How to Fight Back Against Nightmare Neighbors

Keep the peace before conflict takes over.

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How to Respond to a Nightmare Neighbor (3:37)

Author and former police reporter Bob Borzotta used to report stories between neighbors but after his own run-in with a bad neighbor, he went online to explore the rise in "un-neighborly behavior" and seek resolutions. Eventually, Borzotta wrote a book, Neighbors From Hell: Managing Today's Brand of Conflict Close to Home, which features a three-pronged approach to help resolve neighbor-related conflicts and restore peace to troubled communities.

Below is an excerpt from his book outlining the three action steps to safely manage a nightmare neighbor situation.

Prevention

It may seem too late for that, but ongoing preventive measures are useful where we live now, and if you choose to move to a new home they can help you to live where you belong, in as much harmony as possible.

  • If you consider yourself averse to noise, smells and other infractions from a neighbor, rethink clustered homes like apartments and townhouses, and suburban settings where houses are often built too close for comfort.
  • No matter how well suited you and your new community may seem to be, everything rests on the immediate neighbors. These are the people best positioned to make you miserable, and your good instincts will tell you quickly where you’ll stand with them.
  • Be patient. Good neighbors of the world indulge a great deal of neighbor nuisances before adopting a zero-tolerance policy against them.

Diplomacy

Unfortunately, diplomatic efforts typically expose us to greater conflict – we’re effectively telling a troublemaker how he or she can cause us even more trouble. Kind of like shedding blood into a shark tank. It’s the failure of diplomacy that yields for us the knowledge we are dealing with a bonafide Neighbor From Hell. But diplomatic efforts can also yield a quicker resolution and even spawn a friendlier environment among neighbors that could become at odds.

  • Different types of disturbances warrant different approaches. Overnight bongo drumming differs from daytime trampoline play. Little old ladies’ yappy dogs differ from the skateboarding noise of a 20-something living back with his parents. Design the approach with the receiver in mind.
  • Don’t treat the issue as though it's the end of the world, even though it’s a royal pain and is disrupting your life. Overstating the effects of a problem, or providing too much detail on its effects, will inform the neighbor you are “a complainer” or are exaggerating even if you’re not. You won’t be taken seriously with your complaint if you say the problem is worse than it really is.
  • Smile: It’s disarming and can form a positive foundation that carries through the conversation. Don’t be petty: There is no route between pettiness and greatness. Think of someone you admire and consider how he or she might address such a situation. Personally, I think of Peter Jennings. Be strong but civil: Use upright posture while remaining comfortable and casual, use a normal voice tone and volume, and don’t be apologetic about bringing this stuff up. Slouching and speaking too softly show weakness, while any aggressiveness on your part comes across as lecturing and demeaning.

Correction

When all else fails, it may be time to engage police, lawyers, landlords, mediators, condo and co-op boards, local legislators, zoning and health officers, animal control and other agencies to work for us rather than against us. We also have to properly prepare ourselves for ongoing conflict so that it doesn’t destroy us, malign us among our better neighbors, ruin our households and impact the well-being of people we care about.

  • Hold your fire by not complaining for a bit. Simmering the tensions gives you control, much the way holding your fire does in military combat. It reduces your own anxiety and gives you a breather in order to assess where you’re at and where you want to go from here. It has variable results, but often I find the opponent responds by holding his fire as well, wondering what you’re up to.
  • Fight the defensive reflex to become hermit-like while in the corrective phase, isolating yourself from the community and the world outside when you should be out and about, where you can enjoy the sense of community bad neighbors rob from you.
  • If police are involved, think like a cop. Remember that the moment an officer arrives, he or she begins sizing up the players to get a vibe. The bad guys to them are inconsistent (dishonest) and interrupting (disrespectful) – be clear, calm and don’t exaggerate the facts. Start considering police to be case builders rather than problem solvers. Their reports enjoy the greatest credibility in municipal court, where you may find yourself next.
  • Log all incidents, noting date, time, duration of disturbance, its nature, if and when you called police or other authorities and if and when they showed up, names of people involved (neighbors, visitors – all by name whenever known to you), names of officers who respond, the outcome of the call, and a reference to your evidence if you have any. Use your personal technology (mobile phones, mostly) to document what you're witnessing. Obtain police reports you’ve filed, and those filed falsely against you by neighbors. You may need to submit a Freedom of Information Act request form to obtain such reports and may have to pay for any copies the police provide. Consider it a good investment.
  • If using mediation, use it to your greatest advantage. Stick with facts and not emotions (except when articulating your suffering to connect with the mediation authority), and ask that the mediation concludes with a written agreement between you and the neighbor that costs him money for all future infractions of a definable nature.

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