Neighbor repairing multiple vehicles in back yard

by Mari
(Modesto, California )

Visitor Question: My neighbor's new husband began towing multiple vehicles to her home. We stopped him from placing one car on the street in front of our house. Non operating vehicles are not allowed on a public street, but now he is transporting them to his back yard.

He has had up to 14 vehicles in a fairly small back yard. These include automobiles, motorcycles, and dirt bikes. He works on them, which creates excessive noise and exhaust fumes. I contacted the neighborhood preservation unit who stated they couldn't do anything, but they did send them a letter informing them that repairing vehicles is not allowed as a home business because I believe he is repairing and selling these vehicles from his property. I've seen several sales he's made in front of my home and in the alley.

My husband tried to talk to him to notify him that he is creating a nuisance, but he said he didn't care. We have contacted the police several times to complain about the noise and odor these vehicles are creating. He has been visited by the police each time. Another neighbor down the street actually had an altercation with him after he repeatedly drove one motorcycle up and down the alley behind her house. She took pictures of his back yard and him and then called the police. He toned things down a bit after that, but not completely.

Yesterday, I called the police again because he was repairing a motorcycle, constantly revving the engine and then riding through the alley over and over again. The police came out and spoke with us first. The police are reluctant to cite him stating they haven't actually seen the violations, but after explaining our position they went and talked to him. The neighbor flat out denied doing anything and said what we heard was him using a rototiller, which was a total lie since I had seen him riding the motorcycle through the alley. I have a backyard chain link fence, so I can see everything that goes on in the alley. The police officer stated he was going to write a "full report" that would be reviewed by the district attorney and he gave me the report number.

I want to know what else I can do to shut down the neighbor's behavior. I'm especially concerned because yesterday he had a tree company come over and cut down his five Douglas fir trees that lined the backyard fence and we think he's going to try to pave his yard for more vehicles and try to expand his illegal business.

Editors Reply: You do have quite a problem on your hands. We will just offer a few observations in the hope that one of them will lead to a good solution.

It seems as though you have been handling this problem mainly through the police. What about code enforcement or zoning enforcement? (You may have been working with these offices of your city, but we couldn't tell that.) If you are in a large enough city to have a neighborhood preservation office, surely you have zoning. If, as you suspect, this new neighbor is actually running a business, the zoning office certainly should be able to pursue some remedies, unless your home and his are zoned for commercial use of course.

Then no doubt in Modesto you also have some codes that come into play. So if you are not working directly with a code enforcement office, talk to that unit also. Surely if your city has adopted any of several codes that might help with this situation, a code violation can be cited. The usual process is that the city sends a notice of suspected violation, giving a particular amount of time for correction of the violation. Then if reinspection shows that what the code office believes to be a violation still persists, the matter is taken to municipal court. Typically municipal judges require the property owner to appear and threaten or actually impose fines, often stated as a fine per day until the violation is abated. In many cities and states, judges even can impose short jail sentences.

Whether through police, code enforcement, or zoning enforcement, evidence will be required, since this guy has shown he is not above lying about it. You and your neighbors can help with this. If you don't have a security camera pointing to the alley, install one that will pick up the activity. In fact, install more than one if you can manage it. Consult with your police department about any restrictions on security cameras before you do it.

If you don't want to go that route for some reason, you may need to start taking videos on your phone, or still shots from your phone or camera as a last resort. Don't go onto the neighbor's property; stay on your own or walk slowly down the alley.

If the number of vehicles in the back yard cannot be seen readily from the alley or from your property, it may be worthwhile to use a drone to capture some footage. There again, be careful to observe any local restrictions on drone usage, but many communities have not yet addressed this technology. You may want to get some drone photography of your own home too while you are doing this. If you do not know someone who is enjoying their drone, you can hire this done for not too much money in most communities.

Whatever the photographic medium, try to make sure you have a record of the date and time.

Lastly, you may want to keep a journal of the activity, especially if you know or suspect that this neighbor is catching on to all of your photo documentation. Just keep a spiral notebook on the counter, and every time the noise gets ridiculous or you witness a sale, jot down the day, time, and nature of the activity.

Don't expect instant results, but persevere and eventually we think you will triumph. Remember to report this situation to your city councilperson or equivalent and ask that the city coordinate its many possible avenues of attack. When a city office, such as neighborhood preservation, says they can't do anything, it's a situation of "trust but verify." This type of behavior should not be tolerated in any city.

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