Want to know how to deal with difficult neighbors ? Then you’re in the right place. You’ve spent hundreds of hours getting to this moment. You spent time researching your move – what schools are worth going to, what neighborhoods are pleasant, and where to shop for groceries. You filled out your change of address forms and filed all appropriate paperwork to make it official.
All the boxes are finally unpacked and things are where they are supposed to be, and all that’s left to do is walk up and down the block introducing yourself to your neighbors. And that’s when you find out that one of your neighbors is going to be a problem.
Many of us have been in this situation, or something like it, before. Perhaps it’s a new person that’s moved into the area and they make a lot of noise at night. Maybe it’s someone who can’t seem to finish an eyesore of a project, year after year. Maybe they crate their dog on the main floor and it barks incessantly – or worse, they leave it chained up outside and it makes racket all day long.
Regardless of whom it is or how you got to the point where you’re trying to deal with it – you have a difficult neighbor, and unless you try to make things better in very specific ways, it’s only going to get worse. Regardless of the specific problem, now that you’re beginning to address the problem, don’t overreact – problems like this tend to become exacerbated when cooler heads do not prevail. Hold the calm course for now and think twice before acting, even if it is quite difficult to resist.
The first question to ask yourself is whether or not the difficulty that you’re having with your neighbor is the result of some illegal action, and the level of its severity. For instance, I generally recommend to not mess around with mediation tactics if the person has harmed or in some way caused damage to property (or a child!).
Even still, some people have a hard time recognizing that even a small amount of damage to a piece of property is enough to go to the authorities – yet most of them choose to not worry about it because the trouble involved with getting the authorities involved can be aggravating and time-consuming.
If you feel that the person has or has been causing you difficulty at a level where it’s not really worth getting the authorities involved, but the person is still injecting a high level of frustration into your daily or weekly life, you’re at a crossroads where you have to decide to act in order to resolve the situation.
By reading this and working through its steps, you should be able to defuse any problems or tension that you have with a neighbor, and if not, you should escalate it to powers that can bring about a swift end to the problem. I am assuming that you have not tried to do anything at this point to solve the problem. Before you move to part one, purchase or purpose a small notebook for the sake of keeping accurate records of the problem.
Hopefully, your problem won’t ever end up in the court system, but if you’re ever called upon to give testimony of your side of the story, having detailed notes not only makes you look responsible, it’s hard to refute. After each interaction and instance of the behavior that you find problematic or frustrating, make a note of the time, the outcome, what was said, etc. It will really help in the long run.
How To Deal With Difficult Neighbors:
Part 1: A First, or Polite Conversation
After you’ve established that you actually have a problem that you’d like to address without going to the authorities, you should attempt to create a line of communication between yourself and the other party. This can be especially helpful if you haven’t already met them, for instance.
The rate at which people introduce themselves in a new neighborhood has gone down over the past twenty years; individuals moving in don’t often take the time anymore to make their presence known. Sometimes the person who is being difficult in some way simply hasn’t put a face to those living around him/her, and having a face to the house that they are near can often curb annoying behavior simply because they know you.
Walk up to the house when you know that they’re home or when they’re outside, and introduce yourself. Tell them how long you’ve been their neighbor, how many kids you have, the type of job you have, etc. Make a positive first impression, and tell them that you’d have introduced yourself sooner but things were really busy and hectic at home, but that you wanted to take the time now to help them put a ‘face to the house’.
If this is the first time that you’ve met them, you should walk away at this point if you’ve had a positive experience from the conversation.
In science, experiments seek to find variables and isolate them, so that the scientists can truly understand what is happening as other elements of the experiment change. In dealing with a difficult neighbor, we are seeking to find out exactly how much social pressure to exert before getting someone else involved. Often this might just be the person knowing who you are, so that’s why we’re starting there.
If you’ve already met this person, you’ve spoken to them recently, and they know some basic details about you, you should proceed to the next paragraph.
If a connection with this neighbor already exists, the next thing to try is having an honest, frank conversation with them – that doesn’t put them on the defensive, makes them feel bad, or somehow makes you out to be the superior party.
Here’s an example of how I would address someone that drives too fast down the cul-de-sac. “Bob! How’s it going? Hey, I just wanted to talk to you about something really quick. I was coming home the other night, and as I pulled into the cul-de-sac I noticed that a bunch of kids were tossing a football around in the street. It made me think that maybe sometimes I drive too quickly up to my driveway, and at times I think you have, too. Is that fair?” Wait for a response.
Their response will dictate how the rest of the conversation goes. If the person apologizes, make sure to say something like, “Oh no, Bob, I didn’t come over here today to try to make you feel like garbage, and because I know after a long day of work I’m eager to get home too… I just wanted to mention it because we’ve been neighbors for a while and I figured that we were close enough that we could be frank and honest with each other, in the same way that if I was doing something that caused concern I’d want you to tell me about it.” This is a winning end-point.
The person has acknowledged the problem, has taken responsibility for it, and blood pressure levels weren’t needlessly elevated in the process. You should be happy!
