California Neighbor Harassment Laws

By Leslie Bloom - Updated August 07, 2018
Hispanic referee between arguing neighbors

You can’t always control who your neighbors are. Chances are, you have neighbors who are friendly and whom you appreciate. On occasion, you may end up with one neighbor who harasses or threatens you, despite your best efforts to make it stop.

When that happens, neighborhood harassment laws in California kick in. If your neighbor becomes verbally or physically threatening or violent, you can get a restraining order against a neighbor in California. A civil harassment restraining order against a neighbor is relatively easy to obtain and can make a world of difference in the enjoyment of your neighborhood.

Neighborhood Harassment Laws in California

To qualify as civil harassment, your neighbor can’t just be haranguing you about building a fence between your properties or be upset that you don’t want his camper van parked in front your house. To get a restraining order against a neighbor in California, you must prove that you don’t have a pre-existing close relationship with the neighbor and that the neighbor engaged in behavior that made you feel endangered.

California Code of Civil Procedure Section 527.6 states that a harasser must be someone which whom you don't have a close relationship. If your neighbor is someone you previously dated, a former spouse or partner, or a close relative (such as a parent, sibling or in-laws), you must seek a restraining order outside of California’s civil harassment statute. These include domestic violence and elder abuse restraining orders. However, if your neighbor is a second-degree relative, such as an uncle, niece or cousin, you can seek a civil harassment restraining order.

To get a civil harassment restraining order against a neighbor in California, you must show that your neighbor either inflicted unlawful violence, such as stalking or assault, or made a credible threat of such violence. Credible threats are intentional acts, such as sending harassing messages, following you, intimidating you or making annoying phone calls. If the actions of your neighbor made you feel scared, seriously annoyed or harassed, you can seek a civil harassment restraining order.

California's harassment statute does not cover any violence undertaken as a result of self-defense or defense of another. Harassment involves a series of actions that have the same intent – to harass the victim.

What Does a Restraining Order Do?

If your neighbor intentionally scares, harms or harasses you, a civil harassment restraining order can put a stop to it. A restraining order is a court order that prevents your neighbor from contacting or approaching you or anyone in your household, whether you’re at home or in a public setting.

California restraining order rules also make it illegal for the person being restrained – in this case, your neighbor – to own a gun. If your neighbor has a gun at the time the restraining order is issued, she must turn it in, sell it or store it elsewhere. Your neighbor cannot purchase a gun while the restraining order is in effect.

Any violation of a civil harassment restraining order in California can lead to a fine or jail time, or both. That means if you have a restraining order against a neighbor in California and she continues to send you threatening messages or approach you, she can be penalized.

Getting a Restraining Order Against Neighbor in California

Whether your neighbor just started making you uncomfortable or has been harassing you for a long time, you need to follow the proper procedure for getting the restraining order. The first step is to file the appropriate forms with the court. These forms include Request for Civil Harassment Restraining Order, Temporary Restraining Order, and Declarations for any witness statements to support your request.

Once you complete the needed paperwork and submit it to the court, a judge reviews the forms and decides whether or not to grant you a restraining order. Under California restraining order rules, this must be done within a day of the submission of the paperwork, so you get an answer quickly.

If the judge approves the orders, you will get a temporary restraining order against your neighbor that lasts until the court date, which is typically set within 25 days of issuance of the order. The court date is for a hearing at which a judge decides if a permanent restraining order is needed. Under a temporary restraining order, your neighbor cannot have any contact with you, including phone calls or e-mails, and must stay away from you and anyone else named on the restraining order.

If the judge denies the temporary restraining order, you can either resubmit your paperwork with more detail or present all the relevant information at your court date. You can also cancel the court hearing and dismiss your case if you feel you no longer need a restraining order.

Once your orders are approved, they must be served on your neighbor before the court date. The paperwork must be hand-delivered to your neighbor by another adult who is not involved in the case, which can include a law enforcement officer. Doing so gives your neighbor notice of the “charges” against him and time to prepare for the court date. If your neighbor is out of town for an extended period of time or otherwise unable to be served before the hearing, you can ask for an extension of the temporary restraining order and a new court date.

