You can live in the home of your dreams in a quiet, picturesque town, but if you live next door to nasty neighbors, it can become a nightmare.
Whether it’s late-night partiers, the property line disputer, the bad pet owner or the hoarding neighbor whose yard resembles a junkyard—no one really is immune from the pain of a problem neighbor.
In fact, about 30 percent of Americans have moved, or considered moving, because their neighbors were too loud, according to a SpareFoot survey conducted for National Moving Day.
The Case of the Dead Chickens
Debbie Smith of Brunswick, GA, knows this pain all too well.
“We had a whack-a-doodle neighbor,” Smith said, recalling the time when the neighbor bought a flock of “free-range” chickens, which meant they ran free in everybody else’s yard but that neighbor’s. Smith’s dog killed two that roamed into her yard.
The neighbor retaliated by placing dead, rotting chickens along Smith’s driveway so she and her husband would smell the reeking stench in the hot summer months.
“These neighbors also would get drunk and stay out on the porch and scream and threaten each other,” Smith said.
To make matters worse, the neighbor would let her young son roam alone outside at 4 a.m. in areas where there were copperheads and rattlesnakes. In another instance, she called the cops claiming that Smith’s husband was trying to run her over with a push mower.
“You had to tread lightly because every time you turned around she was calling the cops,” Smith said. “We finally put up a privacy fence over the chain link fence to wall her off.”
The Smiths also installed a video camera in case they were accused of any wrongdoing. The nightmare finally ended when the nasty neighbors moved.
“Don’t You Laugh At Me!”
Stephen Frost recalls living with his father in Exeter in the UK and dealing with their crazy next-door neighbors.
“They would routinely come to the door convinced that I was laughing at them through the walls when in fact I was either laughing with friends or watching TV,” Frost said. “They often called the police around 3 a.m. with complaints of loud music, when none had been played.”
They would spit on Frost’s car and scream obscenities. Frost finally moved out to escape the bizarre antics.
Dealing With Problem Neighbors
While these might be extremes, here are seven tips for dealing with problem neighbors:
- Get to know your neighbors. You don’t necessarily have to become best friends, but knowing the names of people in your neighborhood and offering a friendly greeting can go a long way in building trust. According to Trulia’s Neighbor Survey, one in two Americans don’t even know their neighbors’ names. However interestingly enough, it also showed that more than two in three who do know their neighbors generally like them.
- Communicate. If you do have an issue, don’t discuss it when you’re fuming by yelling across the yard about a barking dog or marching over during a loud, late-night party. Call ahead and set up a time to talk when you are calmer.
- Don’t accuse. Share what’s bugging you and don’t assume they know what the issue is. Talk it out. Try to suggest ways to resolve it together or find ways to compromise.
- Research local laws. You might need to research local ordinances and regulations on things like curfews, trash and noise, so you can cite them to your annoying neighbors. This information is available online or at your local library or city hall.
- Proceed carefully, slowly. If a polite conversation doesn’t provide results, find the next “minimal” step you can take toward resolution, recommended Bob Borzotta, author of Neighbors From Hell: Managing Today’s Brand of Conflict Close to Home, in a Trulia article. Possibly find a manager, landlord or homeowner association that can intervene on your behalf, he suggested. Also, look for other organizations that can offer help like neighborhood associations, animal control, sanitation, the city or police.
- Keep a record of your neighbor’s offenses. Document the incidents with dates, times and photos/videos if necessary, which will help if you end up seeking outside help.
- Seek the advice of an expert mediator or a lawyer. File a complaint in court as a last resort.
Choose Your Neighbors Carefully
Better yet, if you don’t want to end up with a nightmare neighbor, how do you spot red flags BEFORE buying a house?
“I know buyers who refused to buy a home because of the neighbor,” said Elizabeth Weintraub, broker associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, Calif. “One of my agents was doing a home inspection and her clients were from India and wearing turbans. The next-door neighbor came out screaming and yelling about ‘towel heads,’ and he would make their lives miserable if they moved in. Needless to say, they did not buy that home.”
- Drive the neighborhood. “Be proactive. I always advise a buyer to drive through the area at night and during the day,” said Paul Tharp, a Realtor at Coldwell Banker Burnet in Minneapolis. “Make sure you’re comfortable… Drive by at 9 p.m. and if you have a bunch of music blaring and cars all over the street — that could be a problem.”
- Walk the neighborhood, ask questions. “I’ve gone and knocked on doors with my clients before and asked, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about writing an offer on the house, what do you think about the neighborhood?” Tharp said. “It’s only a five-minute interaction, but you still get a pretty good idea right upfront if the neighbors are going to be very easy to live next door to or very difficult.”
Weintraub agrees that’s a good idea. “The thing about neighbors is they have a tendency to tell you absolutely everything,” she said. “Even if it’s just hearsay, they’re going to blurt it out. It’s human nature… I always ask them, ‘What do you think of the other neighbors?’ If there’s a feud going on, you want to know about.”
- Check out yards. Look for neighbors who leave junk and toys in their yards or do not mow their lawns. You can even take a cyberspace tour on Google Street View to check out nearby backyards and empty lots.
- Check out whether homes are maintained. “Buyers aren’t that observant when out looking at homes,” Weintraub said. “They don’t really notice the neighbors unless they happen to really stand out – like their entire home needs painting and their roof is falling to pieces. That might get their attention, but maybe not. They’re more focused on buying a home.”
- Look for other warning signs. “I had a listing where the next-door-neighbor always had at least one car they were working on,” Tharp said. “It’s an eyesore. Your neighbors can affect your resale value.”