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Can I file a legal case against an annoying neighbor in California?

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Recently updated on May 8th, 2024 at 12:50 am

Overview

If you have issues with an annoying neighbor in California, there are various legal options you can explore. Keep in mind that the specific details of your situation may impact the best course of action, and it's advisable to consult with a legal professional for personalized advice.

Here are a few potential options:

Mediation

Before pursuing legal action, you may want to consider mediation. This involves a neutral third party helping you and your neighbor discuss the issues and come to a resolution. Many communities have mediation services available.

Restraining Order

In some cases, if your neighbor's behavior constitutes harassment or poses a threat, you may be able to obtain a restraining order. This typically involves demonstrating that you have been harassed.

Under California law (Code of Civil Procedure §527.6), a person who has suffered harassment may seek a restraining order and an injunction prohibiting harassment.

 

A restraining order, is formally known as a Civil Harassment Restraining Order in California. A judge issues an order to protect you from harassment, abuse, threats, stalking or violence and impose other restrictions. Violating a restraining order is a serious offense and can lead to misdemeanor criminal charges.

If someone believes they need protection and qualifies for a restraining order, they can usually apply for one through their local Superior Court, which is present in every county. The process involves a set of filing a petition, attending a hearing, and presenting evidence to support the request for the order.

The first step is to determine roughly which type of civil protection applies to your situation.

 

 

 

In California law (Code of Civil Procedure §527.6), a person who has suffered harassment may seek a temporary restraining order and an injunction prohibiting harassment.

 

In order to apply for a restraining order, you need to fill and submit a specific set of official California court forms. These have questions aimed at understanding your situation and the people involved.

Nothing happens until you file the forms. So its a good idea to step through the forms even if you think you don't plan to file for a protection order right now.

You can prepare your court forms anonymously here.

You can then file them online when you've thought through all aspects.  There are special protections for victims, and you're protected even if your immigration status is undocumented in United States.

Depending on the facts and evidence presented, a Judge can issue a restraining order with immediate effect until the hearing, called an Emergency Temporary Order.  In relatively less risky situations, a temporary order is issued in a few days.

If there are no grounds or if the application is incomplete or the jurisdiction is incorrect the application may be rejected.

The temporary order is only valid for about 3 weeks which is the amount of time until the hearing. If the hearing is delayed for any reason, you need to check with the court to ensure the temporary order is renewed until the hearing.

 

Check your eligibility now for a Civil Harassment Restraining Order
Answer a few questions, and see current and reliable information

  • Anonymously check if your situation is eligible
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Nuisance Lawsuits

If your neighbor's actions are causing a significant disruption to your enjoyment of your property, you might consider a nuisance lawsuit. This could be applicable if your neighbor's behavior is unreasonable and interferes with your use and enjoyment of your property.

Local Ordinances

Check local ordinances and homeowners' association rules that may address specific issues, such as noise, pets, or property maintenance. Violations of these rules may provide a basis for legal action.

Small Claims Court

For smaller disputes involving monetary damages up to a certain limit, you may consider filing a case in a small claims court. This process is generally more informal and doesn't require an attorney.

 

Before taking any legal action, it's crucial to gather evidence, document the issues, and possibly consult with a lawyer to understand your rights and options. Consulting with a legal professional in California will help you navigate the specific laws and regulations that may apply to your situation.

 

 

Legal Definition of Harassment

The following amounts to “harassment” under California law:

  1. Assault (intentionally attempting to cause harmful or offensive contact)
    Example: Someone swings a fist at you, or throws an object at you, with the intention of hitting you, but miss.
  2. Battery (intentional harmful or offensive contact)
    Example: Someone swings a fist at you, or throws an object at you, with the intention of hitting you, and they are successful.
  3. Stalking (a series of repeated actions that are meant to put you in fear for your safety, or the safety of your immediate family)*
    Example: Someone continually follows you, watches you, makes repeated and unwanted contact with you (via internet, email, phone, fax or other methods of communication), with the purpose of making you feel scared.
  4. Credible threat of violence (a statement or action that reasonably place you in fear for your safety, or the safety of your immediate family)
    Example: “If you ever call the cops on me again I’m going to kill you”
  5. Repeated actions that seriously alarm, annoy, or harass you, that serve no legitimate purpose and cause you extreme emotional distress.**
    Example: Getting 50 unwanted and upsetting text messages, emails and/or phone calls from the same person within a week for no reason.

