Bad Fences, Bad Neighbors
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Mr. Rogers sang “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” and asked “won’t you be my neighbor?” Unfortunately, we rarely get to pick who lives next door. If such a selection process were possible, there would indeed be something to sing about and fewer movies.
Much had been said, written and aired about neighbors. In a 1989 movie, “The’burbs,” new neighbors create a nightmare for Tom Hanks. “The Neighbor” (1993) features a dangerous psychopath whose pregnant neighbor reminds him of his dead mother.
In “The New Neighbor” (1953), a man moves into a new home to discover his neighbor is a slob and a mooch and has a dog that digs up gardens. Eventually, their conflict escalates into full-scale war with cheering crowds and television coverage. And who can forget Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau as battling neighbors in the “Grumpy Old Men” movies.
But that’s the movies, and nothing like reality. Right? If you said “yes,” you must live a long way from anyone else. Anyone who has owned a home for just a few months has a story to tell about the neighbors.
My parents once had a neighbor who owned a racing car – a dragster to be precise. He tinkered with it when he got home after work, and just about bedtime he tested the engine- over and over. That car would shake pictures off the wall.
Cars are frequently points of conflict among neighbors. I know my neighbors were unhappy many times when my younger son gunned his engine, especially at inappropriate times. I apologize again.
Unruly children, barking dogs, wild parties, loud vehicles, litter, blocked views, parked cars. The points of conflict are numerous.
“I have a very bad neighbor problem,” complains a homeowner on the Internet. “I live next door to Freddie Kruger. He is seven years old, throws rocks at us and cusses us all the time. My mother told his mother to make (him) stop, and she cussed my mother out.”
Some of you may have seen the website posted by the Georgia homeowner unhappy over the antics of his unconventional neighbor. You can view all the gory details and some photos at “Redneck Neighbor.”
The antics described on the website involve businesspeople who drive nice cars and live in new homes in a nice neighborhood. Unfortunately, one of them apparently doesn’t care too much about homeownership. The conflict began in 1997 and includes the neighbor’s “midnight requisition” of building materials from the home being built next door. The hot bricks were used to enclose the mail box at the street and to line a flower bed.
In the months that followed, JD #8, short for John Doe No. 8, the pseudonym given the subject of the website, builds a chicken wire fence. First it encloses a Rottweiler trying to get in the Guinness Book of Records for most nights of continuous barking. Later, the fence encloses chickens and geese. The pigs come later.
When the neighbor-from-hell buys a new lawnmower, he can’t wait to cut his lawn. Much to the chagrin of those who live nearby, he does the first cut at midnight. When the neighbors complain, he explains that he was just taking it for a test run.
Taking photos of your neighbors and posting them of a website may not be a good idea. In some states that might constitute stalking.
The problem with neighborhoods is that we really aren’t neighborly at all. How many of the people on your street do you know? I don’t mean just their names but where they work, the names of their children, their hobbies. Knowing, who is old, sick or having trouble might explain the “strange” behavior you observe.
So how do you deal with bad neighbors? When problems arise, try talking. One irate homeowner on the Internet was contracting lawyers because he believed his neighbor was putting up a fence in the wrong place. But he had never talk to the fence builder.
If neighbors are noisy, try asking them to tone it down. In their enthusiasm over their new lawnmower, they may not realize that the neighbors had turned in before midnight. Some Aggies on my street will go to the neighbors before throwing a party and tell them to let them know if they get too loud.
Be calm. Shouting and yelling accomplish little except perhaps to get other neighbors shouting and yelling. Hostility usually breeds more hostility.
Consider the possibility that you are the problem. In that case, an apology might defuse the situation. Try a peace offering. If you raise vegetables or flowers, share them with the neighbor. Even if you are not at fault, it can’t hurt to try a lets-start-over compromise.
When the nice person approach fails, you can always play the lawyer trump card. But when police have returned to the station, the courts have had their say, and your lawyer is vacationing in Tahiti, you will still be living near the same neighbor.
Which brings us to the final solution. Move. Of course, with moving you run the risk of getting new neighbors who make you long for the old neighborhood.
For the record, I have wonderful neighbors.
Contributed by David S. Jones, reprinted with permission by the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.