Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Who are the people in YOUR neighborhood?

Your neighborhood matters. On the Today show this morning, a real estate expert explained how your home value is related to your neighbors, and bad ones can drag it down. In fact, she said, a major reason people move is to escape bad neighbors.

I know this can be true.

When we lived in Boston, we rented half of a two-family. It was divvied up with one small unit on the first floor (ours) and one larger unit on the second floor (theirs). When we first moved in, our neighbor was a nice single lady with a son, about ten years old. Great neighbors. She moved out a year later, and the New People moved in. Whereas our previous neighbor had respected the fact that she shared space, the New People didn't seem to at all. They hung out on the porch directly in front of our room, with no concern for the fact that they were loud, it was late, it intruded on our space, and they were using our furniture. One gorgeous day we had all the windows and doors open. I came in from outside to find the woman and her daughter inside, and she was letting the toddler bang on my computer. "What are you doing?" I asked, incredulous. "She was curious about the buttons," my neighbor said, "And since your computer is off, I thought it was fine." "Umm, no," I told her, "The computer isn't off, it's on screensaver, and it's not fine, this is my house, you need to leave." As I tried to fix the damage the child's random button pushing had wrought, I thought of all the lost nights' sleep from their nocturnal activities and how sharing this space was not ever going to work well. My husband and I decided to move, as quickly as possible.

More recently, my friends and I were gathered, chatting, while our children played. One friend seemed stressed and another inquired why. "We're selling the house," the first friend told us. We all gasped in shock. Only two weeks before she'd completed some gorgeous remodeling to the downstairs, including a completely brand-new kitchen, top of the line custom-made everything. She'd proudly taken us all on a tour, and smiled as we ooh'd and ahhh'd. "What in the world...why would you sell?" someone asked. Our friend looked sad, but resolute, "We have to. I don't see any other way and I've tried for years. I can't take the neighbors any longer. Do you know, some days, if I see them outside, I just drive past the house and keep driving for a while until I think they're gone?"

Apparently this is more common than I realized. I can't find any statistics, but I found thousands of Web sites dedicated to support of people with bad neighbors, advice on how to sell when you have bad neighbors, instructions about how to deal with bad neighbors, and ideas about how to avoid bad neighbors when moving. There is even a Web site called rottenneighbor.com that allows people to write and read about bad neighbors. "This service saved us from living next to bad neighbors," endorse Ted and Marlene from San Diego.

This got me thinking about boundaries. What causes such an intrusion across boundaries? Is it an issue of entitlement? Misunderstanding? And, why does it continue?

In the case of our neighbors, although I politely let them know they were crossing our boundaries, they refused to alter their behavior, and in fact, asserted a rude sort of superiority. In short, their belief was that my husband and I simply had to adjust to accommodate them as they were. Some of the most egregious behavior involved their child. My husband and I are as kid-friendly as the next guy, but we believe in boundaries for kids, too. No, it's not my job to stop and let your child stroke my fleece jacket as long as she wants when I am rushing to catch the bus to work. It is your job to teach her not to come into my house and get into my things.

In fact, when I scan the bad neighbor stories, complaints about how parents allow their children to behave are not only common, but are prevalent. People don't seem to blame the kids, from what I read, but they do hold the parents accountable. Although castigating parents is a national past-time these days, that doesn't mean there is not some validity to it too.

A friend of mine told me one time she was bewildered about how to deal with her neighbors who seemed to consider her a drop-in babysitter. "Any time we happen to be home," she told me, frustrated, "Seems to indicate we are open for daycare business. They'll pop by with their kids, their kids will start to play with ours, then they'll say, 'Oh, we need to run, but the kids are having such fun, how about we come back to get then in a few minutes, instead of prying them away now?' I'll say okay, then not five minutes after they leave our house, I see them hop in their car and leave! Somehow I end up stuck with their kids for hours! I've tried saying, 'Not today, we have to leave in ten minutes,' but they'll counter with, 'Okay back in five!' and I'm stuck...again. I've just stopped answering the door, and I've started turning the kids away all the time now. I don't know what else to do."

I feel safe hazarding a guess that someday when these kids are adults, it's a strong possibility that their neighbors will be complaining about their lack of respect of boundaries.

I don't think it is so much that a problem occurs, but that some neighbors are unwilling to address the problem. My dog has run outside after dark and suddenly let loose a ferocious string of loud barking. I'm sure my neighbors wince. But we don't make this a habit, and when it happens, we immediately address it and bring the dog inside, quiet him down. My neighbor has a sawing habit. I'm not sure what he saws, but he does it frequently. The high-pitched whine can be irritating, but he restricts it to daylight hours and is respectful of others' schedule. My next door neighbor asked before extending his fence, and when our tree crushed their back yard, they were nice about it, and we had the tree removed as quickly as possible.

