Are you a terrible neighbor?


It’s not all pastoral scenery and chirping birds in sleepy, peaceful Marin. There is a war raging…between neighbors in these quiet communities. Tree disputes, views blockages, setbacks in question, and noise are common sources of friction for normally reasonable folks.  Thanks to the million dollar views, forest-like settings and perfection per square foot, Marin has some of the highest rates of neighbor tree disputes in the country and the local economy keeps at least one professional tree dispute mediator very busy. Sometimes no amount of fresh pressed juice and yoga can smooth an inter-property chakra imbalance. How do you know if you’re the one with the un-neighborly attitude?

You like to have a good time.

Whether it’s late night hot-tub parties or exotic sports cars revving in the driveway, noise is the No. 1 way you may be a bad neighbor. Have the police visited your house and asked you to turn down the music?  It really is YOU.  It’s pretty bucolic up here in Marin, so try heading down the Sweetwater or Terrapin Crossroads if the urge to turn it up to 11 comes over you.

You love, love, wuv animals.

Fifi is just about the most adorable companion but your work from home neighbor’s heartstrings are just about severed by Fifi’s lonely, all-day yapping when you’re at work.  Take Fifi to the doggie day care if she needs companionship.  Consider complaints about barking and noise as concern, even if they’re delivered in frustration because no one likes an unhappy pup.  And scoop that poop - the “gift” on the front lawn could come back to bite you when you need a favor from your neighbor who thinks you’re inconsiderate.   

You have a trampoline. 

Is their fence, other structure or even that new addition crossing into your property? Usually the deed should be explicit about the property boundaries but failing that, you can always get a survey. Another type of boundary crossing is the neighbor that cuts a path over your front or backyard. That is called trespass and is against the law. 

One Marin couple waged a three year dispute that was finally determined against them when a neighbor put up an unsightly trampoline near their property line. Sometimes its time to plant some trees, drink some more fresh-pressed ginger-apple serenity juice and say namaste.

You have killed a tree before in anger.

Don’t lose the forest for the trees.  Be considerate about each other’s positions, views and property. The neighbor’s tree limb hangs over the fence and is dangerously close to your house. Roots are pulling up into your property and are considered an encroachment. Or, maybe a tree on the neighbor’s side of the property is blocking your view of the water. Solutions aren’t always clear-cut and compromise can save years of disputes, animosity and legal fees. If it’s your tree, is it really worth never taking an out-of-town vacation again for fear of neighbor sabotage? 

If not neighborly love, strive for indifference.

First off, get to know your neighbor. This may be the longest  relationship of your life.  Best to keep it as close as palatable.  

There’s no time like the present to get on good terms with your neighbors so that if issues arise over the course of your living side by side you can start by talking about the issue in a civil manner. Remember you may be the one wanting to take vacations in Hawaii without installing nanny cams for your trees.

Don’t Anchor to an Outcome

Talking to your neighbor in a reasonable way may be just the ticket to working out a solution. Describing the issue without demanding a specific solution allows your neighbor a chance to think about the situation and solutions as well. Getting progress in even small steps, builds trust for further remediation. Optimize for the long view.  

Put it in Writing

Keep a log with dates of occurrence or documentation of the issue may help you in talking with the neighbor.  When talking does not work, you may find that a clear, written description of the problem and a proposed solution may persuade your neighbor. If you believe s/he has violated a law or local ordinance, include a copy of that law or ordinance. The neighbor may be persuaded by reading the law in a way that your verbal complaint did not.

Mediate it

Mediation is Switzerland. It’s a place that gives both parties the power to craft a creative solution that addresses their issues that is of their mutual making with the help of a neutral third party. If the parties cannot come to mutual agreement, they are free to leave.

The Last Resort

When there’s just no talking to some people, it may be time for an attorney to help you sort out what the next steps are and the cost/benefit of legal recourse. One possibility is having an attorney write a letter, explaining the law and a possible solution and raising the possibility of a lawsuit. While there are cases that find resolution only before a judge and jury, there is no guarantee of winning. And victory can sometimes come at a high monetary, emotional and social cost.

Can’t we all just get along?

Start with the Golden Rule-treat your neighbors as you want to be treated. Get to know them and as issues come up, talk it out in a non-threatening way. By being open and willing to be flexible, a lot can get accomplished and neighbors can have many, many years of living happily side by side.