Police Department  |  Barking Dog Problems?
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 BARKING DOG PROBLEMS?

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If you are being disturbed by a barking dog or noisy animal, you may wish to consider the following steps:

Talk to your neighbor first.  It is encouraged to speak with your neighbor first.  Communicating and informing your neighbor that their animal is creating a disturbing noise may resolve the disturbance.  People often don’t realize their animal is creating noises and disturbing others.

In approaching your neighbor:
-Give your neighbor the benefit of the doubt.  Approach the subject in a manner that suggests you believe your neighbor is unaware of the problem, rather than assuming they know but just don’t care. 

-Tactfully express your complaint and how the animal has created a disturbing noise.

-Expect a defensive reaction, and be prepared to calmly answer any complaints your neighbor may have about you.

-Express your willingness and desire to work together to find a solution which will satisfy both of you.  Ask for ideas your neighbor may have to help solve the situation.

-Discuss your differences on neutral ground, rather than on your property or theirs.  Ask questions or make requests, rather than shouting demands.

If the problem persists, make your request to your neighbor in writing.  Carefully state the situation in a letter.  Do not make threats, but inform them that if the situation doesn’t improve than the authorities will be notified and appropriate legal action will be taken.  Keep a copy of your letter to document your communication with your neighbor.  It may be useful if you decide to take legal action against your neighbor.

Keep a written record of the barking incidents.
Write down each date the barking occurs, the duration of the barking, and the time of day.  This information will be helpful if legal action is pursued.

Call the police.  After documenting the occurrences and speaking with your neighbor, report your complaint to the Albemarle Police Department at (434) 977-9041

For more information on animal related issues or to contact an Animal Control Officer:
Albemarle County Animal Control
1600 5th Street Extended, Suite D
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
(434) 977-9041**         (434) 972-4061 facsimile

**This is the non-emergency telephone number for the emergency communication center and is the best way to get in touch with an Animal Control Officer.

Please keep in mind, Animal Control Officers spend 90% of their time in the field responding to service calls and/or investigating complaints.  An Animal Control Officer will contact you as soon as possible, if they are not immediately available when you call.

File an animal noise complaint online

Try mediation.  Mediation is an informal voluntary process in which parties try to solve their conflicts with the help of trained mediators.  Mediation may be used before or after filing a lawsuit.  The mediation process is designed to allow the parties to come up with their own solution without a judgment or decision imposed by the mediators.  If an agreement is reached between the parties during mediation, the agreement will be put in the form of an enforceable contract and signed by both parties.

One mediation resource is the Mediation Center of Charlottesville.  It is a community non-profit organization that provides mediation on a sliding fee basis, depending on each party's income, for a two-hour session.  For more information regarding mediation, please call 434.977.2926.

Legal Action.  Two different types of court action may be taken: civil action and/or criminal action.

Civil Action.  A civil action may be filed in the Albemarle General District Court if the animal noise has caused you to suffer damages.  To bring a civil action into General District Court, a warrant in debt must be filed with the General District Court clerk’s office.  The clerk’s office can provide warrant in debt forms and instructions. The clerk of the Albemarle County General District Court may be reached at (434) 972-4004 if you need more information.  The warrant in debt forms and instructions can also be found online at: http://www.courts.state.va.us/forms/district/home.html

If your claim is for $5000 or less in money damages and you desire to represent yourself, you may use the small claims court (part of the General District Court).
If your claim is for $15,000 or less in money damages, you may file a civil warrant in debt in the General District Court.  An attorney may represent you or the defendant, but an attorney may not be necessary.

Whether you file in the small claims court or General District Court, you will need to provide the General District Court clerk’s office with the following information to complete the warrant:

• Name of the defendant
• Current address of the defendant
• County or city in which the defendant is located
• The amount to be recovered
• The basis of the claim
• A stamped envelope addressed to the defendant
• $34 for a claim under $200 and $39 for a claim over $200 plus $12 for each defendant (i.e., $46 or $51 for one defendant; $58 or $63 for two defendants)

It usually takes four or five weeks for the initial Court date (return date).  If the defendant appears and contests, a trial date will be scheduled.  The Court will offer immediate mediation as an alternative to a trial.