If someone has committed any of the above actions, you may have grounds to get a civil harassment restraining order.

*See Ann.Cal.C.C.P. §527.6(b); Ann.Cal.Penal Code §§240, 242, 646.9
**See Ann.Cal.C.C.P. §527.6(b)

 

Comparison with Criminal Case

If you're a victims of harassment, then you can file the following legal cases:

  • Criminal Case: In a criminal case, the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, the highest burden of proof.
  • Civil Harassment Restraining Order : This is considered a civil law case, and the victim has to give some evidence and generally the burden is low and the victim must establish “reasonable proof of a past act or acts of abuse.” .The legal language is in California Penal Code 13700: "intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury, or placing another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to himself or herself, or another."

 

The court considers accusations of abuse leniently, and favors on issuing orders as long as there is some evidence.

 

Different types of restraining orders and the situations they apply to

There are a few different types of restraining orders and typically only one of them may apply to your situation. The first step is to see if any of the different types of restraining order applies to your situation or is remotely related as that might help you decide whether to apply .

The types are:

Domestic Violence is for situations involving domestic violence which is when a victim has been abused by a romantic partner (spouse, domestic partner, girlfriend/boyfriend) or a family member. For a complete overview of what is domestic violence please review: What is the legal definition of Domestic Violence in California

 

Civil harassment applies to situations involving repeated irritating behavior, stalking, abuse, or threatened by someone you are not as close to as is required under domestic violence cases, like a roommate, a neighbor, or more distant family members like cousins, aunts or uncles, or nieces or nephews. Read about the law in Code of Civil Procedure section 527.6

 

Elder Abuse: A senior citizen (or an adult who cannot function independently) is being abused by a caretaker, neighbor or child .

 

 

Gun Violence: Typically, a police officer or sheriff who thinks someone might hurt themselves or someone else with a gun. This can stop that person from buying or owning a gun. It can't order them to stay away from someone.

 

Workplace Violence: An employer usually requests these to protect their employee(s) from a person who has stalked, harassed, been violent or threatened violence at the workplace.

 

 

School Violence involves violence, or threat of, against one or more students of a private postsecondary (after high school) school. This type of restraining order may only be granted if the threat of violence is for an act that would likely take place on the school's campus, and is requested by school official.

 

What if I am Under 18 years of Age

Restraining orders can be requested by anyone 12 years or older, and without your parent's permission.  If you are under 18, a judge may ask you to have a trusted adult help you in your case after you have filed for the petition. such as a parent, guardian  a counselor or a neighbor.

Here's the exact text from the California law (formally called Code of Civil Procedure) section 527.6

"A minor, under 12 years of age, accompanied by a duly appointed and acting guardian ad litem, shall be permitted to appear in court without counsel for the limited purpose of requesting or opposing a request for a temporary restraining order or order after hearing, or both, under this section as provided in Section 374."

Situation Examples

Example 1: Disruptive neighbor

"In a very unfriendly living environment created by Susan, characterized by frequent yelling and screaming, numerous requests had been made for her to cease such disruptive behavior. The strained atmosphere reached a tipping point during a recent incident when Susan and her daughter Emily left the residence to go grocery shopping. This outing was prompted by my notification that an essential item of mine, crucial for my daily needs, had inadvertently been left in Susan's rented room downstairs. Despite my initial intention to retrieve the item myself, Susan surprisingly granted me permission to enter her room and retrieve it.

However, tensions escalated upon their return. I found myself unexpectedly accused of stealing Susan's key, a claim that triggered a torrent of vehement yelling and insulting remarks from both Susan and Emily. The situation took a physically aggressive turn when Emily, Susan's daughter, pushed me, hindering my attempts to use a spare key to unlock Susan's door and retrieve my belongings.

In an unexpected and distressing turn of events, Susan and Emily escalated the confrontation further by promptly calling 911. Their allegations to the emergency services painted a distorted picture, falsely claiming that I was obstructing Susan from accessing her room and asserting that I was the instigator of the entire conflict. In stark contrast to their account, it was Susan who resorted to profanity and name-calling during the entire ordeal.

