How can I sell my house with a buffed-out screamer dude next door?

Not that there's anything wrong with being a screamer dude ... but I'd like to cash in on my property value.

Published February 21, 2007 12:07PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Here's the situation: I've owned my home for 15 years, and want to sell it soon. Real-estate prices have tripled the value of my property, and I'm ready to cash in. There is an apartment house next door, rented mostly to students. Over the years they've been a pretty quiet bunch (techies and engineers on lite-beer-binge weekends, usually), and any real troublemakers generally leave after the school year. I've resisted putting up a privacy fence between my property line and their parking lot, simply because it seemed unnecessary.

Until now. There's one guy, who isn't a student. He moved in more than a year ago and, as far as I can figure out, is well acquainted with the landlord. Let's call him the Dude, from a small town upstate. He started out with the redneck buzz cut and wife-beater shirt, but has since let his freak flag fly, put on 20 pounds of muscle, and seems to be a permanent fixture in the parking lot late at night, arriving from his stripper job at 4:30 in the morning. He more or less lives in his car.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say, but he's always so whacked-out (Coke? Speed? Drug-enhanced insecurity? Who the hell knows?) that his behavior is totally disruptive: screaming cellphone fights outside in the parking lot below my window, pounding on his smashed-up '78 Lincoln Continental to Andre 3000 at maximum volume as late as 5 a.m. One beautiful Saturday afternoon with temperatures in the 60s while I was reading on my back porch -- God help me -- this guy had a 30-minute fight with other renters about who's more black -- which is ironic since he was a country-fried white guy just 18 months ago.

I've called the cops a few times when he's really whacked (even the Housing Code Department, trying to get the landlord to clean up the decaying mattresses and box spring that the Dude tossed out in October but which continue to lean up against the apartment house). His other vehicle -- a rusting, beat-up pickup that hasn't moved in six months because it has no engine -- sits there taking up even more space in a limited-space parking lot. Nothing, but nothing, seems to have an effect on the situation.

A month ago this guy and the landlord had a parking-lot fight about his rent-free status (my God, I thought, the Dude's not even paying rent!). I'm hoping the situation will resolve itself through the landlord, but I can't hold my breath forever. The Dude has totally cowed the other tenants -- I never hear a peep, since they mostly stay away now -- so this weekly disruption is totally the result of the Dude.

Is there anything else I can do, besides continue calling the cops and the Housing Code Department? Wait another six months until the landlord is over subsidizing the Dude's drug habit? Or is it just a simple matter of moving on because I can't take it anymore, and settle for selling the house cheaper next to this noisy eyesore? At this point, even a privacy fence isn't going to help much when the Dude is screaming he's gonna pop a cap in someone's ass while my Realtor's showing the house.

Stuck in Nightmare Alley,

Dear Stuck in Nightmare Alley,

Gee, man, I didn't even know my brother was out of jail!

But seriously (give me a call, bro! Ma wants her Lincoln back!), I think you should talk to two people: a good lawyer, and a good Realtor. What you need to know is what you are required to disclose to a potential buyer, and what the likely effect on the price would be of such a disclosure. Then, if the likely effect is significant to you, you need to think about taking some action to abate the nuisance before you sell your place.

One way to abate the nuisance might be to see if maybe the Dude has any outstanding warrants, and call Dog the Bounty Hunter. But seriously, again, just talk to the knowledgeable people and see what they think. There may be lots of ways to deal with this.

To get an idea of the general terrain, before you talk to the professionals, you might want to take a look at this short, useful article on real-estate disclosure laws. "If you are told, 'it's a great neighborhood,'" it says, "and find a crack house around the corner, you might be greatly disappointed. 'This is not a great neighborhood,' you would argue. If, in the agent's opinion, the neighborhood is turning around and improving, he may consider it great. Now imagine yourself in court arguing over whose opinion is more correct than the other."

Syndicated columnist Robert Bruss addressed this question in a recent column on real-estate disclosure. He says that yes, you do have to disclose the fact that there is a noisy neighbor.

But it would be best to consult someone familiar with your specific location.

The more I looked into this, the more interesting it got. I'm wondering: If you can sue a noisy neighbor for money damages, I wonder if you can base your damages on the lessened sale price of your house. That's definitely a question for a lawyer.

It may also help if the professionals you consult have deep roots in the area. If they know lots of local people, they may have a more nuanced understanding of the situation and may be able to advise you in certain ways that a strict interpretation of the law would not suggest. If you could find out a little more about who the neighbor is, and who the owner is, perhaps you might find what kinds of persuasion would be most appropriate.

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