In the lawsuit, you must show the barking is a nuisance and that you have been damaged.  Before proceeding, some issues you must address are:

• How does the barking interfere with your reasonable use or enjoyment of your property?
• Would the average person in your position be affected by the barking in a similar way?
• Is the barking more or less tolerable if someone were to take into account the surrounding neighborhood where you live?
• In what ways have you suffered damages because of the barking?
• Do you have a measurable or tangible way of showing your damages?
• Will you be able to show the damages were caused by the barking and not by other plausible factors?

Proving the barking is a nuisance which caused identifiable damages can be difficult.  It is helpful if you can articulate a clear loss, for example, through medical bills, or other proof of monetary loss.

Either party may appeal a General District Court decision to a Circuit Court.  In an appeal, the case has to be tried again, as if brought for the first time.  An appeal will require both sides to spend more time and money.  Hiring an attorney may be necessary, as the procedure in the Circuit Court is more formal and complex.

If your claim is for more than $15,000 in money damages, you must file a lawsuit in Circuit Court.  This will probably require hiring a private attorney if you are unfamiliar with the legal process.  The elements of proof are the same as in General District Court, but the procedure is more formal and complex.

If you cannot prove damages, you may still seek injunctive relief in Circuit Court by asking the Court to order an end to the barking.  Again, a Circuit Court action is more formal and complex and will likely require you to hire a lawyer.
In considering whether to file for an injunction, some issues you must address are:

• How does the barking interfere with your reasonable use or enjoyment of your property?
• Would the average person in your position be affected by the barking in a similar way?
• Is the barking more or less tolerable if someone were to take into account the surrounding neighborhood where you live?
• Have you suffered damages that cannot really be relieved by winning a money damage award?
• What else about your situation makes money damages an inadequate solution?

If the Court orders a dog’s barking to be abated and the dog owner fails to comply, the dog owner can be held in contempt of Court and could be punished by fine or jail time for refusing to comply with the Court’s order.

Criminal Action

The Animal Noise Laws in  Chapter 4 of the Albemarle County Code make it unlawful for an owner or custodian of an animal to harbor or keep any animal within the County which frequently or for a continued duration howls, barks, or makes other excessive, continuous or untimely sound which reasonably disturbs the peace and quiet, comfort, or repose of any person in the County.

This does not apply to any animal located on property that is zoned as a Rural Areas District of five acres or more, to any animal in an animal shelter or commercial shelter as defined by the County’s Zoning Ordinance, or to sounds caused by livestock or poultry.

Excessive, continuous, or untimely sounds means any howling, barking, or other animal noise which continues for thirty consecutive minutes or more, with no cessation of such sounds for time periods greater than five minutes during the thirty consecutive minutes.

Any person disturbed by excessive, continuous, or untimely animal noises may appear before a magistrate and request a summons be issued to the animal owner.  If the violation occurs in the presence of a police officer or animal control officer, they have the authority to issue a summons for the excessive, continuous, or untimely noise.

The Albemarle County Magistrate’s office is located at 1610 Avon Street, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902, and is open 24 hours a day.  (434) 977-0220.

When going before the magistrate, you will need to provide evidence that there has been continuous and excessive noise from an animal for at least thirty consecutive minutes.  Any written documentation of the date, time and duration of the noise, or a tape recording or video recording of the noise, will be helpful in swearing out a summons.  If the magistrate finds probable cause for violation of the animal noise ordinance, a summons will be issued to the animal owner and a hearing scheduled in General District Court.  You will need to attend the hearing in General District Court and testify in Court, providing evidence of the continuous and excessive animal noise.  The General District Court Judge will determine whether the animal owner is guilty of violating the County’s animal noise ordinance.

If found guilty by the Court, a violation of this ordinance is a class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500, and the Court may order the animal owner to abate the disturbance.

Upon a third conviction involving the same animal within twelve months, the Court shall order the animal to be removed from any area of the County covered by the ordinance.  Failure to comply will result in the animal being seized by Animal Control.
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This brochure is intended simply to provide information and is not legal advice applicable to individual situations.  It should not be relied upon as a full explanation of the law.  Before taking legal action, it is always advisable to consult a private attorney.

The County Attorney’s office is not authorized to give private legal advice, to represent citizens in private legal actions or to refer citizens to private attorneys.

You may contact the Charlottesville-Albemarle Legal Aid Society at 977-0533 for a referral to a private attorney.  Legal Aid does not provide representation for this type of dispute.


 
 
 
Contact the Department
Albemarle County Police Department
1600 5th Street, Suite D
Charlottesville, VA 22902
434-296-5807
FAX: 434-972-4061
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