Good neighbors are great—who doesn't want an acquaintance who can collect the mail while you're on vacation, or a trustworthy person to keep an extra set of keys? But bad neighbors? They can be the worst! Except, what if your next-door neighbor considers you to be the problem…and you don't even realize it? We asked people across the country what bothers them the most about the residents who live nearby. Read on to find out if you're guilty of some less-than-neighborly deeds. Plus, learn how to handle these sticky situations when you're the one doing the complaining.
1. Keep it down!
This is probably the number-one neighborly complaint regardless of where you live. Loud footsteps upstairs annoy apartment dwellers, while early-morning yard work can drive suburbanites up the wall. As Melissa, who lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, puts it: "Turning on a lawn mower or leaf blower before 9 a.m. on a weekend is not OK!" The best way to handle the racket? "First, use your judgment. If it's one party on a special occasion, like a 4th of July barbecue, let it go," says Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas. "But if you're constantly being kept up at night, it's a problem." She suggests knocking on your neighbor's front door and approaching the problem nicely. Try saying, "You probably don't even realize how loud your stereo is…" or "I appreciate that you're enjoying your backyard, but…" The soft approach will not only keep their defenses down, but will likely make them more sympathetic to your case. And if you're the one about to throw a party? "It's a courtesy to let your neighbors know that you'll be having people over. Remember to tell them what time the party ends so they'll know when they can expect some quiet," says Gottsman, who adds that you shouldn't feel obligated to invite them to the gathering.
2. The hallway is not an extension of your apartment.
Apartment dwellers have a major gripe with neighbors whose belongings overflow into the building's common space. "The hallway isn't some sparsely decorated extension of your own personal apartment," says Ariana, who lives in New York City. "Your kids should not be having play dates, soccer games or mini golf tournaments there." Though city living can be cramped, taking over shared space not only creates noise that might infiltrate others' apartments, but it may also make your neighbors feel uncomfortable—as if they're stepping into "your" territory. "The hallway is meant to be used as a thoroughfare where apartment neighbors can easily and safely pass and maneuver their groceries, packages and strollers," explains Gottsman. "It should not be used to store boxes or act as a makeshift playground for small children, unless previously agreed upon by all of the neighbors." Calmly explain to your neighbors why their overflow is bothering you; the solution may be as simple as moving their golf clubs and extra strollers to a building storage unit, or transporting play dates to a neighborhood park. If they resist, contact your building managers—chances are the clutter is a fire hazard, and you'll have a legitimate reason for them to tidy up.
3. Don't give me a to-do list on move-in day.
When you're new to the neighborhood, it's comforting to meet the people who live next door. What doesn't feel so welcoming is when they hand over a list of what's wrong with your new (to you) home, be it an unsightly fence, peeling paint or a rusty awning. "The first time we met our neighbor, she told us everything that was wrong with our backyard," says Anna, who lives in New York City. "It took away from our excitement about buying our first home, and instead put pressure on us to start renovations as soon as possible." According to Gottsman, "it's inappropriate to start broaching problems immediately. Let your new neighbors settle in and see what they might take care of on their own. If a true eyesore persists after a few months, ask if they intend to repair the problem and recommend a few trustworthy contractors."
4. I'm not a substitute for the supermarket.
"I'm more than happy to lend my neighbor a hammer, but it seems like every other day she comes over to borrow something—and I never ask her for anything!" says Lindsay, who lives in Chicago. "You need to learn how to say 'no,'" says Gottsman. "The next time she swings by for something, try, 'Gosh, I'm almost out myself and I'll be short an egg for my recipe' or 'I wish I did have an extra lightbulb. It's on my list for the next time I make it to the store.'" By emphasizing the work that goes into keeping a fully stocked home you'll encourage them to do their own grocery shopping, and hopefully save yourself from being constantly cleaned out.
5. If you have an issue, please talk to me about it.
Brynn, who lives in New York City, recalls neighbors who left a note on her door complaining about loud footsteps. "They told us—in writing—how rude and inconsiderate we were. I had no idea we were even making that much noise, but now I'm so nervous that I've literally been walking on my tiptoes ever since. And every time I accidentally drop something on the floor, my heart skips a beat." While leaving a note seems easier than dealing with a noisy neighbor face to face, it can also send the wrong message. "Email [or leaving a written note] is less effective. They can't understand your tone, so if you're trying to be pleasant they're probably not going to get that," says Gottsman. "If there's ever a problem, dealing with it in person is always best."
6. Your decorating style isn't the only one around.
As Debby, from Columbus, Ohio, puts it: "You can trim your bushes your way; I can trim my bushes my way!" What you think is an eyesore, others may love. Unless your neighbor's holiday decorations—or lawn ornaments or whimsical bird feeders––are a hazard to anyone, hold your tongue. But if a cluttered lawn or stoop does become a detriment, "speak with your neighborhood association [or property management company] to see what the rules and regulations are," says Gottsman. It may be within your rights to ask your neighbor to tidy up for the sake of everyone's safety.
7. Keep neighborhood gossip to yourself.
A little friendly chat about the weather is one thing, but telling everyone on the block that so-and-so might be having an affair is another. "My neighbor constantly fills me in on who has done what in the building," says Ariana. "No one has ever bothered me, and even if they did, I don't want to waste my time talking behind their back." "Don't take it upon yourself to fill them in on the neighborhood gossip; allow them to form their own opinions," says Gottsman. And the next time your neighbor tries to rope you into a gossip session, be firm but friendly. "Try saying something like, 'I can understand why you're feeling that way, but I just haven't had that experience with her.'"
8. Don't panic about my dog right off the bat.
"When I moved in my neighbors were completely friendly—until they saw our dog," says Natalie, who lives in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. "They didn't give themselves a chance to see how sweet he actually is!" Sure, not everyone is a dog person. But just because you've had to endure marathon barking sessions and pups peeing in your flowerbeds before, don't assume right away that all pooches are alike "Allow your neighbors time to show you how they handle their canine affairs," says Gottsman. "If he's barking on day one, remember that he may be trying to acclimate to his new surroundings as well." However, if you do find that the new dog barks incessantly, "walk over calmly and mention your concern, without foul language or an angry tone of voice." Your goal should be to discuss the matter before threatening to call the police—and making a new enemy in the process.
9. The annual block party isn't a mandatory event.
While the intention of a block party is always to build relationships and have fun, sometimes the stress of planning the event can get the best of neighbors. "While you can't make someone get involved, you can encourage everyone to sign up for a task or donate what they can toward the event," Gottsman says. But it is essential to avoid making people feel badly if they don't want to pitch in—you never know what their financial or emotional circumstances are—and everyone should feel welcome to attend. If you're in charge of planning, distribute invitations, then follow up with friendly phone calls to confirm attendance or participation; if you'd like to get involved, ask around to see who usually heads up the parties and offer to assist with decorations, food, clean-up or entertainment. If you're new to the neighborhood, showing up is a great way to meet people who live near you, but if you can't make it, don't panic—"no one should be expected to show up," says Gottsman. And it goes without saying that you should mind your behavior at the event; it's one thing to drink too much with close friends, but since there will be casual acquaintances and children at the block party, play it safe