Unfortunately, you can't pick your neighbors. Sometimes you're lucky and your neighbors don't cause any problems. On the other hand, maybe you're dealing with an abusive or aggressive neighbor who makes your life miserable.
Clients in these circumstances often ask whether they can file a restraining order against a bad neighbor. Well, while it might be possible to file a restraining order against a neighbor, it's very difficult. Here's a look at how New Jersey law applies in these cases and what legal options may be open to you.
What Is a Restraining Order in NJ?
If you're concerned for your physical safety, you can sometimes apply for a restraining order. These court-issued orders prevent an individual from acting a certain way. For example, a restraining order can stop someone from contacting you or prohibit them from being too close to you.
Restraining orders can be temporary, meaning they last for a short period, or final, meaning they endure for a long time.
Who Can File a Restraining Order in NJ?
Under New Jersey state law, not everyone can file a restraining order. Here's why.
Put simply, the court needs the authority, or jurisdiction, to grant a restraining order. Under the 1991 Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, the court can't issue a restraining order unless the victim can prove a certain relationship with the alleged abuser. The “qualifying” relationships include:
- Current or former romantic partner
- Current or former spouse
- Someone you shared a household with
- Someone you live with right now
- Your child's parent
So, unless you can demonstrate such a qualifying relationship to the courts, you can't get a domestic restraining order in NJ.
Can I Get a Restraining Order Against a Neighbor in NJ?
In short, no. Not unless one of the qualifying relationships applies. Here are some examples, though, of when you might get a restraining order against a neighbor.
- You dated your neighbor for a while, although you're no longer involved
- At one point, you both lived together. When you broke up, they bought a house close by and became your neighbor
- You were once married, although you now live separately
So, unless there's a romantic relationship involved, you won't have the legal standing to request a restraining order against your neighbor.
There may also be scope to file a restraining order against a neighbor if you live in an apartment building, given the proximity of your living arrangements. However, the law in this area can be complex, so you should always consult an attorney for more advice on your legal rights.
Can I Get a Restraining Order Against a Roommate?
Yes, you can file for a restraining order against a roommate since you live together. You can only file, though, if your roommate commits an act of domestic violence against you, such as:
An experienced criminal attorney can explain whether you have grounds to file for a restraining order against your roommate.
What Can I Do if I'm Concerned for My Safety?
If you can't file a restraining order against your neighbor, don't worry. There may be other options. Here are some examples of when you can file criminal charges against a neighbor in NJ.
Harassment means behaving in a way designed to annoy someone or cause them emotional distress. This could include sending endless emails and texts or sending threatening messages.
Harassment can also involve a sexual or physical element such as unwanted touches or other similar behavior.
Usually, lewdness means some form of public sexual indecency. This can mean public exposure, such as a neighbor deliberately exposing their intimate regions.
Lewd behavior is not always easy to prove, but an attorney can advise if you have a case.
Assault means causing another person bodily harm. It can be:
- Simple: Physically harming someone or giving them reason to fear for their physical safety.
- Aggravated: Harming someone while showing extreme disregard for human life, e.g., using a weapon.
Assault charges, particularly aggravated assault charges, can be serious, so always seek legal advice if you're involved in an assault case.
4. Criminal Mischief
Criminal mischief means a person knowingly damages someone else's property. Examples might include breaking a window, damaging a fence, or breaking a door lock.
You will need evidence to prove a criminal mischief charge––the defense may argue that you damaged your own property.
Criminal trespassing is a type of property offense. It can include, for example:
- Refusing to leave the premises when asked to do so
- Peering in someone's window to observe them
- Entering property after being warned not to enter
So, for example, if you erect a fence with a “no trespassing” sign and a neighbor repeatedly opens the gate and enters your property, there may be grounds for a trespassing charge.
Stalking means knowingly or deliberately engaging in conduct that would alarm a reasonable person. It's a type of harassment crime that might include:
- Sending threatening messages
- Following someone to their place of work with the intent to alarm them
- Using tracking technology to follow someone's movements
There's a wide range of behavior that might constitute stalking, so you should call an attorney for advice immediately if you fear for your safety due to a neighbor's conduct.
File Criminal Charges | Lento Law Firm
Even if you can't file a restraining order against your neighbor, it may be possible to file criminal charges if they threaten your safety. Joseph D. Lento is a skilled criminal attorney with the experience and dedication necessary to help you make your case––call the Lento Law Firm today on 888-535-3686.