Many neighbour disputes end up in court because of poor communication. If something is happening that is dangerous or illegal, the police is the obvious answer. But if problems arise that are a bit more gray, communication is the best way to save money and hassle. Here is the best way to be a good neighbour and deal with a bad one.
- Get to know each other. Being a good neighbour does not mean taking family vacations together. Just knowing them well enough to say hi, or maybe borrowing a cup of sugar or loaning a gardening tool, can build trust and understanding. Issues are much more likely to escalate among strangers than even casual acquaintances.
- Head off problems before they are problems. If you are throwing a party at your place, go to all neighbours who might be affected and offer them two things: a verbal invitation to the party and a card with your phone number. If the noise escalates or there is another problem, your neighbour can call you instead of the police.
- Document the problem. When an issue comes up, start keeping notes – times, dates, and photos if necessary. This can help in three ways. First, it helps you evaluate the seriousness of the problem: Looking at it on paper, you may realize it is not as big a deal or you might see a solution. Second, you have info to back you up when you explain the situation to your neighbour. And finally, if push comes to shove, good record-keeping can show authorities you are serious and organized, not emotional and whiny.
- Talk it out. Tell your neighbour what is bothering you – do not assume they know what the problem is. Be open and direct, not passive-aggressive. Ask for their input, and wherever possible, propose a solution that splits the difference and demonstrates a willingness to compromise. Stay cool and positive, even if they are not.
- Check with other neighbours. See if anybody else on the block is having similar issues – they may be willing to help resolve it. If one of the neighbours is closer to the troublemaker, have them come with you when you talk it out.
- See if anyone else will side with you. If talking does not work, try getting more help. If you are part of a condo or homeowner’s association, speak with them about the problem and see if they can resolve it more easily and cheaply than you can.
- Talk to a lawyer. If you have tried everything, you can consult a lawyer and have them write a letter threatening legal action. Warning: This can not only cost a few hundred euros, but it may also throw gas on the fire. Make it a last resort.
- Get a mediator. A neutral third party experienced in settling disputes may succeed where you cannot, although it can only work if your neighbour is willing to talk. It is a lot cheaper than going to court, though – in some cases, it may even be free. Look up a nearby mediation program on the Internet.
- Write and report. If you suspect your neighbour is violating city ordinances, do a little research, write it up, and submit it to the proper authorities. You can look up municipal law, and you can learn all about code enforcement on your city’s website. If your neighbourly dispute involves code violations, the city might solve your problem for you. But do not try to anonymously report code violations on your neighbour. Not only does the neighbour usually figure out who “snitched” anyway, but they may resent you for being a passive-aggressive busybody, which can make future situations trickier. Remember you still have to live next to these people.
- Call the police. If you have acted in good faith with no success, involving the police is the next step. You can explain the situation and show how you have tried to work it out and kept notes, but realize they probably cannot do much unless a law or ordinance is being broken. This is for things like excessive noise and illegal activity, not a tree limb hanging into your yard. Nonetheless, a police presence might show your neighbour that you are not going to let the problem go.
- Take it to small claims court. This is much cheaper than a bigger lawsuit because you can represent yourself. But you must do your homework – you need to lay out the problem, provide evidence, and come up with a reasonable damage estimate that you can justify when questioned. Damages are usually capped at a few thousand dollars, although the amount varies by state. And do not be Judge Judy material: no exaggerations, no pettiness.
Bottom line? As with any relationship, being a good neighbour – or dealing with a bad one – is all about communication.
Source : Reader’s Digest