When we talk about buying a new home, we often discuss the importance of location. In many cases, location can be more critical than the home itself. You can update and renovate a home, but you can’t do anything to change the location.
Part of that concept is about the neighbors who surround you. When you have neighbors who are a nuisance or are toxic, it’s an extremely challenging situation.
There are many times when there’s not much you can do to deal with toxic neighbors.
Below is an overview of some options that are, however, available to you if you’re dealing with difficult neighbors.
What Makes for Bad Neighbors?
There are a lot of things neighbors might do that make them “bad” in your eyes. You also have to keep in mind that you could be doing things that are equally annoying to the people who live around you. What makes a bad neighbor can vary depending on your living environment as well.
If you’re in an apartment or an attached dwelling, some of the worst things your neighbors might do include:
- Having loud arguments, or being loud in general.
- Slamming doors.
- Cooking foods with strong odors.
- Slamming things on the ground when you live a floor below them.
- Nosy neighbors who seem like they’re watching everything you’re doing.
- Tattletale neighbors who want to run and rat you out about everything.
- Neighbors with loud pets.
If you live in a detached home in a more suburban area, some of the most offending things your neighbors might do include:
- Letting their dog bark all hours of the day and night.
- Not keeping their yard tidy.
- Letting their pets roam the neighborhood.
- Deciding they’re ready to become suburban farmers. A lot more people are more interested in the idea of having chickens at home, but unfortunately, that can lead to noises and unpleasant smells, particularly if your homes are very close in proximity to one another.
- Parking in the street.
- Painting their home in controversial colors.
- Not respecting boundaries—property line disputes are a major reason that neighbors go to court with one another.
- Having loud parties with cars crowding the neighborhood on a regular basis.
Could you be the bad neighbor?
While it’s easy to think about what other people are doing to bother you, you also have to consider whether or not there are things you might be doing that are similarly annoying to the people who live around you.
Sometimes it’s tough to see annoying behavior in ourselves, but consider what the noise level coming from your house is like. Are you someone who likes to mow your lawn bright and early on the weekends? Are your pets barking all the time?
What does your lawn look like? Is it overgrown and cluttered with toys? Your neighbors might worry that you’re hurting their property values as a result.
General Ways to Deal with Bad Neighbors
If you’ve assessed your situation and you don’t think you’re the problem, or you’ve fixed any potentially annoying behaviors, what else can you do to deal with bad neighbors?
- Try to be friendly. There was a recent Trulia survey that found one in two Americans doesn’t know the names of their neighbors, so it’s tough to resolve potential conflicts when you’re completely unfamiliar with each other. If you haven’t done so, maybe you take some time to introduce yourself without bringing up any possible grievances. You’re then going to be in a better position to deal with conflicts if you have a friendly rapport as a starting point. Also, you can start building a good relationship by letting your neighbor know ahead of time if you’re planning anything that could be bothersome to them. If you’re going to have a party, for example, let them know in advance.
- Always assume people have good intentions until you find out otherwise. It’s easy to get yourself worked up when you think you know the motivations of another person, but often these aren’t the reality. If you do have something you need to talk to a neighbor about, remember that they probably have no idea it’s bothering you, and it’s very unlikely they’re doing it on purpose.
- Show your neighbors the same respect you hope to get if they come to you with an issue. Try to be cooperative and constructive in your conversation, and then hopefully, in the future, they’ll do the same for you.
- While you’re trying to assume the best and come from a place of cooperation, it is a good idea to document whatever’s going on if it’s a major problem. You may need that documentation later on if the problem doesn’t get better. You might have to involve a neighborhood group, the HOA, or perhaps even the legal system, so keep a record of dates, times, texts, and conversations, as well as photos.
- Before you take any action, if it gets to that point, know what the rules are. If you’re going to take legal action or file a formal complaint, you want to make sure there’s a basis for doing so. You don’t want to make a big deal an issue that’s not wrong in the eyes of the HOA or the legal system.
What You Can and Can’t Do About Bad Neighbors
For most situations involving your neighbors, as much as you might feel awkward about doing it, the situation can be solved with calm, clear communication.
If you live in a neighborhood that has an HOA, you might have more resources at your disposal if communication isn’t working.
HOAs tend to have very clear, specific guidelines about pretty much everything, and they do have the authority to deal with situations.
If you don’t have an HOA, options are still available to you. In some cases, there may be a local ordinance or law that prevents the bothersome behavior of your neighbor.
Specific situations that you might be able to do something about include:
- If you’re dealing with a parking issue, whether or not the street is a public road will determine what you can do. If the street is a true public road, then both you and your neighbor have the right to park there as long as you’re following other laws. There’s not much you can do about a parking dispute in this situation. However, if someone is parking in an illegal area, or you’re not allowed to park on the street based on your neighborhood covenants, then you can take action.
- Pets are a major reason for discord among neighbors. Your neighbors have an obligation to make sure their animals are properly restrained and controlled. Your last resort could be contacting animal control and asking them what your options are.
- If a tree is an issue, its ownership of it is relevant. The person who owns the tree is typically the one whose land contains the trunk. It doesn’t matter how far the branches are extended to another property. If a tree causes damage, the owner is responsible unless it falls through no fault of their own. If the tree hasn’t been properly cared for, however, then the neighbor owning it may be liable for damages it causes.
- If you let a neighbor put a fence extending onto your property, you’re potentially giving them permission to use your land. If you see that your neighbor could be preparing to construct a fence, make sure their property lines are accurate before anything goes up.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do to avoid conflict with neighbors is to be proactive when you’re looking for a new home. Along with focusing on the home itself, try to spot signs of potentially bad neighbors, which might include:
- Are any of the homes in poor condition? Does it seem like a neighbor isn’t doing much to keep up their property?
- If you’re able to get a line of sight to the neighbors’ backyards, try to do so. Is there trash or garbage back there?
- Before you buy a new home, try to drive around the neighborhood at a few different times of the day. For example, drive around early in the morning and also in the early evening to see what the activity level is like, how people park, and what the general feel of the neighborhood is.
- Talk to the neighbors. People like to share their opinions more than you might think, so walk around and get feedback about the area.
- You can learn more about neighborhoods on social media. Look to see if the community has a social media page. If so, browse it to see what people are talking about there, and reach out to some of the more active members.
No one wants to deal with difficult neighbors, but you do have to live in relative harmony with people who might have a different perspective than your own. Rather than immediately jumping into combat mode if there’s an issue, try to be calm and think through your options. You might be surprised what you can solve through a simple conversation.