Where's Jackie Chiles when you need him?
April 1, 2010 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I need a lawyer and advice for dealing with a crazy neighbor and loose noise laws in Denton, TX.

I live in Denton, Texas where the noise ordinances permit anonymous reporting at any time of day or night with no set decibel limit or anything like that. My neighbor has been abusing this over the past year and a half. The cops always come, say something along the lines of, "I can tell that nothing inappropriately loud is happening here, but this is what I've got to tell you..." and they go into their spiel.

I've tried on multiple occasions to give her my number to call instead of wasting police time. I've worked with my dogs (who she screams at from her window from time to time, which doesn't help) to curtail their barking. Yes, they're small and have annoying barks, but I keep them in at night and put a stop to the rare continuous barking. Nobody else, including cops and animal control have found anything to be unreasonable. I've been forced to limit how many and how often I have people over to a ludicrous point, compared to what was never a problem in the five other locations I've lived in this city.

This is what happened yesterday: She'd called the cops again in the middle of the day. I went over with my name and number written down to ask her again to call me instead of complaining to the cops for no discernable reason. Well, she had plenty of reasons, few of which were anything resembling reasonable. The confrontation ended with her wadding up the paper and throwing it at me, so I have no reason to believe that her behavior will improve. That same day, she looked up the house's deed (I'm assuming), which is in my mother's name, looked up who Mom's married to apparently, and called my father to tattle. Her conversation with him went about like the one with me did.

I realize that these are the actions of a crazy person. I'm beyond disinclined to attempt to accomodate this person at this point. This will stop. All I can think of is to sue for harassment. Can I do that? Who do I talk to in D/FW? How do I deal with this person in the meantime and to maximize my chances of winning any suit that might happen? I've already instructed everyone involved not to talk to her under any circumstances.

Throwaway, since I'm sure I've omitted something important: dummy.mefi@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (18 answers total)
I'm no lawyer, but I live in Denton and have had a similar (although no where near as severe) problem with a neighbor. We just made sure to not give said crazy neighbor something truly legitimate to complain about. He eventually gave up after the cops came a second time and talked to him instead of me and my roommate. Doesn't sound like this is going to be the case for you, but just remember to stick to your guns.
posted by troutforbrains at 11:59 AM on April 1, 2010

Just completely ignore it. The cops aren't giving you citations or anything and don't seem to think the level of noise coming from your place is unreasonable so she really isn't accomplishing anything but getting under your skin. So stop engaging with her. Live your life how you want to, have people over, make sure your dogs aren't excessively barky, and don't ever ever give her the satisfaction of provoking any kind of response from you. That includes "reasonable" things like trying to give her your number to call first. She may stop calling the cops, she may not, but you're entirely above that.
posted by 6550 at 12:06 PM on April 1, 2010 [8 favorites]

One thing I think you should consider is that even winning a lawsuit may not get you the result you want. Crazy people don't always respect court rulings. Someone I know who was involved in a legal dispute with his neighbors went completely off the deep end, and continues to harass the neighbors in violation of court orders, even though he's been sent to jail for it.
posted by creepygirl at 12:12 PM on April 1, 2010

...don't ever ever give her the satisfaction of provoking any kind of response from you.


Ignore her. Give up even the small things you've tried to placate her. If you'll return to having dinner guests, chatting on the porch, eating Cap'n Crunch, and other such high-decibel activities, her unending police calls may ultimately get the cops to start ignoring her.

posted by General Tonic at 12:20 PM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ignore her. If she calls your mom's husband again, though, he should tell her firmly that she is not to call him ever again for this reason, as he is not related to this issue.
I would go back to your normal lifestyle. If she keeps calling the cops all the time, they may eventually tell her that she needs to stop.
posted by ishotjr at 12:25 PM on April 1, 2010

Stop walking over and giving your name and number to her because it's obviously not getting the result you want - for her to call you to keep the noise down so as to not waste police resources. She just doesn't want to do it. The last time you talked to her it resulted in a "confrontation" (i.e. you yelled at her?) and she went out of her way to do some research and make a call to your dad. So don't inflame the situation by trying to sue or anything - it may make things worse.

Agree with others who have said just ignore it. You're not getting citations from the cops, your noise levels aren't unreasonable, and in the grand scheme of things it's only minorly irritating to have them come visit. Things could be worse.

Also, a little compassion for your fellow human being might be helpful - maybe she has really sensitive hearing or something. Maybe the pitch of your dogs' barks annoy her beyond belief compared to other people. She wants to enjoy her neighbourhood as much as you do. If you have the resources, maybe invest in some soundproofing or something.
posted by foxjacket at 12:30 PM on April 1, 2010

Also, a little compassion for your fellow human being might be helpful - maybe she has really sensitive hearing or something. Maybe the pitch of your dogs' barks annoy her beyond belief compared to other people. She wants to enjoy her neighbourhood as much as you do. If you have the resources, maybe invest in some soundproofing or something.

Compassion is fine and all, but there's nothing you can do to make this woman happy. If she was interested in something reasonable, she would have explored that option with you already. Please don't go through any expense to try and please her.

Nthing ignoring her and living a reasonable life.
posted by Kimberly at 12:38 PM on April 1, 2010

Talk to the cops the next time they show up and ask them what to do. Tell them everything you just told us and see what happens - maybe next time they will go straight to her and leave you alone.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:48 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd keep track of how often the cops visit you (dates, times, officers names, etc). If things ever do come to a head (i.e. she sues you, some rookie decides to ticket you, she damages your property), you'll be able to show there's a pattern of harassment.
posted by electroboy at 1:10 PM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

"She'd called the cops again in the middle of the day. I went over with my name and number written down to ask her again to call me instead of complaining to the cops for no discernable reason."