Sheriff Mark Johnson, who responded to the incident and assigned case number 23-178172 on December 10, 2023, acknowledged the severity of the situation. He recommended that I take legal action to address the ongoing harassment by pursuing an anti-harassment order against Susan, considering the persistence of these disturbing incidents. This advice serves as a crucial step in seeking resolution and restoring a sense of security and tranquility to the living environment."

Example 2:  Harassing co-worker

Today, Michael was armed with a pistol and seemed to be under the influence of an unidentified substance. He made threats to create false narratives with the aim of jeopardizing my 28-year accounting career, stating he would falsely accuse me of engaging in illegal financial activities. His menacing statement, "if you mess with me, I'll retaliate," was accompanied by destructive actions, such as damaging property in my home, including creating a hole in the wall. Michael's behavior becomes particularly alarming when he is under the influence of drugs.

How Restraining Orders Solve the Problem

The purpose of a restraining order is to restrict the contact or proximity of one person (the respondent or alleged perpetrator) to another person (the petitioner or victim) in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the petitioner.

The specific terms of a restraining order can vary depending on the circumstances of the case e.g. if the people live together then it might require one party to vacate the place.

Typically, a restraining order may prohibit the respondent from

  1. Approaching or contacting the petitioner including via text or social media
  2. Staying away from the usual places petitioner is at such as home, work or school
  3. Prohibit stalking, or surveillance of any kind
  4. In situations where they lived together, provide custody or access to
    • Children
    • Pets
    • Important documents
    • Personal items such as clothes, medications, cell phones
    • Cars
  5. Extending the protections to others living with the petitioner

 

Here's the top three findings from a study on domestic violence and restraining orders from the University of New Hampshire

Reduce ViolenceReduce Violence

Civil protective orders (such as a DVRO) are effective in reducing partner violence for many women. For half the women in the sample, a protective order stopped the violence. For the other half, the orders significantly reduced violence and abuse.

Cost Effective

Cost Effective

They are a relatively low-cost solution, particularly when compared with the social and personal costs of partner violence.

Countryside

Urban Vs. Rural

The impact of civil protective orders on reducing violence and abuse did not differ for rural and urban women. In rural areas where resources and services for partner violence may be more limited, the restraining orders hold greater importance.

Process for Restraining Orders

STEP 1 Gather evidence to support your case

The fallowing are considered as evidence of domestic violence

Evidence Type 1: Pending Criminal Case

Judges are also more likely to issue an order if there is an ongoing criminal case, therefore it's important to call such cases out when seeking a temporary restraining order.

When a judge sees that there's a criminal case happening, they might think it means the police or the district attorney are pretty sure they can prove the crime happened.

Examples of evidence are:

Evidence Type 2: Photos of violence, injuries, damage

These are the most common types of evidence submitted. These can be photos of victim's injuries inflicted by the abuser. It is helpful to add photos next to the related incident description to help create a complete picture for the judge.

Evidence Type 3: Print outs of messages, emails or transcripts of voicemail

You can take screenshots of text messages and attach them. Similarly you can print emails and attach them as pictures or PDF files. While in most cases you cannot submit digital files such as

Evidence Type 4: 911 Calls

Rather than just saying you called 911 or any specific hotline, you can make your case stronger by listing the following items

  • The number dialed in case of the domestic hotline
  • The date and time (or approximate date and time) when the call was made
  • Who made the call
  • What was reported on the call
  • Any specific details of the person who answer the 911 call e.g. male/female voice

Evidence Type 5:  Medical Records

.You can attach documentation of previous medical emergencies or injuries that resulted from the actions of the abuser. These could be hospital visit records, print outs from your hospital portal (E.g. mychart) showing details of your visit.

Evidence Type 6:  Police reports

You can attach a copy of the police reports filed against abuser for domestic violence.

Evidence Type 7:  Testimony

  • A testimony from a witness. The witness can be anyone such as a family member, neighbor a co-worker or a bystander. The testimony is just an essay written describing the incidents witnessed, with as many specifics as possible.

 

STEP 2 Get a copy of court forms 

Prepare your court forms online in a step by step simple way.

 

In order to apply for a civil protection order, you need to fill and submit a specific set of official California court forms. These have questions aimed at understanding your situation and the people involved.

