We’ve all had difficult neighbors. The downstairs neighbors who won’t stop partying on a Thursday night. The condo neighbor’s barking dogs. The backyard neighbors who planted an invasive species of wisteria that’s now climbing the fence and up your trees. Whether it’s construction, bright lights, home security alarms, pets or overgrown yards, we’ve all encountered the question, “What do I do about my difficult neighbors?”
I can tell you what NOT to do by way of my grandfather’s example. Grandad’s neighbors were cat lovers, but not in moderation. These neighbors took their animal-loving passion to extremes, housing dozens of cats in their home and garage. And these cats liked to make their way over the fence, into Grandad’s backyard, and all over his newly washed Buick. Grandad’s car was a source of pride, and washing it weekly gave him great joy, but the dozens of dirty cat prints did not. His solution was to get a folding chair, place it in the shade, pour a cup of coffee and use a pellet gun to evict any stray cats that came into his line of vision. This is a prime example of what to NEVER do.
I once had neighbors with two incredibly hyper Australian Shepherds. These dogs lived outside and ran the fence line, scream-barking if I dared to enjoy my own backyard. It was a problem, but I did not for one second think of getting a pellet gun for two reasons.
- Using a carrot is always preferable to a stick.
- I don’t like jail.
I knocked on the neighbor’s door and asked if I could give their dogs treats, and once I threw a few over the fence, voila, no more barking. But neighbor problems always beg the question, “What do I do?” Here are some solutions, and none of them involve pellet guns.
Look Before You Buy
Ideally, look before you buy. If a home has dead hedges, a broken basketball hoop and a car parked on the curb with three flat tires, chances are they’re not going to change their lifestyle choices just because you move in next door. If you love the house you’re buying, you may have to accept living with messy neighbors.
Know Your HOA Rules
Do your neighbors have five cars parked up and down the street? Did someone put up a storage building that touches your fence line? Consult your neighborhood’s HOA rules. Homeowner Association rules are requirements for everyone who buys a home in your area, which includes a myriad of standards for building, parking, lawn maintenance and noise. It will always be far easier to let the “board” enforce pre-agreed upon rules than doing battle on your own.
Survey Your Property Line
Is there a jungle gym being built on your property line? Are you having disputes about trimming or planting trees? Sometimes the best solution, especially if you’ve owned your property for some time (or inherited it), is to hire a surveyor to complete a new property assessment. Their findings are legally binding and can help you “prove” what you may already know to be true about your property.
Have a Discussion, Offer a Solution
The deep rage you feel in your chest when you hear loud music bellowing from your neighbor’s open windows may quickly dampen when you meet said neighbor, a sweet elderly woman with a deep and abiding love for Johnny Cash and hearing aids that don’t work well. Meeting face-to-face and humanizing the situation will always serve to take the venom out of any dispute. Secondly, if you’re going next door to ring the bell and discuss a problem, be prepared to offer a solution for said problem. This keeps your neighbor from feeling attacked and promotes a discussion centered on finding common ground.
Check Local Noise Ordinances
All towns and communities have ordinances designed to prevent excessive levels of noise. Familiarize yourself with these laws as they pertain to certain hours and days of the week.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Don’t assume that the neighbor who hasn’t mowed his yard in two months is neglecting it out of malicious intent. Overgrown yards, overflowing trash bins and a general lack of home maintenance can often signal that the family living inside is in poor health, struggling with depression, or worse, has experienced a death in the family. Meet with them and introduce yourself. You may find that they are struggling and need support.
When All Else Fails
When all else fails, you may consider calling the cops, turning to the courts or lodging a complaint with a landlord. These types of actions should only be taken once you’ve tried to amicably discuss and find solutions for the problem. Once you take any of these steps, all semblance of “neighborly” feelings will be gone forever. Make sure it’s absolutely necessary before calling the police.
Ignore What You Can
When at all possible, I would recommend ignoring what you can and learning to let go. I’ve never regretted the moments in life when I was irritated and decided to put in some earplugs or buy dog treats for the yapping canines next door. I have regretted heated arguments and hurt feelings. There are some difficult neighbor situations that are unlivable. Sometimes you have no choice but to move forward with hard decisions and actions. But in some cases, most cases, letting go and ignoring overgrown grass (or cat paw prints on your Buick) is the wise and peaceful decision.