QOur next-door neighbor has a small yippy dog. That's problem one. Problem two is that she's rarely home and the dog is all alone, which is why it's always barking. The apartment is at street level, and every time someone passes on foot or in a vehicle (i.e., every 30 seconds), the dog starts up. Because it is street level, you can see that the dog has managed to destroy the window blinds in its fits. Would it be bad form to call animal control to see if she can be cited for a neglected animal? -- Washington
AFirst, if you live in a building that allows pets, you should not think of a neighbor's dog ownership as a problem.
The dog's barking, however, is a legitimate issue if it constantly disturbs surrounding neighbors. Calling animal control is not the answer, though, unless you can prove that the owner is neglecting her pet.
"If the dog has food and water, is kept inside and is generally well-cared [for], it's not considered inhumane or cruelty. It's not something an agency can act on," said Stephanie Shain, director of outreach for the District-based Humane Society of the United States, an animal protection organization.
As with many problems people have with their neighbors, a good first step toward a solution is to approach the neighbor to discuss the situation.
In this situation, Shain suggests gathering some information about how to make a barking dog's life better when its owner isn't home. She said that the most likely reason a dog is barking is because it is home alone and is bored.
"The number one thing to do is to calmly let the neighbor know that this is happening," Shain said. "If this only happens when they are not home, they may very well not know that this happens all day long."
It's important, Shain said, to let the neighbor know that the reason for the conversation is concern for the lonely dog.
"Stress that the dog is not happy. You should not go over there really angry -- which can be really hard to do when you've been listening to a barking dog all day long. If you go over there angry, your message and good intentions are lost," she said.
There are several possible messages. If the concerned neighbor is an animal lover who is at home during the day, he or she can offer to take the dog out for a walk once a day.
Or, if the complaining neighbors are not really all that concerned with the dog's happiness, then they can offer solutions for the dog owner to try. It may not seem it's the job of the disturbed to do this kind of research, but the neighborly attempt could result in a happier, busier and thus quieter dog.
Shain offered some tips for owners of dogs that bark excessively: Buy toys that can be filled with treats and keep the dog occupied for hours at a time. Take a dog-training class with the dog to work on its behavior. Hire dog-walkers or pet-sitters or ask friends to give the dog daily mental and physical exercise. Take your dog to "doggie day care" when you must leave it alone for extended periods of times.
It's also a good idea for dog owners who know their pets' noise is frustrating their neighbors to let these neighbors know that they are working on the problem.
If neighbors do witness actual animal abuse or neglect, such as dogs chained outdoors for long stretches of time or animals whose owners do not feed them, they should report the situation to a local humane society, animal shelter or animal control agency.
I just found out my landlord rented a unit to a registered sex offender. When I asked about it, he said he didn't know about the new tenant's past and would not renew his lease when it came up. My question is, can my landlord refuse to renew a lease based on past criminal record? -- Alexandria
In Virginia and most other jurisdictions, landlords are not required to extend the term of the lease. Nor do they need a reason to decide not to renew a tenant's lease once the term has ended.
"If it is a conventional lease -- if the landlord is not receiving federal funds and it's a straight-up landlord-tenant tenancy -- the landlord would be at liberty to just not renew at the end of the term," said Bryan Grimes Creasy, a landlord-tenant lawyer for Johnson, Ayers & Matthews in Roanoke. "As long as there's no evidence of retaliation or discrimination, if a landlord wants to non-renew, they can."
While not renewing someone's lease based on a past criminal record seems like discrimination, it is not usually recognized as illegal the way discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, family status and disability are.
Landlords can deny housing to a person who they know is a registered sex offender or has other criminal histories, such as drug-dealing or domestic violence. People responsible for choosing tenants are supposed to do so fairly and make their decision based on whether they think the person will be a good tenant.
Creasy says that landlords could avoid the situation of discovering mid-lease that they rented to someone who may be a foreseeable threat to the community by inquiring if rental applicants have past criminal histories. If all applicants are asked if they have been convicted of a crime, felony, misdemeanor or act that has endangered the health or safety of others, then the landlord can screen out unacceptable applicants. If they lie, the landlord could terminate the lease whenever he discovered the tenant's criminal past. Assuming that this particular landlord did not ask this question up front, then all he needs to do is give the tenant proper notice of termination, which should be spelled out in the lease, when the tenancy term is coming to an end.
The people directly above our bedroom have either recently purchased a television for that room or just moved in or something. It is very loud every time I try to sleep from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. and 10:30 to 11:30 p.m. I know banging on the ceiling is definitely too rude, but is slipping a polite note under the door even worth it? I guess I'll start researching earplugs, but that hasn't worked for me in the past -- Glover Park
Slipping a polite note under the door is definitely worth it. Cutting the noise off at the source will work much better than earplugs. But first, try introducing yourself to your upstairs neighbors. Welcome them to the building if they are new, and tell them that you have been hearing a lot of noise during those hours. Make sure you also tell them you know it's probably just the way the building is constructed.
Once they know about the problem, they may be more conscientious about what they do. Or not. It just depends on the people. Some neighbors have come to such compromises as splitting the cost of a carpet or thick carpet pad to help decrease the noise transmission from one floor to the next. Or they have willingly adopted the habit of taking their shoes off when they enter any zone of uncarpeted floor.
As with other problems you discuss with your neighbors, it's important not to be antagonistic or angry. Be friendly on the first occasion, and if nothing happens, then you can try again or leave a note. If that fails and the noise is really obtrusive, ask your property manager how he can help you correct the situation.
Do you have questions, comments or ideas about apartment life? Contact Sara Gebhardt via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail, c/o Real Estate Editor, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.