By Hunter Hirsch – Association Manager
Have you ever butted heads with a neighbor? No? Well, please provide us with the contact information for the utopian community you live in – we would love to assist you with managing your community. For the rest of us, the answer is almost certainly “Yes!”
We’ve all been there. Maybe you have a neighbor that fails to notice when their pet uses your lawn as its personal potty, or maybe the woman staying above you doesn’t realize that when her heels hit hardwood, it resembles the sound of approaching war drums. Regardless of the situation, sometimes neighbors forget to be neighborly, and when they do, you have two choices: ignore it, or start your own drums. Though, before you don your war paint, we would like to provide you with a reasonable scale of escalation for confronting your problem neighbor.
- Talk it out!
If they can do it, you can do it.
Yes, talking it out seems simple and obvious, but sometimes simple isn’t so appealing, and sometimes the obvious becomes obscure. We’re human and we get angry, enough said. But before considering retaliation strategies, you may want to make sure that your neighbor is aware of their offense. People do not always realize that they are wronging other people, and many times, a polite reminder can go a long, long way.
So, the first step in talking it out is to make the other party aware of the problem, politely. You may need to vent before taking this first step – just make sure you’re not venting on your neighbor’s face or property. Improper venting may eliminate the possibility of talking it out altogether. Once you’ve gotten back to your happy place, it is time to try approaching your neighbor.
Some people vent harder than others.
Introduce yourself if you’re not formally acquainted, and if you are, try to start with a greeting. Once an amicable tone has been set, attempt to discuss your grievance with your neighbor. If you’re not sure that things will be friendly, maybe propose meeting at a neutral location. Also, be ready to compromise. Obviously, if an animal is trespassing on your property, there isn’t so much middle ground. Asking someone to keep their pet off of your property is a reasonable request, but you cannot tell someone that they are not allowed to wear shoes in their apartment – that’s just un-American.
Now, while you might be open to reasonable discussion, other people may not be. We’re complicated creatures, and what one person may consider to be reasonable, another person might consider to be absurd. In such situations, it is important to remain calm and stay on topic. If you start attacking the person, as opposed to focusing on the problem at hand, it is almost certain that no compromise will be reached. In fact, it is almost guaranteed that the situation will escalate unnecessarily. So, you know, Keep Calm and Carry On.1
However, even if you maintain Gandhi-esque composure while trying to negotiate with your neighbor, it does not mean that they will be willing to cooperate. People can be difficult, especially when they “know” they’re right, or they “know” the law. Really, they “know” they can get under your skin, and if you’re dealing with a troll, it’s best to leave the negotiating to professionals.
It’s never this cute.
Peace negotiations will fail. Life would be too easy if they didn’t, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying! Pardon the platitude. Your neighbor may not be willing to reason with you, but they are probably willing to do whatever it takes to keep the matter from going to court, and that is where mediation comes into play. Mediation is kind of like the middle man between rational discourse and litigation. Both parties think they’re right, neither party is willing to settle for the other party’s terms, but neither party wants to just leave it to a judge, so they bring in an objective third party to help facilitate a compromise.
That term, facilitate, makes a big difference here. A mediator helps two parties reach a compromise, but neither party is required to adhere to the mediator’s advice. Mediators do not direct, or impose a compromise. However, once a compromise is reached and agreed to, that compromise can be legally enforced. The negotiations might fail, but it can help to have a neutral party assess the situation and give you their thoughts. A mediator may be able to provide a resolution that was not previously considered, or they might be able to better speak your problem neighbor’s language. Sometimes people just don’t like hearing something coming from you – even if it is completely reasonable. That’s why the Kuester’s usually have a local choir or Carowinds performers tell us bad news.
“You have to woooork Saturrdayyy! Aaaaaaamennn!”
You get it. A fresh take on things can help, and that’s what a mediator can provide, but if that doesn’t work out, there’s still one more resolution strategy that could be employed before you start the long, expensive march to court.
Okay, so talking it out didn’t work out, and talking it out with a third party didn’t work out. Where do you go from there? Arbitration. Arbitration is similar to mediation. Both parties agree to meet with an objective third party, and the third party, or arbiter, will review supporting evidence from both sides and then impose a decision. The decision that is reached through arbitration is legally binding for both parties and is enforceable in court. The whole process is very similar to a legal proceeding, but it technically is not – very much like cases presented to Judge Judy. So why do it? Arbitration can be more affordable and expedient than filing a formal lawsuit, and it is also a confidential proceeding, so no record of the dispute or the decision is made public.
Of course, if one party is not willing to submit to the arbitration, your last resort will be to file a lawsuit. Lawsuits are expensive, time consuming, and public. And if you can avoid them, we would recommend doing so.2
She won’t be gentle.
We assume that if you have read this far, then you are actually interested in resolving your neighbor-to-neighbor dispute peacefully, but to be clear, retaliating in kind will never better a situation! We hear some crazy neighbor dispute stories here, and we assure you that we have never heard of a situation where retaliation lead to a resolution. Sure, their dog used your lawn as a toilet, so why shouldn’t you use theirs as one, right? Because it’s illegal. Thanks for reading.
- “How to Resolve Disputes With Neighbors.” ehow. Demand Media, n.d. Web.31 Mar. 2015.
- Payne, Mark K. “Tools for Handling Neighbor to Neighbor Disputes.” Colorado Homeowners Association Law Blog. LexBlog, 11Nov.2010.Web.31 Mar. 2015.