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How to deal with nuisance neighbors

By Amanda Hinnant,
Consider having the property surveyed if your neighbor is concerned about boundaries.
Consider having the property surveyed if your neighbor is concerned about boundaries.
  • If you can't bring yourself to talk in person, write a letter or leave a note
  • For out-of-control lawns, let your neighborhood association deal with it
  • If your neighbor is just plain weird, call ahead and pick a time to talk on neutral ground

( -- Here are some no-fail strategies for handling eight types of annoying Joneses next door.

Inconsiderate behavior:

The careless dog owner
Lets her pooch out to prowl freely -- and dig up your lawn, howl at the moon, and sift through your trash.

How to deal: Skip the blame game, says Stephanie Shain, director of outreach programs for companion animals at the Humane Society of the United States, in Washington, D.C.

"Your neighbor will probably feel embarrassed and defensive, so be honest," she says. "Let her know this is uncomfortable for you to bring up, too." Focus on the animal's behavior -- not the owner's. Explain that you're concerned about the dog's welfare and that you want a peaceful neighborhood and unsullied gardens. Then try to come to a solution together.

If you can't bring yourself to talk in person, write a letter, says Shain. If nothing changes after a reasonable period, contact local law-enforcement officials and your animal-control agency and find out about noise ordinances and leash laws. How to disagree agreeably

The taker
Drops the kids off at noon and returns at nightfall; borrows the lawn mower and never returns it.

How to deal: If you always agree to do things for her, she might be oblivious to the offense. Whenever you offer to help, make clear up front what you are willing to do, says Jane Adams, Ph.D., a psychologist in Seattle and the author of "Boundary Issues: Using Boundary Intelligence to Get the Intimacy You Want and the Independence You Need in Life, Love, and Work" ($25,

Say, "Sure, I can watch your child for half an hour. Then I'll run out and you can watch mine"; or "Yeah, you can borrow the lawn mower for the afternoon, but I'll need it to cut my grass tomorrow." Women who don't work outside the home can be prime targets for time-consuming requests because others assume they are free all day, says Adams. So have an excuse ready to go: "I'm busy until 5 p.m." says it all. Knowing your rights when things go wrong

Boundary Issues:

The property-line fanatic
Hounds you because he thinks the fence, lawn, or tree between your properties is your responsibility.

How to deal: "Say, 'I'd be happy to discuss the fence/lawn/tree and figure out what will work for both of us,'" suggests Emily Doskow, an attorney in Berkeley, California, and the editor of "Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise." Walk the property line together to determine what belongs to whom.

After the chat, if the neighbor still insists something is yours that isn't, then write a letter. It makes your views clear, lets the neighbor know you're taking the situation seriously, and serves as a paper trail if things get ugly and go to court.

Consider having the property surveyed, which should resolve any questions about property lines. (And a survey could nip the problem in the bud, since the person who wants something to happen usually pays. Says Doskow, "The cost can vary anywhere from $300 to $1,500, depending on where you live and how complicated the survey is.")

In a more conflicted situation, "both parties have an interest in having the information about the property line, so sharing the cost seems fair," says Doskow.

Suggest mediation if you still can't agree. "Say, 'Let's fix this so we can still have a good relationship,'" says Rita Callahan, a mediator in Atlanta and New York City.

The helper
Bakes you muffins, wants to help you in the garden -- acts as if you're closer than you care to be.

How to deal: Try to be gentle. This person is usually good-hearted. Adams suggests saying, "I appreciate everything you do for me, but I feel bad that I can't reciprocate." If it's chores he's taking on, use someone else as an excuse: "I appreciate your help mowing my lawn, but it's my daughter's job, and she needs to know that she has responsibilities" or "My husband likes to do it, since that's his alone time." There is always the old faithful (but difficult to muster) "No, thank you." What's the worst that could happen?

Intrusive behavior:

The do-gooder
Constantly asks you to sign a petition or join a cause. Unfortunately, the only free time you have to save the world is between 9:17 p.m. and 9:20 p.m.

How to deal: "Only do it if you feel like it," says Emily Yoffe, the author of's Dear Prudence advice column. If you don't, just say, "I wish I could, but I can't. Thanks for asking."

Tell your neighbor that you're committed to volunteering time and money for other projects and that you've already budgeted for the year, says Samantha von Sperling, director of Polished Social Image Consultants, in New York City. Don't forget: She's full of good intentions -- she just acts on them.

The slob

Lets the grass grow and grow. Puts trash out days in advance. His lawn looks as if it's ready for a tag sale.

How to deal: If you live in a neighborhood governed by an association, let it handle the problems.

"Many have standardized letters and enforcement mechanisms that you don't," says Frank Rathbun, vice president of communication for theCommunity Associations Institute. If a neighbor's grass needs to be cut, approach him with the possibility of getting in on a deal for a service that mows multiple lawns, suggests Julie Basic, president of the Johnson Village Neighborhood Association, in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Say what worries you about the grass length (other than appearance), such as "I'm concerned because the long grass could be harboring ticks."

One way to find out whether the owner actually cares about a mess is to ask, "Any idea when this problem might be solved?" says Greg Hartley, a former army interrogator and the author of "I Can Read You Like a Book: How to Spot the Messages and Emotions People Are Really Sending With Their Body Language." "If they're going to fix it, they'll tell you when," he says. "If they have no intention, they may get explosive." Easy ways to exit awkward situations

Rude behavior:

The extreme weirdo
Leaves the sprinkler on for days at a time, swears at the soil, talks to himself, and hisses at cats. Even though you joke about your "psycho" neighbor, he makes you feel downright uneasy (incidentally, your cat feels the same way).

How to deal: Tread carefully. "You never know if someone is going to be rational or irrational," says Lyn Sweeney, a retired police sergeant who worked in the Jacksonville, Florida, sheriff's office for 30 years.

If a neighbor seems volatile, it's probably best to call ahead and pick a time to talk. And when initiating a conversation about a problem, make sure you stand on neutral ground, literally. You don't want to appear to be the aggressor, and your presence in his doorway could be construed as threatening. Try meeting on the sidewalk or with each neighbor standing in his or her own yard. Finally, don't try to reason with inebriated folks, says Sweeney: "You can't argue with a drunk."

The racket maker
Blasts music all night; weed-whacks at dawn.

How to deal: First make sure it's not merely a once-in-a-lifetime event. If the person is hosting a wedding reception, for instance, it probably won't happen again. If noise is a chronic problem, stop by or send a note.

You can always find out whether other neighbors have the same problem and see what the noise ordinances are in your area. Relay this information, then offer a solution. If the noise continues, you may want to make an anonymous call to the police.

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