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Learning to be neighborly with difficult neighbors

John Holzhauer speaks to a neighbor at his home on September 15, 2011 in Centennial, Colorado.
John Holzhauer speaks to a neighbor at his home on September 15, 2011 in Centennial, Colorado.
John Moore/Getty Images

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The poet Robert Frost wrote that good fences make good neighbors, but sometimes there isn’t a fence high enough to prevent friction between you and your next-door neighbor. Los Angeles is one of the most densely populated urban areas in the United States, so neighborly conflict is a daily occurrence for many people who live here.

"You're going to have the issue of noise, you're going to have the issue of a tree on the other side," says Chris Welch, director of the Center for Conflict Resolution. "There have been cases where there will be people that will somehow try to intimidate the other side. You have to go underneath the root of that and figure out, 'Ok how can we help resolve this dispute.'"

Annoying neighbors can turn the solace of ‘home sweet home’ into protracted battles over things like loud parties, borrowed lawn tools, property disputes, erratic behavior, unruly children and poorly-trained pets. The list of potential social infractions by our closest neighbors can be endless, and with 7-billion people on the planet it can be hard to find your own space.

Advice Columnist and author Amy Alkon says the most important thing you can do is to set up a good rapport with your neighbor the moment they move in. That way when conflicts arise, there's already an established respect that can keep a confrontation from turning ugly.

"When somebody moves in, you can set things up, bring your neighbor a plate of cookies, a bottle of wine, this is a small cost on your part," she said. "It's very, very important because... this is unregulated pubic space that we're talking about."

Unless a neighbor is violating city ordinances or laws, calling in authorities won't help fix the problem. In fact, it can make it worse. Alkon suggests writing a friendly and empathetic note to the neighbor to inform them of the issue instead of a face-to-face confrontation. She says that people tend to react defensively in these kinds of situations.

If the problem persists past the initial notification or the neighbor is not responsive to outreach, the next move may be to seek third-party help from a moderator or a landlord.

"Where we come into play a lot of times is when the cases have already gotten to that point of they've gone through the steps of the initial communication to the point where they're potentially in small claims court," said Welch.


Since we’re all in this thing together, how do we be neighborly about living side-by-side? Do you have challenging neighbors? How do you deal with them?


Amy Alkon, advice columnist and author of "I see Rude People: One woman's battle to beat some manners into impolite society."

Chris Welch, director of the Center for Conflict Resolution, a nonprofit mediation organization based in Reseda, CA