Form Name Form Number Purpose Guide
Request for Civil Harassment Restraining Orders  CH-100 Use to start the court case to get a civil harassment restraining order. Ask for restraining order for civil harassment case
Notice of Court Hearing CH-109  Will tell you when to go to court.
Temporary Restraining Order (CLETS-TCH) CH-110 Will tell you which, if any, temporary restraining orders (TROs) the judge signed.
Confidential CLETS Information CLETS-001 Fill out when you file for your restraining order. Gives information about your case to all law enforcement agencies through a computerized database.
Additional Page

OR

Attachment to Judicial Council Form

MC-020

OR

MC-025

Use if you need more space to answer some questions when filling out your Request.
Civil Case Cover Sheet CM-010 Required when you file any new civil case.
DeclarationOR

Attached Declaration 

MC-030

OR

MC-031

Use to give more information or for witness statements.
Proof of Personal Service CH-200 Use to prove that you had someone 18 or older (not you) give the person to be restrained a copy of the request, notice of court hearing, and temporary restraining order (if issued) in person. Sheriff serves your request
Civil Harassment Restraining Order After Hearing (CLETS-CHO) CH-130 If the judge grants any restraining orders, they will sign this form.
Response to Request for Civil Harassment Restraining Orders CH-120 Leave this form blank and serve on the restrained person with the copy of your request and notice of hearing.
Proof of Firearms Turned In, Sold or Stored  CH-800 Leave this form blank and serve on the restrained person with the copy of your request and notice of hearing.
Proof of Service by Mail CH-250 Use to prove that you had someone 18 or older (not you) mail to the restrained person a copy of your Civil Harassment Restraining Order After Hearing (form CH-130). Make sure you can in fact serve form CH-130 by mail in your case. Serve your long-term civil harassment restraining order

 

The complete set of documents is at the California Courts website. While these forms are used in most courts, certain courts use modified versions of these forms, and its important to uses those versions.

Tip: You can check your local court's website to see the exact versions and set of court forms needed. You need to prepare these forms. Courts also offers a free self help center where you can take forms. Alternatively you can use a free website such as LegalAtoms to prepare the restraining orders paperwork online.

 

Nothing happens until you file the forms. So its a good idea to step through the forms even if you think you don't plan to file for a protection order right now, to get

You can then file them online when you've thought through all aspects.  There are special protections for victims, and you're protected even if your immigration status is undocumented in United States.

 

Step 1: File the Court Forms

Typically these are filed at your county's Superior Courts or District Court. Some of these courts are also called Family Justice Center.

Step 2: Get a Temporary Order 

Depending on the facts and evidence presented, a Judge can issue a restraining order with immediate effect until the hearing, called an Emergency Temporary Order.  In relatively less risky situations, a temporary order is issued in a few days.

If there are no grounds or if the application is incomplete or the jurisdiction is incorrect the application may be rejected.

The temporary order is only valid for about 3 weeks which is the amount of time until the hearing. If the hearing is delayed for any reason, you need to check with the court to ensure the temporary order is renewed until the hearing.

Step 3: Serve the abuser 

 

Step 4: Present Evidence in a Court Hearing 

Attend a hearing: The court holds a hearing within a couple of weeks where the evidence is examined. If there is sufficient supporting evidence as determined by a Judge, a full restraining order is issued. At this point it becomes a crime for the abuser to break the conditions of the restraining order.

 

L.A. County court to staff: Get COVID vaccine or get fired - Los Angeles Times

 

Step 5. Collect the Final Order

After the hearing, a final order may be issued. You can take a paper copy of the order with you. The order is typically valid for five years.

Costs

Some of the civil protection orders have no cost, owing to their use in protecting victims.

 

Domestic Violence:    $0  (FREE)

Civil Harassment:    $ 450  - Or one can file for a fee waiver or its waived if its

 

Duration

You can get a temporary protection order the same day as you file.

Courts can have a cutoff of around 2 p.m.  for the same day service, so you need to file before then. Otherwise, the order would be issued the following day when courts open.

Courts are generally open Monday-Friday and closed on Saturday-Sunday.

The temporary order is valid until a formal hearing is held in which both parties need to be present. Typically a hearing is scheduled in 2 weeks of filing.

At the hearing a formal order may be issued

 

Risks

It is conceivable that following the submission of a civil harassment restraining order, the abuser particularly in proximity may react with anger due to the perceived loss of control over you and your household. In certain instances, the abuser may inflict damages or do some other harm which is unpredictable.

 

 

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