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What To Do When You Have Problem Neighbors

Dealing with bad neighbors is a delicate business. Here’s how to improve things on the block.

Figuring out how to deal with bad neighbors can be a major struggle. There’s nothing worse than buying a house and then realizing you have nightmare neighbors. But you don’t just have to grin and bear your neighbors’ undesirable behavior or tension on the block. With the right approach, you can turn it into an opportunity to build a good relationship, create a more positive environment for you and the rest of your neighborhood.

Here’s how to deal with bad neighbors

First off, make sure you’re not the bad neighbor. It’s easy to see what your neighbor is doing to drive you nuts, but it’s a little harder to understand how your behavior might be affecting them. Because you’ll never get a neighbor to shape up if they think you’re the problem, make sure you’re as close to a model homeowner as possible before approaching them. A few hard questions to ask yourself:

  • What’s your noise level like? Loud TV, music, or machinery can drive neighbors bananas any time of day. And even normal noise, from say, lawn mowing, shouldn’t be waking them up in the morning or preventing them from enjoying a peaceful evening.
  • Are your pets quiet and friendly? Noisy, threatening, or roaming dogs — and even roaming cats — can become a sore spot for neighbors.
  • Do you keep things tidy? If your lawn is overgrown or your kids’ toys are strewn all over the place, it can become an eyesore. Neighbors may start to worry about your poor home maintenance hurting their home value.
  • Do you respect property lines? Don’t let your trees, fences, or any other property encroach on a property line, unless your neighbors specifically say they’re fine with it. It may seem fussy, but it can prevent all sorts of disputes.
  • Are you playing tit-for-tat? If you started parking over the property line because their dog barks too much, you’ll never sort out who was really in the wrong — or find a solution.
  • Revenge, no matter how minor, is never successful at dealing with bad neighbors.

Once you’re confident that you’re not engaging in any bad-neighbor behavior, you can approach your neighbor to talk about what’s bothering you.

Develop a friendly relationship

Trulia’s Neighbor Survey showed that one in two Americans doesn’t even know the names of their neighbors — and that can be a major hindrance to resolving conflicts peacefully. Introduce yourself at the first opportunity so that you have a strong rapport to build upon if a problem arises. It will be a lot harder for your neighbor to keep causing you grief if they see you as a friendly face.

To start a pattern of good communication, tell your neighbor in advance any time you’re having a party, doing a renovation, or anything else that could create noise or commotion.

Assume good intentions

Don’t go in guns blazing when you approach a neighbor about what’s bugging you. Drop by and approach the subject in a friendly fashion, or, should you need to gently escalate the situation, request that they meet you for coffee. That will indicate that the issue is a big deal to you.

Neighbors often don’t realize that they’re creating a problem, and it’s best to avoid seeming like you’re accusing them. Put yourself in their shoes, and start by assuming that their problematic behavior is not because of any ill will towards you.

Be sympathetic if your neighbor complains

While it’s important to bring up problems to your neighbor in a constructive way, it’s just as crucial to be thoughtful and cooperative when you’re the one accused of poor behavior. The complaint may not make much sense to you — for example, leaves from a tree on your property falling into your neighbor’s yard. But it’s more important to be friendly and accommodating than to be “right.” Respond to any complaints or requests the way you’d like them to respond to yours. If you’re willing to try to make their lives better, they’ll be more likely to do the same for you.

Document everything, just in case

With luck, you won’t ever need to involve a third-party when sorting out how to deal with bad neighbors, but it’s always possible. While it’s worth doing everything you can to resolve an issue peacefully and willingly, you should also document every step along the way just in case. On the off chance that you need to involve a homeowner association (HOA), a neighborhood group, the city building department, or even the local police or an attorney, maintain a record of relevant dates, times, emails, texts, and even photos, so the facts are at your fingertips if you need them.

Research the rules before taking action

Before turning your complaint into legal action or a formal complaint, make sure you know what you’re talking about. Contact the local housing department, consult a lawyer, talk to your HOA, or just do some solid Googling to get a sense of what the neighborhood rules and the law have to say about your issue. You want to make sure you’re on the right side of things before making a big deal out of i. (For one of the most common neighbor problems, check out this handy guide to easements.) Then — again, in a gentle and friendly way — you can let your neighbor know that the law or rules are on your side.

For critical issues, contact the authorities

Of course, friendly conversations don’t always fix everything, even if you’re in the right. If you’ve tried everything else and the problem neighbors haven’t stopped their offending behavior, it may be time to get the authorities involved. Just make sure you consult the right authority about the issue — and always make the police your last stop. For instance, an issue with trash all over someone’s lawn can probably be resolved with the city’s code enforcement department. And a noisy or frequently loose dog might warrant a call to your HOA before the police or animal control.

Avoid scenarios likely to cause conflict

Some situations between neighbors are almost guaranteed to cause conflict — for example, buying a home next to one that shows signs of being a hoarder house or one with a shared driveway. No matter how likable your neighbors may seem, tensions are likely to rise in situations like this. So unless you know your neighbor extremely well, it’s best to avoid the possibility entirely.

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