments if they are voluntary rather than formally ordered by a judge.

DEAR MR. MYERS: We would like to replace our old carpeting with hardwood flooring, but there seems to be a zillion different choices of wood. Do you have any pointers?

ANSWER: Sure. Though there might seem to be a “zillion” different choices, there really are only two basic types of wood flooring-”solid” and “engineered.”

Not surprising, solid wood flooring are slats made of a single piece of wood from top to bottom. They’re often used in a home’s busiest areas, such as living rooms, hallways and sometimes in bedrooms. They can be sanded and refinished several times over the years, a nice feature if you want to continually add renewed luster to your floor in the future or later use a different color stain to give a room a fresh new look.

Engineered wood floors are made of thin of layers of wood that are solidly stuck together. Sometimes those layers are the same type of wood, but other times they are different species. They sometimes can be sanded and refinished at a later date, too, depending on the thickness of the top layer.

Because engineered wood includes multiple layers, it expands and contracts less than solid wood when the temperature or humidity changes. So, while this type of flooring is also popular in heavily travelled parts of a home, it’s a particularly good choice for basements and other below-ground areas.

Regardless of the type of flooring you choose, you’ll also need to select the type of finish that you want. The popular “satin” gloss finish provides the most shine and reflects the most light, which can give a room a light and airy feel. The equally popular “matte” finish isn’t as shiny, but can create a more soothing or comfortable atmosphere.

The flooring experts you visit can provide more details about your various options. Also visit the nonprofit National Wood Flooring Association’s outstanding Internet site, woodfloors.org.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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