Both you and your neighbor are required to attend the court hearing. You should bring with you as much documentation as possible showing your neighbor’s harassment, including any letters, damaged property or voicemails. You can bring a witness with you to support your case. Your neighbor will have a chance to present his side of the story if he shows up for the hearing. If he doesn’t, only your side of the story will be taken into account by the judge.

Following the court hearing, the judge decides whether to continue or cancel the temporary restraining order. If she extends it, the permanent order can last up to five years. It may include everything you asked for or just some of the orders you asked for.

While you are not required to have a lawyer present for a civil harassment restraining order hearing, it can help make the process a little smoother, especially if things are very contentious with your neighbor. Having a lawyer can also help to make sure all of your rights are protected.

Type of Restraining Orders

There are several types of civil harassment restraining orders in California:

  • Emergency Protective Order: If your neighbor is stalking you, you can call the police and ask for an emergency protective order that requires her to stay away from you. Only the police can request this type of restraining order from a judge. An emergency protective order begins immediately and lasts up to seven days to give you enough time to file for a temporary restraining order.
  • Temporary Restraining Order: Temporary restraining orders are granted based on the paperwork you file with the court that details what happened with your neighbor and why you need a restraining order. These last 20 to 25 days until the court date that may grant you a permanent restraining order.
  • Permanent Restraining Order: If the judge extends your temporary restraining order at your court date, you can get a permanent restraining order that lasts up to five years. These can be renewed.
  • Criminal Protective Order: If your neighbor committed an act of violence against you or has engaged in severe ongoing harassment, criminal charges may be filed. When this happens, a criminal protective order is enacted against your neighbor that requires her to stay away from you during the criminal case. If your neighbor is found or pleads guilty of committing violence or harassment, she must stay away for three years after the trial concludes.

If you have an attorney, he can help you determine which civil harassment restraining order makes the most sense for your situation. Otherwise, you can start by calling the police and filing needed paperwork to submit to the court.

Once you are granted any type of civil harassment restraining order, you should keep at least one copy with you at all times in case you need to show it to the police. Copies should also be given to the local police station, the security officers at your apartment as well as security officers at any location your neighbor is ordered not to go (such as your office, school or preschool).

How Do I Get a Restraining Order Online?

California restraining order rules don’t permit you to get a civil harassment restraining order online. While you can access the forms you need to fill out, you must still submit hard copies in person at your local courthouse. You can find your local courthouse online and see if it has a self-help center that can help you with your civil harassment restraining order paperwork.

Renewing a Restraining Order

Sometimes the five-year term of a civil harassment restraining order is insufficient, especially if the person still lives next to you and you are concerned for your safety. If you want the restraining order to stay in place longer, you can renew it for another five years.

Ask the court to renew your restraining order. The paperwork must be filed and submitted before your current order expires. The process to renew a restraining order is the same as that to get the original restraining order. However, you don’t need to show that your neighbor harassed you since the last order. While doing so gives the judge more evidence to renew the restraining order, continuing to be afraid of your neighbor is enough cause to grant a renewal.

There is no law stating how many times you can renew a restraining order. If the renewal is not granted, the protective order ends.

What Happens if My Neighbor Violates a Restraining Order?

Violating a civil harassment restraining order is a crime. If your neighbor disobeys any of the judge’s orders, he can be fined or sent to jail.

It is up to you to report any violation of a civil harassment restraining order to the police. You should have at least two copies of the restraining order with you so that you can give one to the police when you call to report the violation. Document as much of the violation as possible, including a summary of what happened, witness statements, photos or recordings, medical reports if you were hurt and copies of any police reports filed.

You can proceed with criminal charges as well as file a civil action against your neighbor for violating the restraining order. The charges, fines and jail time your neighbor may get depends on the nature and severity of the harassment.

Getting harassed by a neighbor is nothing to take lightly. While you may be able to have a discussion that ends it, you may have to resort to a restraining order to feel safe again.

About the Author

Leslie Bloom earned a J.D. from U.C. Davis’ King Hall, with a focus on public interest law. She is a licensed attorney who has done advocacy work for children and women. She holds a B.S. in print journalism, and has more than 20 years of experience writing for a variety of print and online publications, including the Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy.

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