There are many things that make someone a bad neighbor: Blasting dubstep early in the morning; demanding complete silence round the clock; encroaching on your personal time and space (no, Keith, once again, you cannot just pop in to say hi any time you like); and obviously dumping trash around the neighborhood. But whatever the external problem, as psychologist Jeanette Raymond explains, the issue with all bad neighbors is that they lack boundaries. They care more about the things they want than whatever the people living around them want, which makes dealing with them virtually impossible. She does have a few suggestions, though, so if you’ve got yourself some bad neighborinos, take note.
How do I even approach my bad neighbor about how bad they are?
“Dealing with neighbors is like dealing with family members that you can’t get away from, and that’s why it’s so problematic to address,” Raymond explains. “First, it’s important to set boundaries, like telling them good and bad times to call.” She recommends doing this as soon as possible — as in, the moment you become neighbors — since this has the potential to curtail any problems before they even become problems. See, good neighbors are still capable of doing annoying things, but they’ll most likely make some changes when they learn how those things are negatively affecting you.
To that end, when dealing with the types who aren’t outright sociopathic but rather a grind-you-down nuisance — say, the overly friendly dude who keeps dropping by unannounced, or that old lady who complains that your yard work wakes her up (even though it’s two in the afternoon) — this conversation should be focused on your own needs. For example, tell Mr. Friendly that your work schedule is extremely busy, which means you only have time for visitors on Sunday afternoons (or whatever works for you), and that he should text first in case you’ve been dragged into an unexpected conference call. Meanwhile, let that nice old lady know that, since you take care of the children in the morning and work in the evenings, you can only do yard work in the middle of the day, so she’ll just have to figure out a way to nap through it.
These neighbors might not understand how obnoxious they actually are, so helping them become aware of your hectic schedule or whatever should give them pause the next time they consider barging in or complaining. Also, talking about yourself, rather than blaming them, will hopefully prevent any hurt feelings that might make things worse.
Now, understand that you need to stay firm in these situations. If Pop-In stops by again, remind him that work is still keeping you busy, and if that old lady keeps complaining, continue telling her that this is really the only time you have for yard work, and that, man, those kids are really grinding you down. Hopefully, they’ll eventually get the picture and sympathize with you.
What about a neighbor I used to be friendly with, but then had a bad falling out?
The obvious fix here, especially since you were once friends, is to sit down and have an honest conversation where both sides apologize and make up. Of course, this is easier said than done, and doing them a favor, or bringing over some treats (read: booze), never hurts. But in some cases, neither does asking them for help during a minor crisis. Say, for example, you need someone to watch your dog while you rush your wife to the doctor, since she accidentally cut her finger. Asking your neighbors if they can help out for an hour or so might make them feel wanted, reminding them of the old times when you used to hang out more often and whatnot. Just don’t be pushy about it.
And what about your more traditional neighbors-from-hell?
These people have little interest in solving your problems, since they only really care about living how they want to live. In fact, Raymond warns that, while it’s certainly worth trying to solve the problem with communication, truly bad neighbors might react poorly to your efforts. “Talking to them about these issues makes them face the inner mess that they’re externalizing with unkempt yards, excessive noise and other similar problems,” she explains. “They’re going to feel enraged and turn on you. It’s a lot like trying to talk to unruly teenagers, who dump things everywhere, play loud music and believe it should simply be absorbed by others because they’re part of the family.” In this case, though, the family is the neighborhood.
Yeah… it seems like things just get worse when I try to call them out.
Unfortunately, this is typical bad neighbor behavior. Raymond suggests, when confronted with their problems, that bad neighbors can start to “see you as the enemy, deliberating making matters worse to feel powerful over you — to make them feel better after you’ve made them face their mess.” Again, trying to talk things through is still a step worth taking, but yeah, neighbors who respond to that in a negative fashion are legitimately bad neighbors. Which brings us to more drastic measures…
Right: As in, what the hell can I do now?
“The only way to deal with these things is to get together with other like-minded neighbors and write a notice to the bad neighbors, setting out norms for behavior, appearance of the yard and whatnot with a graduated set of consequences for not conforming to those norms,” Raymond says. (I suggest browsing the Bad Neighbors subreddit for ideas about consequences that might fit more specific issues.) “They’ll take that seriously.” The hope here is that, when the bad neighbors realize just how many people are bothered by their behavior, they’ll be forced to realize that they really are doing something wrong, and that you were right to complain all along. This is the ideal outcome, since anything else might just add fuel to the fire.
Speaking of which, while those consequences can include calling the police, the cops can only take legitimate action when dealing with things that are actually illegal, like excessive noise, dumping trash and physical altercations. This is especially important to note because some people have a habit of getting the police involved in pointless, inappropriate situations. Calling the cops should be a last resort, reserved for when something seriously wrong is happening. The police aren’t your personal bully squad, and no matter how annoying your neighbors may be, unless they’re an actual threat to the public, law enforcement doesn’t need to get involved, period.
You could report your neighbor if you suspect they’re violating some kind of city ordinance, all of which you can look up here. Sadly, though, being a total jerkhead isn’t classified as a violation. If you’re in an apartment, you could also ask the landlord to have a talk with them, but unless they’re doing something against the rules, as we already know, talking can only do so much. So you can see how these options, when nothing else worked, can continue to make things even worse.
And what if they refuse to engage with anyone and continue to be terrible?
If nothing illegal is happening, the only options left are ignoring them while praying they move out ASAP, or moving somewhere else and hoping your new neighbors aren’t as bad. Or starting a full-blown neighborhood war, where you and the other neighbors give them a taste of their own medicine.
Just be careful not to turn into bad neighbors, too.