What to Do When Your Neighbors Drive You Nuts
Illustrations by Peter Arkle
The Street Hog
He thinks the whole block is his parking lot. His boat casts a giant shadow across your lawn. His RV takes up half the street. Meanwhile, his driveway is empty.
Help him move: First check your town's website for local codes and ordinances. If there's something on the books that addresses street parking violations, you can phone in a complaint to the police. "But if you live in a neighborhood where it's not illegal, and it's really bothering you," says Patricia Rossi, author of Everyday Etiquette, "you can always go over and say, 'We're going to have company, so you know that tractor you have parked in front of my driveway? Can you put it in your garage?'" Figuring out a solution is a two-way street.
Once you've raised the question, it's pretty much out of your hands. If things don't change, try recruiting other neighbors who feel the same way you do. The more sympathizers on your side, the better.
The Constant Doorbell Ringer
Here she comes again — the neighbor who habitually drops by without calling first, making you feel like you're under siege.
Get rid of her: Open the door a crack and say, "It's not a good time — can we catch up later?" Do that enough, Patricia says, "and she'll know that she has to call first."
If she really doesn't get the hint, you'll have to toughen up and start setting boundaries, says Amy Johnson, Ph.D., a Chicago psychologist. "Tell her, 'Dropping by makes me kind of uncomfortable. I'd love to see you from time to time, but please call first to see if we're doing anything.'" Relax, you're not creating conflict, says Amy. "I've seen it work a million times."
The Ear Splitter
You always know when these neighbors are around: They slam car doors when they get in at midnight; they throw rowdy parties; their music shakes your living room walls.
Quiet them down: Start the conversation with, "Listen, I really need your help," Patricia recommends. "When you tell people this, their whole body language changes. Then say, 'I have to be on the train at 6 am, and your wonderful kids, who are so athletic' — be positive! — 'were playing basketball until one in the morning, and I couldn't sleep. What do you think we could do?'"
Finding a friendly family member is a good approach too, suggests Rick Kirschner, author of How to Click With People. When his neighbor's son started a routine with a heavy metal band, Rick knocked on the door and told the person who answered, "There's something I want you to hear." As they got closer to Rick’s house, the neighbor agreed that it was, indeed, pretty darn loud. Then Rick asked, "Is there someplace else where they can practice?" It worked.
He sponges your gardening tools. He needs to take your weedwacker "for just a sec." Now he has a yard sale worth of your stuff, and you want it back — pronto.
Take what's yours: Your neighbor isn't keeping those hedge clippers because he's trying to be a jerk, Rick says. It's simply that "people have busy lives, they have stress and they forget things." His solution: "When he pops over to borrow something, write down what you're loaning out in front of him and agree on a return date. Then say, 'If it's not back by then, can I give you a call?' Folks are far less likely to miss a deadline that they set themselves."
The Constant Complainer
He gripes about every little thing, from the oak tree that’s hanging over his fence to the light in your kitchen that he suddenly decides is too bright.
Avoid him: It's just about impossible to satisfy this type of neighbor, so it's not worth trying, says Amy. "When you actually listen to him and fix what he's been complaining about, he's like, 'Whoo! Somebody's going to do what I say!' And he'll come at you even more."
So keep every encounter brief: If you see him approach, quicken your pace like you're in a huge rush. "Do not engage," advises Patricia. "If he says your kitchen light is too bright, repeat back, 'Ohh ... my kitchen light's too bright,' and keep walking. A person like that is constantly on the prowl for someone to tussle with. When he learns that he can't do it with you, he'll move on."
If one of his complaints is legit (OK, so maybe your tree does hang pretty low over his fence), Amy suggests saying something like, "Thank you. I appreciate your concern. We'll see what we can do about it." Always keep the conversation brief.
The Lazy Slob
The paint on their house is chipping. Weeds creep up across the front yard. Upkeep is clearly not their top priority.
Clean up the block: Again, check your town's codes and ordinances — they might be your best weapon against this war on the weeds next door. "Most neighborhoods have regulations," says Rick, "but they don't police them because they have so few resources. Once something is reported, though, they're obligated to look into it." That said, if the neighbor is a friend, Patricia suggests offering some help. "Especially if things were up to par before, and you suddenly notice a difference," she adds. "Maybe they have a sick family member, which is preventing them from being able to keep up their house."
You could also offer to share a lawn service or house painter. "Approach the neighbor with 'great news,' like, 'Hey, I just interviewed a new lawn service, and if more than one house uses their company, we all get a 20-percent discount. Do you want to go in with me?' That way you will seem supportive, not judgmental," says Patricia.
Who needs reality television when you have neighbors who get dressed in front of open windows or who have heated arguments on their doorstep when your second grader is within earshot?
Stop the peep shows: For the exhibitionist next door, proceed with humor — which worked for Patricia when she caught a glimpse of her own neighbor stepping out of the shower. "I said a few days later, 'Girl, I saw you in your birthday suit!'" But that's a good strategy only if you know them well. If not, Patricia suggests finding their email (most are easy to look up online) and trying something like, "I'm a neighborhood mom, and I wanted to let you know that your windows are disclosing your intimate moments."
If your neighbors are bickering at high volume, resist the urge to confront them midspat, suggests Patricia. Later, put in a call and say, "I wanted to zip over for a moment to share something with you." Then you can say, "We've all had shouting matches with our spouses, but I can hear yours from my house. I just don't want my kids to hear them too. You can understand that, right?"
Stop — Don't do the driveway ambush!
No matter how well you know your neighbors, confronting them when you're less than cool-headed is never a good idea. If you're friends, or even sort of friends, call or send an email saying there’s something you'd like to discuss, and set up a time to talk. If you don't know them well, pop over next time they're outside and invite them to come by at their convenience.