Becky finally had her dream house. Brand-new, it was customized to her tasteful and exacting specifications. A covered porch wrapped around the house, culminating in a backyard kitchen and immense heated patio, an entertainer’s dream. Windows galore let in light and air. It was a corner lot, so there was a neighbor on one side only. Unfortunately, it was the neighbor from hell.
There was no way to entertain in the gorgeous back yard. The moment she as much as set foot out the back door, the huge guard dog next door began barking, snarling and throwing himself violently against the cedar fence that separated her from seeming mortality. This same dog howled when left home alone all day, making Becky miserable in her work-from-home job. Trash cans, many weeks worth, lined the neighbor’s side yard, not far from Becky’s master and guest bedrooms, so windows on that side had to be kept closed. Only weeds kept the neighbor’s plain-dirt front yard from sliding onto the sidewalk. Becky’s beautiful and expensive landscape looked ridiculous butted up against the neighbor’s near-nuclear disaster area. An abandoned clunker at the curb, along with untold numbers of sketchy people coming and going at all hours, completed this nightmarish scene.
Now that you’re not feeling so bad about issues with your own neighbor, let’s talk about the most reasonable ways to end conflicts with neighbors.
Start by looking at yourself. Are you Mr. Rogers? As unobtrusive as a librarian living alone? Get real about what to expect from life in an active family neighborhood with yelling kids, music, pets, gunning of engines and occasional parties. If these kinds of things are bothering you, maybe it’s you who needs to change…or move. If, as with Becky, the neighbors are encroaching unduly on the appearance and peace of the neighborhood, it’s time for step two.
Step two has two parts. Begin by starting a log of infractions. You may need it to mount a future case, and it will make you feel better to document the offenses. Then, speak to your neighbor. Maybe he moved from a place where he had many acres to himself and just needs sensitizing to how he is upsetting you. Be cool. Be nice. Above all, do not threaten, even mildly. You’d be surprised how many people will try harder once made aware—if they like you.
If it’s clear your friendly attempt will do no good, it’s time to send letters explaining your problems to people who could enforce change; your HOA, your landlord (or the landlord of your neighbor), animal control. These should be sent by registered mail. Additionally, you should start talking to other neighbors to see if you will be able to form an alliance for change. Wait awhile, a few weeks, after taking these steps to see if resultant communication occurs and makes a difference. Follow-up calls can determine whether or not you need to move to step three.
Neighborhood mediation or arbitration centers are the next step. The more neighbors aligned with you, the better chance of a mediated outcome.
If there is still no resolution, it is time to talk to an attorney, and to determine whether you have a case, and how expensive or involved it will be to pursue legal action.
If worse comes to worse, you may decide to move, as Becky did. Her neighbors were entirely uncooperative. Most of the unwanted family noise took place during daytime hours, when it was difficult to prosecute. The dog bouncing against the fence, while intimidating, could not be easily stopped, as long as he stayed on his own property. While the HOA sent letters requiring landscape be installed, there were so many homes in noncompliance because of foreclosures and the economy, they were not enforcing the CC&Rs. For the same reasons, the landlord could not afford to evict the tenant.
This leads to the best advice of all on this subject. Always ask about the neighbors BEFORE you move in. W