Got Problem Neighbors? Mediation Might Work

If talking with problem neighbors doesn’t resolve your issues, mediation might. If mediation works, you’ll work out a compromise with your problem neighbor and save money by not taking your fight to court.

Organizations such as the Conflict Resolution Center and the Association for Conflict Resolution can help neighbors settle disputes without getting the legal system involved. Image: Comstock Images/Getty Images

Can’t resolve a dispute with a problem neighbor? A mediator might be the cheapest way to end the fight. Mediation is often free via the National Association for Community Mediation.

Volunteers at mediation organizations like the Conflict Resolution Center in Minneapolis listen to both sides of an issue and point out areas of common ground to guide the parties involved in crafting their own win/win solution.

You also can hire a private mediator if you’re willing to part with somewhere between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars, depending on how long you and your problem neighbor take to reach a compromise. The Association for Conflict Resolution can help you find a private mediator in your area.

Cops bring mediation skills to neighborhood disputes

Another source of mediation help: local law enforcement. Increasingly, officers employ mediation techniques, says Frank Hagan, professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Mercyhurst College, in Erie, Pa.

“Law enforcement has learned that it’s important to resolve the ‘small’ issues from the start. That’s how you keep a neighborhood from going downhill,” he says.

When mediation fails, hire a lawyer

If you can’t resolve your problem neighbor issue with mediation, you can ratchet the situation up and involve the legal system.

  • Find an attorney to write a letter to your problem neighbor. The bill for that will likely run $100 to $500, a small sum compared with the time and money you’ll spend taking your problem neighbor to court.
  • If money is an issue, ask for help from Legal Services Corporation — they offer free legal help to the poor.

Take your problem neighbor to small claims court

If you file suit against your problem neighbor in small claims court, you can be your own lawyer.

  • They call it “small claims” because you can only ask for a small amount (if you’re even asking for money at all), typically from $3,000 to $10,000, depending on which state you live in.
  • Cost to file is usually less than $100.
  • Hiring an attorney to take your problem neighbor to small claims court will add $1,000 to $3,000 to your tab.

There’s no guarantee you’ll win your court case, and you’ll still have to live near your problem neighbor. So, always opt for a neighborly chat or mediation first.