Of course, sometimes it doesn’t always go this well. The person that you’re confronting might go on the defensive and say something accusatory. At this point, you need to disengage, before things get out of hand. Say something like “Oh no, Bob, I didn’t come over here to start something, I promise, I just thought that we go back far enough that we could talk to each other about our concerns like this, I’m sorry.” Then change the subject – offer to help with a project that you know they’re working on, ask them how their week / work has been going.
Try your best to end on a positive note and not let it get into a negative cycle. This is easier said than done, especially if the person has been doing something that really angers you. Being this humble and nice to their face can be hard, but you need to do this kind of thing this way, especially at this stage, so that if you ever go to the authorities about the problem you have a track record of being polite, honest, and decent as a person – it’ll help establish you as the more rational and human party involved. That’s something you want to be, right?
At this point, pursuant to the topic of testing one thing at a time, you’ll want to spend a week or two seeing if the problem gets any better (or worse). Often, people aren’t happy to be confronted about their behavior, but once they are, they’ll change their actions to be socially compliant to the point that you don’t require follow-up conversations.
This would be another winning scenario – and after any winning scenario, you’ll want to make sure that you touch base with this neighbor regularly– once every week or so, just to say high, wish them a happy holiday, or anything that keeps that line of communication open so that they don’t begin to regress in their behavior that upset you (and potentially others) in the first place.
Part 2: “We’ve talked about this…”
So let’s assume that the conversation didn’t go as well as you thought it would, and that the behavior in question has not gotten any better (or perhaps it’s become worse). This is the time for a follow up conversation with the person to make sure that they understand where you’re coming from, and that they didn’t misunderstand you from last time.
The purpose of this conversation is to establish that you’re still rational, but still rationally unhappy with the way that things are going in some capacity and that you’d like them to change. The goal of this exchange is to get them to agree to modify their actions or behavior in a way that establishes accountability.
Re-approach in the same manner that you had before – knocking on their door, walking up to them when they’re outside, etc. The conversation will be similar to before, except you’ll be referencing your previous dialogues about this topic.
After greeting your neighbor and talking for a few moments about a topic not related to your problem, say something like, “Bob, I know I’d mentioned before about how driving speed in our cul-de-sac is a cause of concern for me – and I assumed that we were on the same page about it, but I couldn’t help but notice that you’re still driving rather aggressively around here. I don’t know, am I wrong about that? Is that unfair of me to say?” If they take the route that you’re hoping for, they’ll apologize, and the conversation can continue in a more positive way, where you say something like, “I’m glad we talked about this – I wanted to make sure that we were understanding each other, because I feel like sometimes people don’t take the time to talk about things, and we’re neighbors, so we should be able to talk about things like this. So we understand each other?”
If they agree, be happy and move to another topic and assume that the problem has gone away until they prove otherwise (and they might.)
If, however, they go on the defensive, allow them to talk until there is a pause in the conversation long enough for you to speak without interrupting (again, try to be a peacemaker, here). Say something like, “It sounds like you disagree with what I’m saying. I’m not trying to be unreasonable – and I don’t think you’re an unreasonable person either. All I’m asking for is that you drive more slowly in the cul-de-sac – and if I was doing something that caused you concern, I would expect that, as neighbors, you would approach me about it like this – talking about it, and trying to come to some understanding and solution. Am I being unreasonable, asking for you to drive more slowly around here?”
Wait for a response, and allow them to talk. Many times, people who are put on the defensive will talk and talk and talk, seeking to interrupt the person who has confronted them. Your job is to keep your cool, and to not push any harder than you are at the moment. If they agree to change or to try to change, that’s great. You’ll be using this as leverage later on. If they do not, abandon the conversation as positively as possible, and move to step four.
Part 3: “You agreed…”
If the person in question, after a follow up conversation, still has not improved their behavior though they indicated to you that a change was imminent, it is time for one final conversation before escalating things to a level that neither of you want. Re-approach the house and greet the person just as pleasantly as you have before, and keep the conversation simple.
Say something like “Bob, a week ago we agreed that you were going to be slowing down your driving around here, but I don’t see that taking place. Was there a misunderstanding, or do we still need to talk about what’s going on here?” This is slightly more aggressive than you’ve been in the past, but at this point the person in question has not changed their behavior so it’s important to establish that you’re not going to simply let this problem annoy you forever.
Let them talk, then say “When I originally started mentioning this problem to you, it was because it frustrated me and concerned me, and I don’t feel like you’re taking me or this situation seriously. I don’t want there to be any hard feelings between the two of us, but
unless I see a real change here, I’m going to have a hard time not getting others involved in this.” Be cordial, but be firm. This neighbor has assumed up to this point that you would be a push over and that you would eventually give up to avoid an uncomfortable situation. Try, as always, to end the conversation in the most polite and positive way that you can, but do not give in to letting them pick a verbal fight. Continue to be the more rational party and walk away with your head high.
Part 4: “If it happens again, I’m going to call the police.”
