Dealing With A Bad Neighbor

Dealing with a Bad Neighbor - Paint Covered Overalls - Durham North Carolina

If you’re dealing with a bad neighbor, I’m sorry! It’s a terrible position to be in. However, homeowners do have certain rights.

What Makes a Bad Neighbor?

A bad neighbor means different things to different people. We can’t cover every scenario. However, we can at least define what things are uniformly bad.

  1. Crime, including theft, drug dealing, pyrotechnics, murder. These pretty universally make a bad neighbor.
  2. Yard or house disrepair to the extent it affects your house or yard. Too long of grass or rusty cars can attract rodents, pests, or other harms.
  3. Excessive noise at extreme hours.
  4. Noxious odors.
  5. Dangerous animals.

There are many more. As I said, we can’t cover everything a bad neighbor could do.

What we want to make sure you understand is that this article doesn’t cover minor inconveniences. For example, if you don’t like a sign your neighbor posts, or the color of their Christmas lights, I have no advice for you.

Make Changes Yourself

Sometimes, you can make simple changes in your own life and avoid any conflict. For example, I had a neighbor install a bright LED exterior light. In response, I put up a darker curtain on that side of my house.

Not all circumstances come with quick fixes, but it is important to check your situation before escalating.

Talk To Them

Secondly, you need to talk with a neighbor who is creating the unsafe or untenable situation. Even if you have the best legal standing, a Court almost always prefers you try to work it out yourself.

I recommend face-to-face but you can follow that up with an email or letter summarizing what you spoke of.

My only caveat is to avoid a situation that might put you in harm’s way. If it would be dangerous to approach your neighbor face-to-face, don’t.

Neighborhood Association

Thirdly, if you have an HOA or other neighborhood association or agreement, check there next. You may be able to get the HOA to enforce the rules against your neighbor and expedite the process with no cost to you.

HOAs have rules to protect the property value and wellness of their homeowners.

Legal Remedies

Fourthly, you have some legal remedies if the situation is dire enough.

Noise Ordinances

Durham has a noise ordinance. There are many things that fall within it, but the common ones are (1) unreasonably loud and (2) between 11pm and 7am.

The following are prohibited:

  1. Car horns while not in motion except a danger signal.
  2. Music between the hours of 11pm and 7am if it disturbs neighbors.
  3. Animal noises that are excessive.
  4. Out of repair automobiles.
  5. Steam whistles.
  6. Discharge of a steam engine.
  7. Compressed air device unless the noise is muffled.
  8. Construction between 8pm and 7am.
  9. Excessive noise next to a school, library, court, hospital, or church.
  10. Excessive noise from loading/unloading a vehicle.
  11. Bells that disburb the neighbors.
  12. The “shouting and crying of peddlers, hawkers and vendors which disturb the quiet and peace of the neighborhood.”
  13. Use of drum or loudspeaker to attract attention to any show or display.

Obviously, some of these are pretty old. However, you should note the things that could apply. Additionally, this does not cover the entire ordinance. I encourage you to read deeper.

Animal Ordinances

Durham has a variety of animal ordinances depending on if we’re talking farm, pet, wild, or chicken animals. Yes, chickens have their own separate ordinance in Durham.


Trespass is a pretty misunderstood law. At its core, a trespass is any matter that crosses your property line without permission at the direction of another person. However, a Court is not going to always apply that to the extreme.

For example, if a neighbor kicks up dust onto your property, it could be a trespass. However, a Court likely won’t do anything about it unless you suffered some damages.


Nuisance is a nuisance. Although it can be used in circumstances it is needed, I find it is generally used by cranky people.

Nuisance is just like trespass except that it applies to noises, smells, and vibrations.

For example, if your neighbor decided to start butchering livestock, you might have a case against for neighbor for nuisance from the sound and smells.

However, if your neighbor has barely audible sound crossing onto your property line in the middle of the afternoon, a Court will throw your case out.


Finally, if your neighbor is committing crimes, you can use the police to report these crimes and hopefully get them to stop.

Again, I have a caveat with this. Calling the police on your neighbor for a crime is a serious action. It may not even resolve your situation. However, it will certainly ruin your relationship with them, and you may hurt that person beyond what is just.

Additionally, if you don’t have actual evidence that your neighbor is committing a crime, you can be charged with filing a false police report or even harassment.

Bad Neighbor Conclusion

In conclusion, there are many steps you can take to deal with a bad neighbor. Although the temptation is strong, I highly recommend not acting in retaliation. That’ll either escalate or get you in trouble.

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Author Details

Richard Bobholz is a full time lawyer and part time amateur carpenter. As a homeowner, he likes to take care of as many home repair, maintenance, and improvement aspects as he can while ensuring things are done the right way the first time. With no real carpentry credentials, his articles focus a lot more on the broad aspects of home care and less on the proper way to do things.


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