I know it's embarrassing to have a cruiser parked out front on a regular basis but I'd stop doing this. The less interactions you have with a crazy person the better. The situation could quickly escalate to something much worse (EG: the neighbour falls down and injures herself the same day you are once again at her house and somehow the neighbour figures it's your fault. Maybe even imagines you pushing her. No one needs that kind of pain from a crazy person). And really, do you want her calling you at 5AM because your sprinkler is too noisy or something?
posted by Mitheral at 1:18 PM on April 1, 2010

IMHO: She is a lunatic and she will escalate until she finds someone else to be infuriated at, or breaks the law. Expect the latter, not the former. Your recent "conversation" with her will, frankly, tend to increase her rate of escalation.

Therefore, prepare for the inevitable legal action. Begin recording everything, as outlined above by previous posters.

Take a polite & understanding attitude toward the cops. They'll figure it out, if they haven't already, and you will want them on your side. You may wish to discuss the matter with a lawyer, if you can afford to do so.
posted by aramaic at 1:33 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am not a lawyer.

I believe you may have a case of Criminal Harassment (Section 42.07, Texas Penal Code). Under Texas law harassment is committed when a person initiates communication by telephone, in writing, or by electronic communication with intent to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass another.

One would think that a long history of calling the police might also be included.

Are you in school at either NT or TWU? If so, avail yourself of student services to get a referral to an attorney.

If not, look up the Texas Bar Referral, and you can get a pro-bono consultation with an attorney who can probably point you in the right direction for perhaps filing restraining orders or other legal remedies.

I feel for you. Crazy neighbors are crazy making.
posted by dejah420 at 1:39 PM on April 1, 2010

A friend of mine had a neighbor like this a few years back, although in Tennessee not Texas, and she tried and tried to make every sort of accomodation she could think of but the old man was still evil to her and her kids.

He would call the police when she had friends over, he would call the police when her dog barked at all, he would call the fire department when she grilled out, every single time she or her kids were in their yard, she was yelled at or harassed by this old man.

Finally, at my urging, she called the police chief to ask if there was anything that could be done. Sadly, the chief told her that they had already cited him for excessive complaints, that another neighbor had been taken to court by the old man for "disorderly behavior", and that the police couldn't really do much about it. He advised her to move. The chief said that every single cop on the force knew this old man was evil and were waiting to catch him doing something against the law, but he never did. His complaints were always somewhat legitimate and within the realm of law and there was nothing they could do. The chief finally said that if he lived next to someone like this, he'd have no choice but to move.

So she did, and rented her house out. She still can't keep renters there because the old man continues to make anyone's life a living hell in that neighborhood. He's a horrible human and her only recourse right now is to try and wait him out, hoping he'll die or be put into a retirement home soon.

I'm sorry you have to go through something like this, but I'd say if you can get away from it, leave. There's no real good way to deal with these kind of abusive crazies.
posted by teleri025 at 1:47 PM on April 1, 2010

Now that the police have come to your house numerous times and established that she is a kook, I would allow the dogs to bark, perhaps even incite them, to really stick it to her. Show her how bad it COULD be. I would even go over to her house and let her know (not in a note because it's hard evidence) about your campaign of annoyance, detailing how her perturbing and unnecessary calling of the police is really just exacerbating her "discomfort". Whip her up into a tizzy and have her call the cops as much as possible so that they get tired of her and can back you up if you ever get this into court.

I would strive for making her life as annoying as possible. This is what she is trying to do to you, but you are in the better position.

This may be a jerk answer but some people just need to be pushed back.
posted by dozo at 2:04 PM on April 1, 2010

I think she is somewhat senile. Call Adult Protective Services (or your state's equivalent) every time she acts strangely. Or move.
posted by nestor_makhno at 2:23 PM on April 1, 2010

I think you should contact an attorney, but not with regard to suing her. Ask about what your responsibilities actually are, how (if at all) you should deal with her requests, the extent to which you can ignore them, and how you should deal with the police when they inevitably arrive again.

The other thing you might do is pester your city/county councilman (I can't remember how Denton is governed) about passing or strengthening an excessive-complaints ordinance, or about changing the noise ordinance to reflect only amplified or mechanical noise, institute a decibel requirement, etc. If your hideous racket is no longer even potentially illegal, that at least might stop the cops from showing up and shift her from your problem to the cops' problem.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:14 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, combining dozo and ROU_Xenophobe, another way to deal with this might be to actually find out the legal limit, get a decibel meter, and go right up to the limit of the law for awhile. Have some construction done on your house starting promptly at 7:01 AM and ending right at 8:59 PM (or whatever it is).

In Malibu, the Los Angeles Urban Rangers would give tours of public beaches fronted by private homes. My friend said that on the tour, snooty homeowners glared threateningly at the visitors traipsing all over "their" beach until they saw them pull out a tape measure to determine the exact boundary of public and private, at which point they realized the visitors knew exactly what the law was and would not be deterred from obeying it. Maybe you can have the same impact?
posted by salvia at 5:10 PM on April 1, 2010

Denton seems to have a thing about noise.
posted by hortense at 6:22 PM on April 1, 2010

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