Just a few years ago, you thought you had it all. Your career was on track, your family was happy and you upgraded to a larger house in a better neighborhood.
Now, everything's changed. Your career is hanging on, dependent on the interpretation of next month's sales figures, the family is glum at the prospect of a lean holiday season and the neighbors' teens are having 2 a.m. beer bashes. Predictably, you go next door and take all that frustration out on the neighbors.
Welcome to 21st century suburbia. If you've got annoying neighbors, join the club. Neither you nor they can afford to move away, so you're stuck with each other.
"It's a sad commentary on life right now," says Steven Green, a Boston psychotherapist and mediator. "Neighbors are feeling the pinch of the economy and they're getting on each other's nerves more and more."
With the declining real estate market, there are reports of neighbors turning on each other. "I've seen cases where a homeowner appears to be doing well with new cars in the driveway and expensive WaveRunners in the garage, then they lose their jobs or business and their home is in foreclosure," says Michael Kushner, a real estate attorney in Aliso Viejo, Calif. "The neighbors have seen their lifestyle rise and now fall and they're angry. Foreclosures take down everyone else's home values, and whereas in the past, they may have felt sorry for you, now it's 'Did you really need to lease that Hummer?' "
If the neighbors are getting restless around your villa and you're dealing with disruptive annoyances from Megadeth cranking on the stereo late at night to the guy who lets his beagle take care of business on your lawn, here are some tips to get the conflict resolved:
Take the high road, knock on the door, smile and tell them why you're there. No one relishes hearing about the misdeeds of their children, their pets or least of all themselves, so be humble. No matter how much you might hate them inside. Convince yourself you're speaking to a group of sweet old nuns.
Back it up.
If you're complaining about an incident: dog droppings, kids biking across your garden, etc., be prepared for the neighbor to be defensive. When you say, "You drove over my mailbox last night," he may very well say, "No, I didn't." So back up your charge with a photo or video if possible. But do so using a "by the way" charge. For example, "I really thought those awful kids across the street were stealing our apples, and I set up a camera to catch them, but unfortunately, I got a shot of your little Justin grabbing our Red Delicious." Show the dad the photo evidence, he'll only be able to shake his head. "I know," you say. "It's those kids across the street that made him do it."
Power in numbers.
Bad neighbors tend to create lots of enemies. If they enjoy talking loudly on the phone outside at 5 a.m. on a Sunday, see if you can get one or two other neighbors who've been rudely awakened to come with you. Again, be polite, but the message, with multiple people, can do the trick.
Call in reinforcements.
Ultimately, if the neighbor's activity is potentially dangerous it's best to get the police involved ASAP. If he or she continually squeals the tires and races down the street near where children are playing, a talking to from the law will get their attention -- with any hope. This is another instance where a video of the incident may help.
The Sit Down.
If the individual or family refuses to budge and their activity isn't criminal, you may need to take it to the next level. But be careful. "If the person you're dealing with is what I call a 'neighbor from hell,' you run a risk if you pursue litigation," says Chuck Marunde, a realtor and attorney in Port Angeles, Wash. "Even if you win, they'll find ways to make you miserable." Another option: mediation. Many communities offer no- or low-cost mediation services to settle neighbor disputes before they get to the level of a Hatfield-McCoy showoff.
Finally, if reasoning doesn't work and you don't want to pursue talking to them further, think about ignoring them. "I had a client with a bad neighbor that finally just gave up and built the highest wall the city would allow between them," says Kushner. You can add double-paned windows for noise, fence off the grass to keep the animals away; it may be pricey but it's less stressful than dealing with them in court."