When Ashlee Radford and her husband, Brian, bought their last home in Ardmore, Oklahoma, they weren’t expecting to encounter difficult neighbors. But for several months, they dealt with constant noise from dogs barking at all hours and their owners constantly blocking in their cars with bad parking tactics. If you’ve ever had to figure out how to deal with bad neighbors, her story is a familiar one.
“When the dogs would bark and keep us up, it would make us pretty tired and upset the next day,” Radford said. “The way they parked sometimes would block us in, or make it hard to park our cars, adding unnecessary stress to our daily lives.”
These issues are ones that countless Americans deal with on a daily basis, and many are often at a loss about how to handle bad neighbors.
What makes a bad neighbor?
Being a bad neighbor most often boils down to respect—or lack thereof. Almost everyone has likely dealt with a neighbor dispute at some point in their adult lives, especially if they have moved around a lot.
Common issues include noise from barking dogs, loud children or frequent parties; property boundary issues; or cleanliness issues such as an unmaintained yard. These issues can often be resolved with simple communication between neighbors or with the help of a community resource such as a mediator.
A neighborhood or community mediator usually has relationships with area tenant associations and landlords and provides a space for a face-to-face conversation without outside judgment. While they can aid in a conflict resolution process, they cannot provide advice or suggestions on how to proceed.
Caroline Cragin, a community mediator with Community Mediation DC in the Washington, D.C., area, serves as a resource for community members in her area dealing with such disputes.
Oftentimes, the need for mediation stems from the lack of a personal relationship with your neighbors, she said. If you’ve taken the time to introduce yourself and get to know your neighbors, approaching them to discuss a potential issue may not be such a big deal.
“However, if approaching them about a constant bad behavior would be the first time you interact with them, you may not feel comfortable approaching them on your own to discuss it. This is where a professional mediator could prove to be a valuable resource and solution,” she said. In that case, conducting an online property owner search may reveal information about your neighbors that may make you feel more comfortable if you eventually meet.
How to deal with bad neighbors
If you’ve tried confronting your neighbors yourself to no avail, or you’re simply not comfortable doing so, you can turn to your neighborhood association or city codes department.
At times, when one party tries to be civil, the other party may respond in a hostile manner, said Rick Musson, a Bozeman, Montana-based law enforcement consultant for USInsuranceAgents.com. If they can’t reach a compromise, the offended party needs to figure out if the offense is against city ordinance or state law.
“If the issue at hand is not against city ordinance or state law, there’s not much you can do about it,” Musson said. “Don’t bother calling the police because they can only enforce the law. If the violation is determined to be against city code, call the city code enforcer for advice to deal with the problem before calling the police.”
The Radfords tried to deal with their issues by talking to their neighbors about the issue and also took steps to minimize the noise with white noise and anti-barking devices. Although the neighbors were generally agreeable when they approached them, they ultimately never changed their ways, and the Radfords dealt with them for four months before the neighbors (who were renters) moved.
While they were fortunate to only have to deal with these issues for a relatively short period of time, these are the types of issues that may sometimes be more easily remedied with the help of a mediator, or even their landlord, since the offenders were renters.
“Mediation can be especially helpful if both parties haven’t established good communication because it can help both sides see how the issue at hand is truly affecting the other person,” said Joel Bogen, a mediator with Jefferson County Mediation Services in Golden, Colorado. “Instead of viewing it as dealing with ‘bad neighbors,’ it can often be helpful to remember that you’re simply dealing with people.”
Cragin added that people often don’t know their neighbors, and inviting someone to have a face-to-face conversation feels awkward. That’s often why people resort to calling the police, because they don’t know how to reach out to their neighbors.
“Calling the police and involving the courts for something that could have been prevented by maintaining a relationship can prove to be really harmful for that relationship,” she said.
Common yet minor neighbor disputes can often be resolved by both parties working together after talking it out. For example, you may let them know you would appreciate music turned down at night because you have to work early, or you can offer to spend time with or take care of a barking dog to help reduce the problem.
What if that doesn’t work?
Neighbor disputes should be able to be handled civilly, but when one party doesn’t cooperate, things may escalate to calling the police, Musson said.
“If there is a legitimate concern for your or your family’s safety, or if the neighbor’s activity is against the law (for example, drug dealing), it’s appropriate to call the police,” he said.
It’s important to note that mediators often can’t recommend you get law enforcement involved, or take such action themselves, Bogen said. As such, you should use your judgment in determining how serious the issue at hand is while weighing how to approach it.
Good fences don’t always make good neighbors
While there are plenty of resources available to help community members resolve common disputes, often all that is needed to resolve a neighbor conflict is a face-to-face conversation, Musson said.
“Both people should be able to respectfully state their request to the other party, and both sides need to be reasonable and willing to compromise in a civil manner,” Musson said. “Some neighbors will be overly picky and won’t be happy with any neighbor that moves in, but some problems are legitimate.”
Although the Radfords since moved from where they dealt with their neighbor issues, their silver lining was that the experience made them consider factors they might not have otherwise thought about when looking for a new home, like the shared driveway dilemma.