File a Neighborhood Complaint


Visitor Question: How does one go about filing a neighborhood complaint? My wife and I live in a medium-sized city in a nice neighborhood. Most of the houses are 1920s Craftsman bungalows. Every house except one is owner occupied, and almost everyone keeps up the property nicely.

One guy at the end of my street screened in his front porch about five years ago. Ever since he proceeded to stack newspapers, car parts, boxes, and every type of junk on the porch. If it wasn't junk when it was put there, it is now.

Some neighbors asked me to coordinate a response with city hall. What should I expect?

Editors' Reply:
The reaction at city hall is really unpredictable. It depends on factors including these: (1) your city's general attitude about enforcing any laws it may have about appearance of property in general and hoarding behavior in particular, (2) whether your neighbor is known and respected in the community (we're sorry, but yes, there can be considerable favoritism in code enforcement matters), (3) what is going on with the person you happen to talk with at the city, and (4) whether your city has any specific laws that would cover the situation.

For the best leverage with the city and also for the clearest idea for yourself of how the city is reacting, we suggest a personal visit to city hall if there are regular business hours.

As we know in our personal lives, it's harder to turn down someone face-to-face than it is over the phone or by e-mail.

A personal visit also means that your request for information and action won't sit around for days and days before you have some type of response. Granted, all you are likely to know in terms of a conclusion when you leave will be, "We'll look into it." But that is satisfying in and of itself.

When you do complain to city hall by whatever method, make sure that you have the correct address of the property in question. It's surprising how many times people making a code enforcement complaint forget this.

If you are complaining in person or by e-mail, having a couple of photos of the situation will be helpful, and these days it's easy for most people to supply those.

Listen carefully for all four points we listed. Take some notes so that you can convey the results to your neighbors. Ask questions about when it would be reasonable for you to inquire again about the results of their inspection, if they say they will send an inspector.

You asked what to expect, so we say you should expect to be treated respectfully and listened to carefully. If you don't get that, quietly assert that you think you have the right to assistance with neighborhood problem solving.

Never get in an argument on this first neighborhood complaint though. Arguing might come later, if the follow-up results seem unreasonable, but there's no justification for being anything other than kind and patient on the first contact.

Although you say you were asked to coordinate a response with city hall, be aware of two other possibilities.

If no one has done so, you should first attempt to talk directly with the property owner about the fact that many neighbors are concerned and asked you to contact the city. It's somewhat unlikely, but it's definitely possible that the property owner is just a bit eccentric, has something of an unrecognized hoarding problem, and doesn't think his or her behavior is bothering anyone.

Of course if you know this person is mentally unstable or has any tendency at all toward violence, feel free to ignore this advice and go directly to the city.

Another possibility we feel we should mention is that you could investigate whether there are any deed restrictions that run with the land in your subdivision that might apply to this situation.

If you aren't familiar with the term Deed Restriction, you can find a link to our article explaining it on the navigation bar on this page.

Deed restrictions aren't enforced by a city government though. They have to be enforced by action of the homeowners association through fines, penalties, or litigation.

The last comment is that as disgusting as it may seem, it's distinctly possible that your city doesn't have any ordinances that pertain to this exact situation. Many times the junk pile or outdoor storage has to be on the "exterior" of the house, and a screened-in porch may or may not qualify as exterior in your local definition.

Other times, of course, the city just hasn't enacted any laws that would pertain. In that case, you're back to personal negotiation on behalf of all the neighbors.

Good luck with this.

Comments for File a Neighborhood Complaint

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by: Anonymous

Hi I live in Meadowbrook by Libby and Alene Circle. They need to pave the roads. I have two 18-wheeler trucks that are parked out here on different streets. One neighbor thinks this is a mechanic shop, with how many cars he has in his yard and all the stuff piled on the porch. Then these trees and bushes come out to the street and you have to move so your car doesn't hit them. Then you have like five or six houses abandoned and nobody is doing anything about it. I'm getting really sick and tired of this mess. I have lived here all my life and it was never this bad, but this is outrageous, so if you please can do something about it, I would truly appreciate it.

Editors Reply: Our website attracts an international audience, and we are not able to help individuals except for offering advice. Please read the rest of this thread about how to file a complaint, and then start reporting the conditions you cite to the proper authorities. Give them a little time to investigate and inspect, then issue citations and municipal court appearance dates and so forth. Even in a well-run city, this takes some time, but it will work.

Given the conditions you reference, you may not be living in a well-administered town, but your civil and detailed complaints will result in some degree of action in most places. If the paid staff won't do anything, your next route has to be bugging elected officials. Keep browsing our website for relevant suggestion.

by: Anonymous

Hello I live In Conroe Tx and I seek for help on how to file a complaint about my neighbor. He has a lot of junk in his yard... Honestly it's disturbing. Please help thank you.

Editors Respond: In most places filing a complaint is as simple as calling your city hall. Often you can remain anonymous if you choose; if this is important to you, ask about that possibility.

A few places may require you to file the complaint in writing, but that is quite rare.

If your personal situation is such that you cannot call city hall during their office hours, enlist a family member or friend to do that for you.

And lastly, in the case of a town or village too small to even have a city government with regular office hours, you might have to attend a town meeting and talk with the mayor or other elected official about how to do this. But in America most towns have some sort of office hours.

Too Many Car/Trucks
by: Anonymous

There is a neighbor in my neighborhood that has too many cars and trucks parked on the street taking up a lot of space from other neighbors that want to be able to park their cars near their home. I don't think it's fair and selfish that he is able to do this and nothing can be done about it. Now I know this is a public street but having 5 cars parked out there is wrong and there should be a law or something saying this is not exceptible. What can be done about this?

Editors Comment: Yes, this sounds like really obnoxious behavior, but we have not really heard of a law limiting the number of resident cars that can be parking on a street at one time. It may be legal to impose such a limit, since resident stickers and such are required for parking sometimes.

The best advice we could give would be talking to your elected official (city councilperson or mayor, for instance) to see whether there is any interest in introducing such a law.

Sometimes people just behave badly.

Junk in neighbor's house
by: Anonymous

Sounds like a fire hazard.

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