How to Be a Good Neighbor

“Love thy neighbor.” It’s fantastic advice, but sometimes it’s easier said than done; after all, it’s not like you get to choose who lives next door.

At one point or another, nearly everybody has had noisy neighbors, perhaps even neighbors who periodically brought an unwanted police presence into the neighborhood. Heck, in some people’s college years, they were those difficult neighbors.

However, it’s important to remember that being a bad neighbor back to them is not the answer, and in some cases can even turn into your own legal trouble.

If you want to avoid police contact, and therefore the court system, and the bail bonds process, and other extremes that can come from prolonged negative interactions between neighbors, the following are handy tips for resolving conflicts
and more importantly, preventing conflicts.

Things You Should Be Doing (If You Aren’t Already)

There are certain guidelines that everybody should follow that go beyond the realm of common courtesy. As such, they can be easy to forget, but here are a few important “good neighbor” behaviors:

  • Get to know your neighbors. Community programs like neighborhood watch groups can increase the safety and vigilance of a neighborhood, while events like annual block parties can be a great way to come together and find common ground.
  • Think about how you’re affecting your neighbors. Do you play a lot of loud music or stuff like that?
  • Be sure to investigate any covenants or Homeowners’ Association guidelines before you build, demolish, or do any remodeling to your property.
  • If there are issues, look into community resources. Many cities have private as well as government-sponsored organizations that can help with everything from financing a home improvement project to offering services like conflict resolution.
  • Understand your exact property lines–where they begin and end. Your rights end where your property does.
  • Communicate with neighbors; if you want to have a party, let them know about it and have them call you and not the police if things are noisy or a little out of hand.
  • Deal with potential problems before they reach a boiling point. If some new neighbors have a loud party their first week in the neighborhood, it’s a good practice to make a friendly suggestion the next day–“Hey, that was a little loud last night. Sounded like a good time, but in the future could you tone it down a little on weeknights?” A conversation in that vein at the right moment does a lot more than a screaming match at the wrong moment.

Things You Shouldn’t Do

  • You should never engage in heated verbal arguments with your neighbors. Anything worth saying can be said in a calm tone, free from anger. In some cases, it can be better to send emails or texts in a tense situation, because it allows people to think (and re-think) about what they want to say before it’s “sent” out into the world–conversations and arguments don’t have that luxury.
  • Don’t rush to call the police or file lawsuits; there are often more economical and efficient ways to mediate conflicts. As we mentioned, there are community resources to try before using legal action as a last resort.
  • You shouldn’t tolerate blatantly rude neighbors. Chances are if they are bothering you, they’re bothering at least one other house on the block. In many cases, someone needs to stand up to bad neighbors.
  • If you have a financial dispute with your neighbor, you shouldn’t forget about the small-claims court. Although they often have a dollar limit, if you reduce your demands slightly, you might be able to have the issue resolved in a faster fashion.
  • Don’t “go in blind”. In some cases, you’ll need legal advice. Seeking out a lawyer doesn’t mean that you have to take a case to court, or incur a gigantic legal bill. A lawyer can provide you with an understanding of your rights and responsibilities regarding your home and your neighbors.