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NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH : Too Close for Comfort

Learning how to get along with the neighbors can be a delicate matter in Southern California as people try to live together in increasingly close quarters.

In the Orange County community of Aliso Viejo, residents waited for months this year while the foul smells emanating from one apartment grew stronger. Finally, officials were summoned, and found 51 dogs and cats in a three-bedroom condo. Six were dead, and 43 more were so sick they had to be put to death. The condo owner has since pleaded guilty to charges of cruelty to animals.

In Huntington Harbour, owners of $400,000 homes filed multiple suits against a neighbor in small-claims court this week after the city of Huntington Beach found a host of housing code violations at her home, including 6-foot-tall weeds outside and fire hazards inside.

Residents in Long Beach and Bay Area communities have used a similar small-claims tactic to evict alleged drug users and prostitutes. Several neighbors have sued, claiming individual damages of $5,000, the maximum allowed in that court. They hope that if each wins, owners will find the penalty so expensive they will have to move or evict tenants.

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Serious problem obviously require extreme measures; for lesser ones, of course, people can rely on the enforcement of municipal housing codes when someone lets property run down. Common sense and patience, sometimes aided by trained mediators, can help neighbors walk the thin line between being a responsible neighbor and just being nosy.


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