A Tale of Two Tenants: Disputes and Solutions

A Tale of Two Tenants: Disputes and Solutions

Two families in an Alameda apartment building had a brewing feud for years. It started when the downstairs tenants, the Smiths, complained about the late-night footsteps and television noise coming from the occupants of the upstairs apartment, the Johnsons. The Johnsons, in turn, complained about the Smiths’ dog constantly barking.

The arguments escalated until each family was posting notes on the other’s door and making daily complaints to the landlord. After months of rising tensions, the conflict reached a breaking point when the Smith family banged on the ceiling late one night because of the television noise, and the Johnsons responded by turning up the volume of their television.

The ensuing confrontation between the two families turned into a shouting match that spilled into the building courtyard and the police were called. The next morning, each family called the Alameda City Attorney’s Office to complain about tenant harassment.

Alameda’s Tenant Harassment Ordinance No.3251 protects tenants from harassment, but only applies to misconduct by landlords against tenants. The law does not apply to tenant-versus-tenant disputes such as the one between the Smiths and the Johnsons. Because of this, the City Attorney’s Office was unable to reconcile the problems between these neighbors.

Common sources of neighbor disputes revolve around parking, common-area use, animals, smoking and noise. As neighbors begin to spend more time in their homes during the pandemic, the likelihood of conflicts between neighbors also increases.

These types of conflicts often can be resolved without outside intervention, so long as the parties commit to communicating openly and treating each other fairly. Often, approaching a neighbor with the right mindset can mean the difference between a peaceful resolution and a lengthy feud.

For example, if the Smiths and Johnsons approached each other with the goal to try to reach a mutually acceptable solution, they’d have a better chance of working out their differences. If, however, the Smiths and the Johnsons went into their discussion with the primary purpose to tell the other party off, the prospects of a quick and peaceful solution would likely be distant. When approaching your fellow neighbor, it is important to remember that neighbors may not be aware that a particular behavior is bothering anyone.

Politely communicating your complaint with a neighbor might be all it takes to address the issue. If direct attempts to resolve problem with a neighbor are unfruitful, contacting the landlord (or the neighbor’s landlord if they live at a separate property) may solve the problem.

If communications fail, there are resources for Alameda residents who are having problems with neighbors:
* For emergencies (immediate threats to life, health, or safety) call 911.
* For non-emergency police services, call Alameda Police Department at (510) 337-8340.
* For complaints about violations of Municipal, Building, Zoning, or Health and Safety Codes, call City of Alameda Code Enforcement Division 510-747-6818.
* For complaints about pets or to report a stray, aggressive, injured or deceased animal; or an animal bite, at all times, please contact Alameda Police Animal Control at (510) 337-8562.

In the case of the Smiths and the Johnsons, mediation is also an option. Mediation is a process where a trained, neutral third party helps work out a solution amicable to both sides. Mediation is confidential and risk-free. The parties do not have to agree to anything and still reserve any legal rights they had prior to going into the process.

For those interested in mediation, the Services that Encourage Effective Dialogue and Solutions (SEEDS). Community Resolution Center can be a valuable resource. Located in Berkeley, SEEDS offers community and organizational mediation services to bay area residences. Mediation sessions are being conducted via zoom as to comply with social distancing rules.

The types of conflicts SEEDS can mediate include:
* Neighbor related: Noise, boundary, pets, parking, trees, construction/remolding, harassment/ nuisance.
* Landlord-tenant: Maintenance and repairs, security deposits, rent.
* Mediation in the areas of business and commercial issues, family relationships and organizational groups.

For a full list of services, pricing and to initiate a request for mediation, visit: www.seedscrc.org/faq or call (510) 548-2377.

If one of the neighbors involved in a dispute is the building owner, landlord or manager, the affected tenants may be protected under Ordinance No.3251. If that’s the case, or you have concerns about landlord misconduct, or other tenant harassment by a landlord, contact the Alameda City Attorney Office’s Prosecution Unit at (510)-747-4772, or email cityprosecutor@alamedacityattorney.org.

The Alameda City Attorney Office’s Prosecution Unit represents the People of the State of California in misdemeanor criminal matters referred by law enforcement agencies, such as the Alameda Police Department or Code Enforcement Division.

City Prosecutors are further charged with bringing affirmative litigation, in coordination with the District Attorney’s Office, in response to violations of consumer protection and fair housing laws, and protecting consumers against fraud and unfair business practices.

Yibin Shen is Alameda’s City Attorney.