If, to this point, none of these strategies have gotten you any joy, you need to issue one final warning before getting others involved. If you observe this activity or behavior again, confront the person at the soonest possible time. Let them know, in no uncertain terms, that what they are doing is making you unhappy, and that if you witness it again, you will call the police.
This is the time to be firm – and you have to be comfortable with the fact that this neighbor at this point may never like you again, but it’s better to have the problem resolved and an upset neighbor than living in frustration for the rest of your days at this house. Threatening to call the police, or threatening to get the homeowner’s association involved, might solve the problem. The person may not find you intimidating but the reprisal or punishment from a group of people is often what it takes to get troublemaker neighbors to stop causing problems.
Part 5: Call the Police / HOA / Municipal Government
This step takes a lot of courage, but you need to get the authorities involved. Let them know what’s been going on, and tell them what you’ve done to try to fix the problem before getting them involved. Sometimes these agencies look at people who call in with issues as people who can’t resolve their own dilemmas, but if you take the time to tell them how you tried to deal with it, you will be seen as the more rational party, and not as a ‘tattletale’. You will most likely be asked to provide a statement.
When you are asked for this, either surrender copies of the notes that you have been taking, or verbally tell them what’s going on. There is no shame in this step, and it’s important to make sure that the other party that you’re talking about (the person causing problems) sees that you actually do find this behavior as a problem and that you’re willing to take action above talking just to correct it.
Find out what the next steps are – in many cases you’ll find out that what the person is doing isn’t technically illegal or a problem until you report it, and that there might be some court time involved in trying to take official action against the person. Agree to whatever options you are given, as strict as possible. It might not seem like a big enough deal to warrant court action over it, but for now, agree to whatever the authorities deem as required and thank them for your help. Try to find out if this is the first time that the person has had a complaint filed against them for this reason.
Part 6: Another Conversation
At this point, the difficult neighbor has been confronted by someone other than you about what they are doing to frustrate you. They have seen that you are willing to do what it takes to resolve the problem, and they should see now that if they had just taken you up on your friendly requests to ‘stop it’ they wouldn’t have been paid a visit by someone else other than you.
Now is the time to talk to them again and see if there’s any way that you can come to an understanding that doesn’t involve further action. If they’re not willing or interested in talking to you, then just allow the justice system to sort it out and rest assured that your detailed notes and records of the problem as well as the testimony of others in the area will prove you the victor. If this person is willing to talk, re-approach them, but not as friendly as you have been in the past.
Say something like “Bob, I’m sorry that I had to call the authorities to discuss the problem that we’ve been having, but I don’t feel that you left me with much choice. I talked to you about this numerous times, and nothing changed. I didn’t know what else to do. Now, I certainly don’t want to clog up the legal system with a problem that can be solved off the grid by two mature adults coming to an understanding, but I don’t want to find someday
that the problem hasn’t actually been fixed, either.”
Let them talk. This is their final chance to make things right, to apologize, and to resolve the issue of their own accord. If they agree to change and are sincere in their apology, you should offer to dismiss the complaint with the understanding that it won’t happen again. That’s a win. If they don’t offer a clean exit, then leave it up to the authorities, as previously mentioned.
There are certain things involved in determining the severity of a problem that you should consider. If this problem threatens the well-being of children, you should fast-track the solution and be firm. There could be lives at stake! If, however, the problem is something that only bothers you, or the person’s specific situation is something that you find to be one of hardship (recent divorce, death, poverty, etc), taking a more compassionate route throughout is recommended.
Sometimes people feel so isolated today that they respond really well to someone just reaching out. For instance, if someone has a big pile of trash off their back porch, and you want it cleaned up, but you also know that the family has been struggling financially and the parents of the family have had to work multiple jobs to stay afloat, offer to help! Establishing lines of trust and support do more to create community than looking at an issue as a problem right away.
In any case, make sure that you approach the situation with as much empathy for the other party as you can, because the problem might just be a lack of empathy on their end. Creating a terrible racket after midnight on a school night indicates a lack of empathy for your neighbors, and treating them like human beings though they are in the wrong will show them that you respect them as people, and inspire a willingness to change, hopefully.
Whichever exit is the one you end up with, understand that there is only so much that you can do to solve the problem, and that difficult neighbors are something that people have struggled with as long as the concept of ‘neighbors’ has existed. You’re not the first person to have problems with people that live nearby, and there is an old saying that suggests that good fences make for good neighbors.
Still, there isn’t any reason why you can’t live in your own house without disturbance or endangerment – and the path to getting there, if you’re not there already, is to start with words, and then move to actions. Don’t consider moving away from your home just because someone is making your life difficult. You have a right to live as undisturbed as possible, free of danger from others, and get a good night’s sleep every once in a while.
Sometimes it takes a little effort with those around you to get to that point, but it is a path worth taking and will inspire self-confidence when you come to a solution that makes everyone happy.
Thank you for reading this article about how to deal with difficult neighbors and I really hope that you take action my advice. I wish you good luck and I hope its contents have been a good help to you.