Two families in a Santa Monica apartment building had a simmering feud for years. It started when the upstairs tenants, the Smiths, complained about the occupants of the downstairs apartment parking in the Smiths’ spot. The downstairs tenants, the Johnsons, complained about late-night footsteps and television noise in the Smiths’ apartment.

The quarrels escalated until each family was leaving notes on the other’s door and complaining to the landlord nearly every day. Finally, the conflict reached a breaking point when the Johnson family banged on the ceiling late one night, and the Smiths responded by turning up the volume on their TV. The altercation turned into a shouting match in the building courtyard, and police were called. The next morning, each family called the City Attorney’s Office to complain about tenant harassment.

Santa Monica’s Tenant Harassment Ordinance only applies to misconduct by landlords against tenants. The law doesn’t apply to tenant-versus-tenant disputes. Because of this, the City Attorney’s Office was unable to intervene in the problems between these neighbors.

Many neighbor disputes revolve around parking, common-area use, animals, smoking, and noise. These types of conflicts often can be resolved without outside intervention, if the parties commit to communicating openly and treating each other fairly. Neighbors may not even be aware that their behavior is bothering anyone. Politely communicating with a neighbor about a potential problem may be all it takes to address the issue and keep it from escalating into a long-running dispute. If that fails, contacting the landlord (or the neighbor’s landlord if they live at a separate property) may solve the problem.

However, if communication fails, there are resources for residents who are having problems with neighbors:

  • For emergencies (immediate threats to life, health, or safety) call 911.
  • For non-emergency police services, call 310-458-8491.
  • For complaints about violations of Municipal, Building, Zoning, or Health and Safety Codes, call 310-458-4984.
  • For complaints about pets, call 310-458-8594.

In the case of the Smiths and the Johnsons, the City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division let them know about mediation options, and both families agreed. Mediation is a process where a trained, neutral third party helps work out a solution that works for both sides. The Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs offers free mediation services.

Mediation is confidential and risk-free. The parties don’t have to agree to anything, and still reserve any legal rights they had prior to going into the process.

For the Johnsons and the Smiths, mediation was a big success. The Smiths agreed to take steps that would cut down on late-night noise, and the Johnsons agreed to never again park in the Smiths’ spot.

If one of the neighbors involved in a dispute is the building owner or manager, the Tenant Harassment Ordinance may apply, if the disputed behavior is related to the neighbor’s actions as a landlord. If that’s the case, or if you have questions, contact the City Attorney’s Office at 310-458-8336.