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Originally published Saturday, April 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Renter has rights when dealing with barking dog

Q: I'm currently living in a rental apartment. My neighbor's dog has been barking excessively, especially at night. I've reported the problem...

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Q: I'm currently living in a rental apartment. My neighbor's dog has been barking excessively, especially at night.

I've reported the problem to the property-management office, but they said there is nothing much they can do except send out notices to the neighbor. Is that true?

What are my rights with regard to this issue? Is there anything I can do to resolve this issue other than going to the property-management office?

A: With an estimated 63 million Americans owning a dog, the noise potential is massive and growing.

As a result, barking dogs are a common source of friction between neighbors.

Abating the problem should start with talking or writing a polite note to the neighbor first and explaining the problem.

If neighborly communication fails or you are reluctant to approach the owner, then calling the authorities, including the management company, may solve the problem.

Owners of barking dogs fall into several categories ranging from the blissfully unaware to those who know the problem exists and don't care.

Owners who are absent during the day may leave a quiet pet at home and return to a quiet pet at the end of the day. In between, the dog may bark like a fiend and the owner has no idea.

Some owners know their animal barks (or makes noise) and figure it's no big deal during daylight hours or that the sound provides security for themselves and neighbors.

Others figure if no one complains, there's no problem. At the other end of the spectrum, some owners don't care what people think and let the problem persist.

Unless the neighbor is hostile, letting the owner know his or her dog's noise is disrupting your life can be very effective.

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As Animal Control of Lexington, Mass., suggests "People that do not first attempt to solve the problem as neighbors often begin long-term neighborhood feuds.

"Tell the person, very politely, in person, in writing or by phone exactly what the nature of the annoyance is. Communicate things such as 'I can't sleep' or 'I can't hear my television' or 'I work nights and sleep days' or 'I can't study because of the noise your dog is making.' Neighborhood communication is a very important part of neighborhood security."

In your case, property management can take an active role in the process, especially if the barking creates a nuisance, which violates most lease terms.

Management can contact the neighbor directly or send a letter to the tenant to make them aware of the situation and try to cure the condition. The problem with that? A nuisance eviction is a formal court matter, a process that could take a long time to resolve.

Fortunately, your rights as a citizen are protected by local or state law and enforced in virtually all jurisdictions.

What types of laws apply? Specifics vary but in all areas the message is clear: Dogs cannot disturb their neighbors.

Wherever you live, your local animal-services department should take the issue of dog barking seriously. Because the law is enforced by that governing agency, you're in luck. A formal process exists in most places, starting with a properly written complaint.

To track down the specific law and reporting process in your area, the local animal shelter can provide assistance.

On the Web, you can input "Animal Shelter" or "Animal Services" and the name of the city into a search engine.

Be sure the shelter indicated is an actual government agency. Private rescue shelters, including nonprofits, do not provide barking-enforcement services.

To assist, most cities and counties have formal online complaint forms.

When you're ready to file a complaint, be prepared to provide details and be as specific as possible.

Simply indicating that "there's a barking dog in my neighborhood" won't solve the problem.

The complaint should detail the circumstances and nature of the animal noise. Does the hound bay at the moon or bark during the day when the owner is away? If possible, enlist the aid of neighbors who may also be affected and willing to file a complaint.

You'll also need to include the name and address of the offending party as well your own name and address.

Once the complaint is submitted, what happens next? The animal-services department will issue a formal letter to the dog owner warning that animal noise must be stopped immediately. In most cases, the warning gets the dog owner's attention and solves the problem.

If the noise continues after a specified period of time, usually about two weeks, another complaint can be filed. To give the complaint more teeth, a "barking dog log" may be suggested. This well-organized log helps document the exact data to back up the complaint: date, start time, source, type and quantity of barking, and how that specific incident affects you.

Wherever you live, citizen complaints to the proper authority are usually taken seriously as a violation of law. Ultimately, the case may be referred to court or mediation. At that point, you or any other complainants have to be willing to testify under oath regarding the disturbance.

What if the dog owner does not cooperate and abate the noise?

In extreme cases, animal services may opt to remove the animal from the premises, taking it to a local shelter or animal-rescue agency. Ideally, you should work with your neighbor, manager or local authority so the problem never comes to that point.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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