Whether you live in a suburban ranch, a gated community, a seaside cottage, a trailer park, an apartment building, or a luxury condominium, chances are you've experienced at least one annoying neighbor. Sometimes neighbors are simply a nuisance: they let their dog bark at all hours, blare their terrible music, or let their lawn turn into an unkempt jungle. Other times, the people living next door are simply too close for comfort. But disagreements between neighbors can also turn very ugly—or even deadly.
Pennsylvania residents may recall the recent case of three people in Plains Township who began arguing in the aftermath of a February 2021 snowstorm. While shoveling out their parking spots, James and Lisa Goy were said to have been throwing snow onto the property of James Spaide, a neighbor who had been embroiled in a feud with the Goys. A shouting match ensued, but it wasn't long before Spaide ducked into his home, returning a few moments later with a gun. Before other neighbors could intervene, said investigators, the 47-year-old shot and killed James Goy, 50, and Lisa Goy, 48, before going back inside and turning the gun on himself.
When you fear that the guy or girl next door could cause you physical harm, what action can you take to protect yourself and your family? Is it possible to get a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order against a neighbor? Let's take a closer look.
Requirements for Filing a PFA Order
A Protection from Abuse order, also known as a restraining order, is a document issued by a judge and filed in Family Court. Each one is unique to the parties involved and can therefore set forth different directives, but most of them order the defendant to stop harming and/or threatening the plaintiff, to cease all contact with the plaintiff, and to stay a certain distance away from the plaintiff's home (as well as any other location they must frequent, such as a school, office, workplace, etc.).
In order to file for such an order in the state of Pennsylvania, the plaintiff and defendant must be related by marriage, related by blood, the parents of a biological child, or partners in an intimate relationship, either current or former. It's important to note that an intimate relationship can describe people who are simply dating; “intimate” does not have to mean a committed relationship or one that is sexual in nature.
An adult parent or legal guardian can also file a Protection from Abuse order on behalf of a minor child or minor children who are at risk from the abuser's actions and behavior.
What About Abusive Neighbors?
Let's say that a former intimate partner, a relative, an in-law, or your child's father—anyone with whom you have an established relationship of the type specified above—has moved into the place next door. In that case, yes, it would conceivably be possible to file for, and be granted, a Protection from Abuse order naming that individual.
In other instances, however, when there is no pre-existing relationship with a neighbor through marriage, family ties, or intimacy, it's unlikely that you'll be able to have them served with a PFA.
However, You Do Have Some Recourse
Although a Protection from Abuse order may not be appropriate, you still have some options if you feel afraid of and threatened by your neighbor. Depending on the situation and the specific actions that your neighbor is taking, however, you'll have to go about things a little differently. Most neighbor disputes—say, a verbal argument over a noise disturbance—are classified as civil matters. It is possible to sue them in small claims court, in which case you'd want to consult with a civil claims attorney.
Should the neighbor begin to stalk you, threaten you with violence, send you intimidating letters, emails, or texts, or inflict harm or damage on you, your pets, or your property, it may be possible to have them charged with criminal offenses. In these cases, contact local law enforcement. You may also be able to file a private criminal complaint. Often this process is initiated by contacting your county's District Attorney's Office for help.
If you're engaged in a dispute about your property, such as where property lines fall, consulting with a real estate lawyer is the appropriate action.
We Can Help You Get the Help You Need
No one wants to feel afraid of their neighbor. Our homes are our refuges from the world at large, and when we come home, it's important to feel safe and secure in order to relax and rest. In the event that a neighbor's behavior feels frightening or you think you're being harassed, give us a call. We can advise you as to whether or not you might be eligible to file for a protective order and give you the guidance you need to move forward toward safety and justice.
Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm or call 888-535-3686.