February 28, 2017
Nasty Neighbors – How to Cope
We’ve all heard the crazy stories and seen the comedy movies, but when it’s the guy across the street that’s giving you grief, it’s no laughing matter. Your dream house can easily become a torture chamber when you’re living next door to the neighbor from hell. So how do you learn to deal with these undesirables? The easiest way is to try and avoid them altogether. Before you choose your new home, here’s a few strategies you can use to scout out the area for potential problems. Take the Nighttime Tour Many house hunters make the mistake of only seeing their new neighborhood in the daylight before they buy. If you do a couple of drive-throughs during the evening or later night hours, you can identify issues in the making. Since most people work during the day, nighttime visits let you see how they behave when they’ve let their hair down in the comfort of their homes. Are they loud, with the TV at full blast? Are there arguments you can hear down the block or an aspiring rock sensation practicing in the garage next door? Knowing what you may be up against can help you make important decisions. Ask and You Shall Receive Doing some investigating can also help. Walk the area during times when people are out and about. Introduce yourself and gently mine them for information. “Hi. I’m John Smith and I’m thinking about buying a home down the street. What is the neighborhood like?” Something like this can work like a charm when accompanied by a warm smile and friendly handshake. You can also talk to local store owners who serve the area and go online to browse local registries for known sex offenders. Don’t forget to check the town clerk’s office. You can see if a potential neighbor is building an addition, installing a pool or planning other potentially noisy and unsightly activities. You can request police reports associated with the home address to see if there have been noise complaints, break-ins, vandalism or other crimes in the neighborhood. Most People Are Resistant to Change If your potential neighbors have a messy, unkempt lawn each time you swing by, more than likely that’s always going to be an issue. If the dog three houses away is always barking, there will be little you can do to quiet him down. The house on the street where all the kids gather is a fixture, so you can expect the youthful noise and clatter to continue. If you see something that you know will drive you crazy, think twice about taking the plunge. BUT…. What happens when you’ve already purchased your house, and discover that you’re in knee-deep with a problem neighbor? Communication – the calm, problem-solving kind – is the key. Always approach the neighbor when you’ve had some time to calm down. Never initiate a conversation when you’re in the midst of a meltdown. Loud neighbors? They may not realize that they’re disturbing others. Your elderly next door neighbor may be hard of hearing, and not know that you can also hear “Wheel of Fortune” every night at top volume. A kind conversation could solve the problem, but only if they know that you’re unhappy. Messy neighbors may simply need a little help. A neighbor who hasn’t mowed her lawn or touched up the paint on her porch may be working two jobs, going through a messy divorce or having health issues. A problem-solving discussion can go a long way. Maybe you can introduce her to a local teen eager to earn pocket money by doing yard work or odd jobs, or offer to tackle her lawn when you break out your riding mower. If your neighbors let their pets mess in your yard, mention to them that you’ve noticed this happening, and kindly ask that they handle the evidence themselves. A gift of a roll of disposable doggie bags that attach to Fido’s leash might help make your point. Invasive, nosy neighbors? Keep your interactions polite, but brief. Give them a few minutes of your time whenever possible, but stay away from local gossip and don’t divulge any material they can use to fuel their fires. Make a plausible excuse to end the conversation after a short time. “I’m sorry, but I promised to call my mother at two” or “I have a couple of quick things I have to do before I pick up my daughter. Can I take a rain check on our talk?” will release you without prejudice. If your neighbor gives you trouble about your property lines, walk the area together and determine what belongs to whom. If you can’t agree on who has the responsibility for or is entitled to certain spaces, consider having the property professionally surveyed to settle the problem once and for all. What if these tactics don’t work? If you have a homeowner’s association, it can be your best friend. Know the rules and regulations that apply in your community, and if your neighbors are violating them, make a complaint. In many cases, any report you make can be kept anonymous. The association can then address the issue on your behalf. If you don’t have a homeowner’s association, know the local ordinances governing your neighborhood. Try writing a personal letter or email to your neighbors first, covering your complaint. If they continue their behavior, you can also try calling in a professional mediator. The local courthouse, police precinct or bar association can help you find one, or check with The National Association of Community Mediation for a professional near you. Although it’s almost certain to irritate your troublesome neighbor, filing a non-emergency complaint with the local police may be your solution. Make sure you have a documented record of the problem by keeping notes of incidents or taking photographs before you take this approach. You may get a resolution to your problem, but you’re likely to burn that particular bridge with this action, so it should be one of your last resorts for solving the problem. If all else fails, consider taking your case to court. Before doing so, quietly approach some other neighbors to see if they have been experiencing similar issues with the nasty neighbor. If so, there is power in numbers. They may be willing to throw their complaints in with yours. Keep in mind that most neighbors (unless they’re complete social misfits or psychopaths) aren’t bad neighbors out of spite or deliberate meanness. Many simply have problems they’re having trouble solving or need help handing certain aspects of their lives. Reaching out first with compassion and an offer of a solution is often the way to not only disarm the nasty neighbor, but to establish yourself as the best neighbor on the block.