It used to be much more common to know the folks living around us. People were more likely to stay in one home for a longer time and we had relationships with our neighbors. Times have changed a bit. Now our lives seem to be running at warp speed with little time to sit still in our own homes let alone spend time chatting with the people next door.
If you are having a problem with a neighbor, the first thing you may want to consider is the necessity of getting to know them a bit better. It is very easy to be angry and critical of a stranger, but not so easy when you know the person behind the rusty car on the lawn. The reality is that if you live in a neighborhood you are going to be side by side with people who don’t necessarily think the way you do. Make sure you are behaving in a neighborly way yourself. It will be much easier to request that the loud music be turned down a bit if you have already established a respectful relationship with each other.
When the necessity arises that you must confront a neighbor about a problem, stay calm and approach them in a friendly way. Anger is more likely to make the problem worse. Bring a gift – cookies or a bottle of wine. State your concern in a way that is not an attack and include some possible (realistic!) solutions. Ask nicely, but make sure to be clear and make your point. It is possible that if you simply state what your concern is and why it is bothering you, your neighbor may have been completely unaware that the issue was affecting you. You could have been stewing for weeks and about to boil over, when a simple request would have done the trick! Stick to the most important issue or issues, don’t stalk next door with a long list of gripes.
If you are too uncomfortable to approach them directly, or have trouble reaching your neighbors, leave a friendly note. Make sure it is clear and concise – avoid passive-aggressive language and leave little opportunity for misinterpretation. Invite them to discuss the issue with you, include your phone number if you are comfortable.
If the problem is junk or yard maintenance and they seem overwhelmed, maybe they just need help. Offer to mow their lawn or help to get the yard under control. Let them know that you can help out by getting some information and estimates on hauling junk away.
If the issue is of a more serious nature, or your friendly attempts to address the problem are not working, it may be time to involve the authorities. Make sure you know what laws (if any) your neighbors are actually violating. Are there township ordinances regulating trash and lawn care? What about trespassing, noise or pet control? If you are in a neighborhood with an HOA, check the rules and regulations. You may want to report the situation to the police or contact an attorney to find out whether it is worth the time and cost of pursuing legal action against your neighbor. If you choose to make a formal complaint, make sure to document everything. Keep any correspondence, take photos if necessary. Once you make the decision to take legal action, inform your neighbors. This will give them one last opportunity to address the problem to avoid a legal issue.
Take responsibility for being a member of your neighborhood community and attempt to establish relationships with the people around you. If a problem arises, behave in an open, friendly and direct manner. You will find that the majority of issues can be worked out with simple communication skills….or a drink or 2 on your deck!