I think for most people, willingness to try---to try to understand the other point of view, pick up on cues, understand communication, respect boundaries, address issues, etc.---is what matters more than never having a problem.

It seems as if there is a common, generally-held idea of what makes a good neighbor. Do you agree? Is it possible in such a diverse society of individuals that we can hold a common idea of how to be a good neighbor?

Have you had a good or bad neighbor experience? What made it so, and how did you resolve it?

How can we be good neighbors and add value to our neighborhoods?

Tomorrow...it's Hump Day.

For the Hump Day Hmmm, how about we talk about being good neighbors in the world? Macro or micro, general or personal, workplace or socially...it's up to you. Old posts or new posts are equally welcome.

To join in the Hump Day Hmmm...

Write a new post (or use an old post), link back to my blog (http://theartfulflower.blogspot.com) and mention the Hump Day Hmmm roundtable, and email the link to your post to me at j pippert at g mail dot com. I'll add your link in to the Hump Day Hmm post. Enjoy!

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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19 comments:

Lawyer Mama said...

I'm in for this one. Intriguing topic. I can't wait to see what everyone writes.

I've had good, bad and indifferent neighbors and it really does affect your quality of life.

And, wow! They were IN YOUR HOUSE??? WTF??? Dear lord, I would have moved as quickly as possible too.

bubandpie said...

The neighbourhood I live in has a somewhat unsavoury reputation in the city, due to a low-income housing project two blocks away. But I've never had a problem, and the neighbours in my immediate vicinity are wonderful.

We, on the other hand, are merely mediocre neighbours - the kind who never mow their lawn. At least we stay on our own side of the property, though.

flutter said...

The people in my neighborhood are shitheaded college students who smoke too much pot and play their stereos at ungodly hours, and they make me want to go postal.

But alas.

Karen said...

it's rainy here and I'm seeing the bleak side of this, how can I be a good neighbor? Sometimes I do want to run from conflict, stress, interaction...yet I do want to love and serve the world. Sigh...

thailandchani said...

Like most people, I have some neighbor horror stories. Currently, we are dealing with the one thing that can drive me to absolute distraction. As peaceful as I try to be, I can not stand other people's loud music.

I don't want to share in their reverie. They need to get headsets or get their hearing checked ~ whatever it takes to confine their racket to their own spaces.

During the summer here, I've had to call the police multiple times. It feels like I'm living in the ghetto.

It boils down to one simple thing: Most people are not willing to be considerate of others.

With just a little bit of thought about our actions, most of us would feel quite comfortable in our homes.



Peace,

~Chani

Emily said...

Well, for starters, an all-night rave (when they have 4 little kids in the house) is a bad idea...

ALM said...

I"m sorry to say that we are probably the "bad" neighbors with two active noisy boys in a sparcely carpeted apartment.... But they deal with us. And we try.

Christine said...

we are lucky that right now we have very nice neighbors. but there is a vacant house waiting to be rented out, and we wonder if we'll get some good neighbors or bad. . .

Queen of the Mayhem said...

I absolutely LOVE my neighbors now....but when we first moved in...the ones that lived there was a different story.

The lady would pull in her driveway and close the garage before she got out...if we were in the front yard....AWFUL, HATEFUL woman! Words cannot express how happy I was when they moved!

Sober Briquette said...

Across the street is a family whose name we didn't know for years. We simply called them "The Louds." Not only were they loud, but they were not friendly (with us). Now that their kids are older, it's not so bad.

We back up to woods, so we only have neighbors on the sides. That's good, because I have a low tolerance for others, and I'm home all day. When we move next week, we'll be at the cul-de-sac end of a street with only 7 homes on it, abutting woods and a park.

I guess it would be safe to say that my idea of good neighbors are ones that I'm not aware of at all.

slouching mom said...

I've not yet encountered a bad neighbor, and I'm beginning to feel extremely lucky.

Mary Alice said...

I am military and move all the time, so I have had gobs and gobs of neighbors as we all move in and out of base housing. I have to say that the majority of them a polite, considerate, and kind. They have well mannered children and take care of one another.... and they all pick up their dog poop and keep their cats inside. I have had a couple that were not that way, but that is the exception to the rule in my experience. Maybe it is all the rules that we live by as military members....some times too many individual rights breeds an “all for me” attitude at the expense of everyone else. Hummmm now I am going to have to go ponder this deeply.

painted maypole said...

We have been blessed with the best neighbors on the planet. Polite, thoughtful, helpful, plus complete with enough children both just right to play with our daughter, AND to babysit. I know we are so, so lucky.

