Here's How Experts Recommend Dealing With a Terrible Neighbor

Jul 19, 2018 at 12:00 p.m. ET
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Image: Commonthings/Getty Images. Design: Kenzie Mastroe/SheKnows.

We’ve all had them: Neighbors who drove us up the wall. Maybe their kids run around screaming like banshees all day. Maybe their less-than-perfect canine is constantly off-leash. Maybe their music is blasting late into the evening. Or hell, maybe they’re even being directly aggressive, trimming plants on your shared property boundaries and sending you a bill.

The last thing you want is to feel uncomfortable and agitated in your own home. So, what can you do about a terrible neighbor? We talked to two experts find out.

Give them the benefit of the doubt & wait until you’re not feeling heated

When your neighbor is being frustrating or impolite, it can feel like they’re going out of their way to make your life harder. But often, they don’t realize they’re being a nuisance. “Especially when we’re in our own living spaces, there tends to be a really familiar, comfortable place, and people let their hair down so to speak,” licensed psychologist Kate Balestrieri tells SheKnows. It’s also important to wait until you’re not feeling supercharged about the issue. “It makes it a much easier and kinder conversation to have,” Balestrieri confirms.

Talk to them in person

We seem to know our neighbors less and less, but face-to-face interactions still tend to play out better than letters or emails. “I’m a big proponent of knocking on someone’s door and introducing yourself as a neighbor,” Balestrieri suggests, because it tends to create familiarity, intimacy and connection. These are the traits that make rough conversations more palatable. “I’ll grab a bottle of wine or a bag of cookies and say, ‘Hey, we haven’t met before. I’m your neighbor downstairs. Not sure if you’re aware of how loud your shoes are on the floor. I’ve been an upstairs neighbor too, and it drives me crazy to take off my heels. How about we crack a bottle and laugh about it and figure out a way to find a solution?’”

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Use the “sandwich” to make criticism less hurtful

You’ve heard the old advice for giving criticism in which you say something positive, then the critique, then another positive comment, right? The same thing helps with neighbors. “Start off with something positive but then also state a need that you have,” therapist Dr. Alisha Powell tells SheKnows.

Find common ground

Struggling with the sandwich technique? Another way to approach the situation is to try to find something you have in common. “If you notice that they have similar hobbies to you or if you notice that they have a similar car model,” Powell gives as examples, “it’s always good to point out similarities.” It’s helpful for your neighbor, and it’s also helpful in setting the tone of your interaction. “If you go into the situation thinking that this person is the same as me… then you’ll come off as less criticizing, and that’s also going to be less likely to put them on the defensive.”

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Consider that their actions have nothing to do with you

If you have a real pain-in-the-neck neighbor who seems to be antagonizing you on purpose, consider that their actions aren’t really about you. Especially if you’ve had a relationship in the past, there might be something else going on. There could have been a death in the family, someone could have lost their jobs, they could be super-stressed out or any number of things, Powell says. “It’s good to kind of strike up a conversation and say, 'Hey I haven’t seen you in a while. I just wanted to check in with you… I noticed this and this has been going on, but I also want to make sure that if you need anything, I’m here.'”

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Know your local laws & policies

If the personal approach doesn’t work, and your neighbor continues to cause problems, take a look at local laws and also any policies that are part of your apartment or homeowner association’s contract. If your neighbor’s behavior is breaking laws, particularly if it’s making you feel unsafe or threatened, it may be time to consider legal action, Powell says.

Document the behavior

“Create a system of documentations so should things escalate to an unsafe space, you have a documented pattern of behavior and what you’ve said or done to try to ameliorate the situation,” Balestrieri says. You may want to speak with other neighbors too. There can be power in numbers, and a letter from the community might be more effective than a conversation with a single person, Powell adds.

Take it up the chain of command

If your neighbor isn’t responsive to your initial approach or if you don’t feel comfortable approaching your neighbor, it might be time to involve your homeowner’s association or apartment management. Ask what they can do to help you get some peace with your neighbor. “Find out what your options are,” Balestrieri says.

If laws are being broken or you feel unsafe, contacting law enforcement may be more appropriate. “I think the personal approach is always good as a first try; however, if it doesn’t work, then it definitely needs to escalate to sometimes even law enforcement, honestly, if it’s to the point of harassment,” Powell says.

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