Dealing with nasty neighbors

Dealing with nasty neighbors

Playwright Jean Paul Sartre concluded that true Hell was being
stuck with other people. Maybe he lived near some really nasty
neighbors.
From blaring stereos and barking dogs to stealing newspapers,
disrespecting property lines and peering into other people’s
windows, some neighbors really do seem like they’re from hell.
That, or they’re just oblivious.
Playwright Jean Paul Sartre concluded that true Hell was being stuck with other people. Maybe he lived near some really nasty neighbors.

From blaring stereos and barking dogs to stealing newspapers, disrespecting property lines and peering into other people’s windows, some neighbors really do seem like they’re from hell. That, or they’re just oblivious.

Most neighborhood turf battles, some of which wind up in all-out diabolical acts such as the real-life examples of neighbors who hid dog excrement in the other person’s car or poisoned their plants, start simple, with a perceived injustice or slight.

“Most neighbors are really upset with each other because something happened, and the fence, the barking dog, the overgrown tree are all just substitutes,” said Viola Alvarez, supervising mediator for Santa Clara County’s Community Dispute Resolution program, a free mediation program for residents. “I think it’s a perception on one’s part of the other’s behavior.”

As an example, Alvarez offered up the story of one county resident who called to complain that her neighbor consistently spied on her, peering into her windows each morning across the stretch of lawn that separated their two homes. When Alvarez spoke to the supposed offender, she discovered that the woman had recently remodeled her kitchen, and the sink was now located directly under the window she supposedly spied from.

“She was just washing her dishes and staring off into space,” said Alvarez. “But it’s a perception. Someone might wave hi to a neighbor, and they don’t see it, or they don’t wave back, and the person thinks they’re mad or aloof. I’ve had people actually say stuff like, ‘Back in 1997 I waved at you, and you turned around and walked away.”

The best advice professionals offer is to start without assuming anything.

The neighbor who plays his music loudly at 2pm may not be aware that you’re a day sleeper, said Sgt. Kurt Svardal of the Gilroy Police Department.

Politely express the problem without judgment or demand, and ask what the two of you can do to come to an agreement on the issue, rather than drawing a line in the sand.

“Talk to your neighbor like an adult,” said Svardal. “But if it’s a violation of the law, it crosses the line.”

Sometimes, said Svardal, when a neighbor hasn’t responded to polite requests and police have been called on noise disturbances, the offending neighbor responds by turning the music up louder or retaliating in some other way.

These are violations that should be reported to police, if only to establish a pattern of behavior said Morgan Hill-based attorney Bruce Tichinin, a specialist in land use and real property.

Establishing a history of noisy behavior or, in the case of a boundary dispute, getting a surveyor to take measurements can save a homeowner time and argument when it comes to dealing with a problem neighbor.

If the dispute cannot be resolved through friendly communication, it’s time to step things up a notch, said Tichinin.

“Hire an attorney to advise you on what your rights and liabilities would be, then try to correspond successfully with the neighbor,” he said. “If that doesn’t work, you may have to file suit in state court.”

Arbitration or mediation is an option at this stage, but the agreements made there are non-binding, meaning they cannot be enforced in a court.

However, if a neighbor fails to abide by them, the lawsuit can still proceed.

In most cases, though, a personal message will open the door and hopefully turn on a light bulb for an offensive neighbor.

“Sometimes it’s about power, and people don’t want to budge, but one of the things to do is make yourself very human,” said Alvarez. “Use the ‘I’ message. Their tree is overgrown into your yard, so say, ‘I’m 80 years old, and I can’t exactly trim the tree on my own. I also have trouble going and picking up all the fruit that falls in my yard. If you’d like to come over, I can show you how far overgrown it is. What can we do to resolve this problem?'”

Money can also be an issue for a neighbor, so if funds are available and you really want to get something taken care of, offer to split the cost, said Alvarez.

Not only will you make the point to your neighbor that his or her unsightly issue is offensive, you’ll express just how much you’re willing to do in getting rid of it.

Self-resolution is the best option if it’s possible, experts agree.

As Tichinin said, “Unfortunately, the sad truth about most intense disputes between neighbors is that the only final resolution is when one of the parties moves away.”

Maybe, in some extreme cases, it’s time to bust out the packing tape.

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