In Part III of how to solve the problem of a neighbor’s foul odor from interfering with your quality of life, I covered the initial contact with police.
If your neighbor lives in squalor, and the result is a very foul stench that has begun seeping into your home – there are things you can do to end this problem, in addition to the plans that I covered in Part I, Part II and Part III of this series. (Please check my profile page for the entire series.)
They are as follows:
Use your discretion in deciding to directly contact the offending neighbors. This may or may not work. I never considered this because 1) The smell was so foul that just standing at the neighbor’s doorway would have made me gag, and 2) These neighbors were creepy old men and I never spoke to them.
Ditch the sympathy card (creeps grow old) and focus on what’s become YOUR problem: the neighbor’s really foul smell invading your castle.
If the neighbors are renters, speak to their landlord. I already knew that the landlord was afraid to evict because one of the tenants was physically disabled. (The able-bodied one was primarily to blame for the stench.) Don’t be afraid to speak to the property owner: I told him that eviction on the grounds of property damage was not illegal.
Encourage the landlord to call the police officer who visited the property (have police come out FIRST!). If landlord is passive (as was this case), show sympathy and give him the police officer’s phone number.
When you learn that social/human services is a dead-end, do NOT give up. I sent an e-mail to the caseworker and chose to tell her how unsafe the environment was for the disabled tenant (I frequently heard him falling), though I was very tempted to send her an e-mail strongly insinuating that she lacked the ability to convince the able-bodied tenant to straighten up his act.
Do not send angry e-mails immediately after writing them. SAVE them, then read later; you may change your mind.
Contact Code Enforcement for your county. Make sure they get ahold of the police report.
Call your city council. Leave message if nobody picks up.
Call law offices that specialize in landlord/tenant disputes for free advice over the phone. If you’re considering hiring an attorney, also consider one who specializes in pollution law; a foul odor from the neighbors can be considered a form of trespassing if it gets inside your house. One lawyer told me I can file a “nuisance complaint” at the local courthouse.
Go to the courthouse to file the nuisance complaint. While I was on the way over, the police chief had left a message on my home phone; he had gotten wind of my city council voice mail message. The nuisance complaint couldn’t be filed due to some technicality that didn’t make too much sense, but they contacted the police chief, told him I was there, and he headed right on over.
Insist on a meeting with the police chief. Though in my case, it seemingly happened to fall into my palm, don’t assume that you can’t get a meeting arranged.
You are NOT too unimportant to meet with the police chief. Do NOT assume he’s too busy to meet with you! The police chief spent 75 minutes with me. If the meeting is prearranged, ask that someone from the city ordinance department be present. In my case, he was, and this proved very valuable.
Contact the department of public health for your county. Tell them your neighbor is a hoarder and the foul stench has invaded your home. Get them working on the case in any way possible. In my case, the police chief was in contact with the head of social services who was in contact with the department of public health.
Contact the local mediation services program. I gave preliminary information about the neighbors’ foul odor coming into my home. I thought at this point, the landlord would never budge, so my objective was to build a lawsuit.
I anticipated that the landlord would reject mediation services. Mediation services would then send me a letter verifying the rejection. I’d then use this letter in court as proof that the landlord knew about the problem and refused to do anything about it. Do not rush with this plan, however (the landlord might change his mind, as was my case).
Contact your state’s civil rights division and ask for the housing department. This department sent me the Fair Housing Act and State Statute documents that contain language supporting a landlord’s right to evict tenants whose foul smell imposes on neighbors, and there’s nothing in there that says it’s illegal to evict a tenant, on the grounds of property damage, who happens to be disabled. This information can prove very useful to a landlord who’s afraid the Americans with Disability Act will come after him (as this particular landlord was).
Call a landlord/tenant dispute agency and ask if there is a such thing as an “ask a lawyer” day. I spoke with a tenant/landlord attorney, and though she couldn’t tell me what I already didn’t know at that point, I did learn that it’s illegal for a landlord to evict one tenant and not the other; either evict both (for legal reasons), or neither. I also got the number for a volunteer lawyer’s firm.
Ask around if there’s a law firm that offers free or very discounted representation. In Colorado it’s Metro Volunteer Lawyers. You’ll need this info should you decide to take legal action and don’t have $150 an hour for an attorney.
Get affidavits from other neighbors who can smell the stench. You will need these if you decide to sue.
Keep track of everything in case you end up suing. This includes receipts for air fresheners, renovations to suppress the neighbors’ foul odor, fans, and proof that you lost income because of the situation.
Ultimately, the disabled neighbor was moved to a nursing home via court order, and the landlord asked the able-bodied tenant to move out within 30 days. If “Joe” refused, the landlord would get a court ordered eviction and have a sheriff remove him.
A few days after the notice, however, the police chief issued papers served on the landlord to mitigate the situation within 72 hours! Though I spent inordinate amounts of time chasing down people on the phone and searching the Internet, the key components in this case against neighbors whose foul odor invaded my property, was meeting the police chief in person and him contacting the head of social services; and him getting Code Enforcement involved.
And somewhere along the way, the HOA president changed his indifferent tune to telling the landlord he’d get fined if he didn’t fix the situation. As I type this, the landlord and the HOA president are inside the neighbor’s unit, wearing gas masks because the stench is so unbearable, and they are clearing things out and loading up a storage box and truck.
The disabled man is in a clean, safe environment with clean bed sheets and clean clothes, and staff who can help him with bathing. The landlord is putting up Joe, 73, in a motel for a month (Joe’s daughter refuses to take him in).