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Surviving a nasty neighbor

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  • Problems with neighbors drive some people away
  • Some people post criticism on the Web
  • Expert: Communication is key to keeping reasonable
  • Says neighbor disputes No.1 reason people go to court
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By E. Bougerol
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(LifeWire) -- It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood -- except your neighbor's not exactly Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers wouldn't let his cat use the building's hallways as a litter box.

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"I never know when I'm going to step in a pile of poop," says Michael Peinovich, a Web developer whose Brooklyn, New York, building houses the feline in question. "Everybody complains, but the landlords won't get involved."

As neighborly nuisances go, the kitty seems quaint compared with Catzie Vilayphonh's Philadelphia story.

It was one thing when her neighbor kept losing her keys and getting locked out, says Vilayphonh, an editorial fashion director. But one day, Vilayphonh fell asleep without bolting her door, and awoke to the sound of metal clinking: "I found her in my apartment, wrapped in a bedsheet, looking for quarters.

"I broke my lease and moved out."

And bad neighbor stories aren't confined to apartment life. Author Bill Adler Jr.'s toddler played in the backyard of his house in Washington, D.C.'s leafy Cleveland Park neighborhood, but a neighbor's pet made the situation unsafe -- and unsanitary.

"Their dog would roam around and relieve itself," says Adler. "Our daughter was 2 years old. We didn't want to have to worry about her in our own yard."

Cybersnitching on neighbor

So what do you do when landlords won't listen and you feel like a prisoner in your own home? Brant Walker turned to the Web after he and his girlfriend settled into their new home in San Diego.

"There was this odor coming from next door," he says. "The tenants clearly knew about it because they'd try to air out the place by opening their door, which made it worse."

The problem gave Walker an idea: What if you could find out about problem neighbors before moving in? He created RottenNeighbor.com, where users can flag their local nuisances on a map -- anonymously or not -- and post complaints for the world to see.

The first post, in August, was Walker's own, but within weeks a local media outlet ran a story on the site. The next day, he woke to dozens of posts added in California. Today, RottenNeighbor.com has "about 100,000" posts worldwide, and Walker's still in shock.

"I've realized it's universal," he says. "Everybody's had a bad neighbor."

Two sides to every story

Although his site's current setup can enable a free-for-all for those looking to rant or badmouth others, Walker plans to expand RottenNeighbor.com in a few key ways, including taking the process offline with a real-world mediation service between sparring parties.

"We really want to turn this into a positive thing," he says, "to help resolve issues between neighbors and make people happier where they live."

Adler agrees that getting neighbors to appreciate each other's point of view is the most effective step to resolution -- something he and his wife learned the hard way when that dog crept into their yard. "We didn't deal very well," he says. "We made mistakes we regretted."

He figured others could learn from his mistakes, and penned the book "Outwitting Neighbors: A Practical and Entertaining Guide to Achieving Peaceful Coexistence with the People Next Door."

No matter what category your particular complaint is in -- and there are many, with noise topping the list -- Adler says nuisance neighbors fall into one of two groups: "those who are rude, brutish and just don't care, and those who are simply ignorant of your side of the story."

Adler stresses that communication is key to keeping the problem from getting downright ugly: Neighbor disputes are the No. 1 reason, in some cities and small towns, why Americans go to court, he says.

He offers these tips for coping with bad neighbors before they -- or you -- wind up before a judge (or online).

Five tips for keeping the peace

1. Know your neighbors. Upon moving in, knock on doors, introduce yourself and establish a rapport. That way, when a problem does arise, you'll both want to resolve it peacefully.

2. Bring problems up immediately. Don't delay. The longer you wait, the bigger the problem can get -- literally, in some cases (a new puppy, a tree that blocks your sunlight, an add-on to property).

3. Ask around. Most problems bother more than one neighbor. Gather support to build your case, and consider talking to the offending party as a group.

4. Be nice. Bring your neighbor cookies or a bottle of wine. It sets the stage for an amicable discussion. And if you've been confrontational, apologize. Nothing's more powerful -- and chances are, they'll apologize back.

5. Be proactive. Try to deal with conflict on your own before taking things to the next level. Unless the offense is truly egregious, reporting a neighbor to the police or another relevant agency is the wrong first move.

Baltimore is trying to give police more tools to deal with problems like noisy neighbors. The city recently passed a law that allows police to order residents to leave a property for up to one year if police determine the inhabitants are creating a "neighborhood nuisance" (such as creating excessive noise or using loud profanity) twice over a six-month period. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. E. Bougerol is a writer and editor who lives in New York City.

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