Q&A: Dealing with a Harassing Neighbor

A woman next door is always complaining, looking and searching for things to nag about. It has gotten so bad that several renters have actually moved away. As she gets older it has escalated to the point that if you stand up to her she argues, or threatens to, and has called the police. We ignored her for years, but it’s getting way out of hand. What rights do owners have and how do we remedy this situation? Are there any legal avenues we can take? I have addressed the board and am circulating a petition for residents to sign, asking board to take some sort of action in trying to control the situation. When she is out of town we have peace. The minute she returns, so does the chaos and harassment.

—Nightmare in Red Bank

“The reader’s question involves a case in which a condominium unit owner has caused an inordinate amount of annoyance to tenants who are renting within the complex,” says Michael Mirne, an attorney based in Ocean. “The rights of a residential tenant to use and enjoy a dwelling, free of interference by the landlord or neighboring tenants are protected by the implied covenants of quiet enjoyment and habitability. In cases in which the landlord interferes with those rights, the tenant may bring a variety of legal actions against the landlord. When it is a neighboring unit owner who causes the interference, the solution is often more difficult.

­“The aggrieved tenant will generally start by reporting the issue to the landlord or directly to the condominium association, in the hopes of obtaining an expedient result to remedy the situation. When the landlord or condominium association fails to provide an immediate and permanent solution, the aggrieved tenant will often file a civil action against the landlord, the neighboring unit owner, and the condominium association. However, the plaintiff who brings the suit will, however, face several hurdles, ranging from proving that the association actually breached a duty, to proving that any ascertainable damages occurred as a result of the unit owner’s conduct. It is also expensive to bring a civil action, since each party will bear his or her own legal costs.

“The alternative remedy involves filing a police report and a complaint with the Municipal Court. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4, a person who “makes communications… in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm” is guilty of a petty disorderly person’s offense. Complaints filed by individuals in municipal court are labeled as “citizen complaints.” The complaining party who filed the complaint will be summonsed to appear in court on the same day as the defendant. At the time of the initial appearance, the defendant will usually enter a plea of “not guilty.” Most municipal courts have mediators on staff to assist the parties at coming to a resolution of their problems before the matter proceeds to trial. In the event that the matter does not settle, the municipal prosecutor will have the task of representing the interests of the citizens who filed the complaint.”

In the instance noted in the reader’s question, there may be more than one complaint filed against the same defendant. While these matters may be consolidated into one single matter for the purposes of expediency, the defendant may still face multiple counts of the offense charged. While the fines associated with these offenses are generally small, a successful conviction may be sufficient to accomplish the ultimate goal of the tenant, which is to cause the offensive behavior to stop.”

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