*somehow i didn't get you into my googlereader when I got it started last week, and today I realized I hadn't read your blog in a while. sorry. I have remedied the situation

Tere said...

I've been living in this house for 7 months now, and I have to say, I am thoroughly unimpressed with most of my neighbors. One house down the street looks like WWIII.

I live in a nice, desirable area in the heart of Miami, but I swear, I ended up on the crappy block!

Anonymous said...

We live in a suburb of Houston, on the extreme north end, near the Woodlands, but outside of the city limits of Houston, (laughingly referred to as CWOC, City without Cops-thats another story); as such we're fortunate to live, as they say here, "in county", county being Harris County. I say fortunately because our Constables office and the Sheriffs Dept. treat law enforcement as though it were blood sport. They love to bust people for any and all infractions. We have a 3.5 minute response time and 4 contract constables patroling the neighborhood 24/7.

That being said, the neighborhood is definitely "mixed" and about 33% rental properties, (through HUD) and so we've seen our share of bad actors come and go through the years. Here's how we've survived; 1) lights all around the house 2) we call the constables at the drop of a hat and then stand outside to greet them in full view of the people we've called them on, (noise disturbance, fighting etc.) so they know who has called; 3) if we don't know them, we behave in an unfriendly manner, 4) we park in the garage and keep the garage door closed at all times so they can't tell when we're there or not; 5) under no circumstances to we answer the door unless we know who's there, 6) it pays to act crazy once in a while; I attacked a car parked in front of the house with a shovel once; attacked a mail box another time. It keeps the crooks off balance, 7) we never display flags or political signs of any kind.

I can tell you this much; I've lived all over the world and the problem is worse in the U.S. than any other place I've lived. One solution; for retirement, we've bought a house near a lake hundreds of miles from any urban area. And I suspect that's going to be a growing trend as more and more people get fed up with the lawless situation in the urban areas, particularly the high tech types who can basically work anywhere. We've certainly seen that here in Texas where the high tech corridor extends from north of Austin to Waco. Those people don't want to be nor need be subjected to the urban problems. One of the good things our Legislature has done in recognition of the out of control crime problem is enact the "Castle" doctrine which basically says you can shoot to kill if you feel threatened in or around your home or anywhere around wherever your automobile is located. Next session they are talking about legislation cutting off rights of the family of the person shot to sue the person defending themselves. This has become and is becoming an ever more important deterrent to crime.

Good Luck!

kim said...

We have had some crazy neighbors, but that is just the weirdest, in your house! OMG!

Tracy said...

OK, I'm in on this one.... I'll do it tonight when I get home... I actually am very much in love with my neighborhood (probably moreso than my actual neighbors, but I do have a soft spot for them, too). Great topic -- thanks!

Katie said...

Hi, I took the plunge and gave it a go! Nice topic, I had fun writing about it. :)

Christina said...

This is a hot topic for me. Forgive the long comment.

Our next door neighbors are nightmares. They have four kids under 10, three dogs, two cats, etc. We have a large corner lot, while they have a postage stamp lot. When they first moved in, they treated our backyard as an extension of their own - played football in our yard, let their dogs poop in our yard and didn't clean it up. We fenced the backyard just to keep them out.

Since then, their kids use our side yard as their yard, and our driveway is used for their bikes. The little boys are always coming up and peering in our windows and door.

They've damaged our fence in several places from climbing on it, broken limbs off our young trees, hit our house with balls repeatedly, turned on our outside water and forgot to turn it off, put dents in our cars from their balls, and purposely scratched up the back of our SUV. But the neighbors deny any damage at all, saying we didn't see it, so we can't prove anything.

We can't even correct their children (like saying "Please don't climb our fence") or the parents start screaming at us, threatening us, etc. for having the nerve to tell their kids what to do. Uh, it's OUR land! We haven't called the police on them mainly because we're scared of what else they could do - they're vindictive enough that they would do something to our property.

The other neighbors told me that these neighbors claim that they have a right to use our yard because they have such a small one! If they didn't want such a small yard, they shouldn't have bought that house! We bought our house so we could enjoy the large piece of land it sat on.

We've always tried to be friendly and understanding, but I've reached my breaking point. I no longer want their destructive kids anywhere around, but thanks to their threats, I don't feel like I can do anything about it yet. Thankfully, they just filed bankruptcy (for the second time - they can't keep jobs). They're selling their house or it will be repossessed by the end of September, so they should be gone soon. And I will probably have a party the day they leave.

I don't know why people can't understand boundaries. We never go onto someone else's land without permission - why can't they do the same for us?