February 27, 2021

Shortcuts: Barking Dogs Can Turn Neighbors Into Adversaries

I haven’t had any problems with my neighbors since back in college, when the upstairs tenants sounded, to my tortured ears, as if they engaged in Irish dancing while moving furniture.

My roommate and I moved, and I swore I would never live below anyone again.

The first morning in my new apartment? I could hear the couple, um, robustly enjoying themselves through the thin wall.

But I was young and a relatively mobile renter. For many people who own their apartments or houses or are similarly entrenched, moving isn’t an easy option.

But “neighbors really define your quality of life,” said Emily Doskow, a lawyer and co-author of “Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries Noise” (1991, updated 2011, Nolo). A bad neighbor situation can be incredibly wearing and turn a domestic sanctuary into a battleground.

And with more people working from home, daytime neighborhood sounds that may once have gone unnoticed can now create enormous tension.

After conducting a completely informal survey, I found that barking dogs top the list of complaints, at least in suburban neighborhoods.

Craig Mixon said he was so bothered by the barking dogs in his Northern California neighborhood that he started a Web site, barkingdogs.net, to offer resources for people similarly plagued.

“I did everything possible,” he said. “I talked to the neighbors. I’m a master dog trainer, so I offered to train the dogs. I gathered data for months on end. Nothing worked.”

Regulations about barking dogs or other noise from neighbors vary according to town. In some cases, they are covered by noise laws, in others by nuisance laws.

A friend of mine, who asked that I use her middle name, Ruth, because she still lives next to the offending neighbor, found a once-friendly relationship torn apart by noisy dogs.

The dogs were put outside, sometimes all day, in a lawn surrounded by an invisible fence. Ruth and her husband tried complaining to the neighbors very gently, but to no avail.

One early morning — the barking often started at 6 a.m. — they called the neighbors to beg them to bring the dogs in, but the neighbors refused. When they were once again awakened by barking, Ruth’s husband walked over to the house next door and let the dogs in.

“He went ballistic,” she said. “But it wasn’t the right thing to do and we apologized.”

Apology not accepted. For five years, the neighbors refused to speak to my friend or her family. There’s been a recent thaw, but relations are still strained.

Like many people, my friend did call her town to see what could be done, but was told that noise laws applied from dusk to dawn, which may work in the winter, but not so well in the summer when days are long and nights are short. And she didn’t feel comfortable complaining because the town would take complaints only from people who gave their names.

“Towns need to have better dog laws,” she said.

Out of curiosity, I checked with our town of Mamaroneck, N.Y., to learn the laws on these issues. Animal control, it turns out, does not address neighbor’s disputes over barking dogs. The ordinance covers only licensing, what kind of animals you have (no swine allowed), leash requirements and the like.

While power tools and machinery are allowed on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. and on weekends and holidays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — emergencies excepted — barking dogs would fall under the unnecessary noise regulation, said Stephen Altieri, the town administrator.

That regulation states that all noises that menace the health or disturb the peace and quiet of the town are prohibited any time of the day or night.

“We go by the doctrine of reasonableness,” he said.

E-mail: shortcuts@nytimes.com

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=55b599f06f0b5025ad2cebcb534c40e1

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