Honor Thy Neighbor … Or Something Like That
Posted by Jamie C. Baker
I haven’t been quite so focused on this blog for the past few days; my family and I just moved into a new place and we’re still getting adjusted and trying to get all of our things from our old place into the new. Our lease doesn’t expire in the old place until the end of February, so we have the luxury of taking our time. One of the many reasons we chose to leave our previous residence was due to our neighbors, their behavior, and their constant barrage of creative ways to disrupt our life.
One was a serious litterbug with her cigarette butts and dog waste, never kept her two dogs quiet regardless of the time of day or night, and let her child play and make lots of noise right by our front door. Another had at least 4 cars (you are allowed two and then must use the overflow parking lot) and as a result, we had to park well away from our place. One loved slamming kitchen cabinets and closet doors and we’d get to hear their door closing symphony at all hours. People can be quite selfish when it comes to their personal space and often have complete disregard for the way their behavior affects those around them.
As I write this, I am listening to my work neighbor crack and pop her gum loud enough so that I can hear it over Hugh Laurie singing the blues on my iPod. At her desk, she feels free to be as obnoxious and irritating as she wants. Likewise, people in their homes give themselves the license to do what they wish, even if it could be disturbing to those they share a wall with or live above. My first apartment was a downstairs unit with an obese man and his elderly mother living above me. The man had the bedroom above mine and stomped around like an elephant beginning at 5am almost every day. He also had the bag habit of throwing his trash over the balcony rather than walk it down the stairs to the dumpster, treating me to falling bags of trash directly in front of my patio. His mother must have been losing her hearing because she blared the television and radio. Their noise obviously didn’t disturb them since they were used to making it, but any noises I made were unacceptable and they frequently called the police to complain about the noise coming from my place (the police never did a thing other than show up and check, never finding that I or my roommate/friends were at fault). I could dedicate an entire blog series to the ways this man and his mother made me miserable.
Unfortunately, as long as you are choosing or need to live in a place where you share a wall or ceiling with a stranger, you are going to be subjected to their noises and habits. Unless you have assigned parking or a garage, you will have to deal with losing your amazing parking space when you get home late or go out over the weekend. If you have a dog, chances are you’ll have to dodge kids trying to pet him as you try to walk him, other dogs, and people who act oblivious to the fact that all you’re trying to do is get your dog to do his business in peace. Calling the property management can sometimes fix certain issues, but there is only so much they can do if they aren’t witnessing certain actions and behaviors themselves. Our old place’s management team would put out newsletters with empty threats whenever they were complaints such as trash bags being left out a day before pickup, children destroying property, or dog waste left in the grass and bushes. The fact that their threats were never following up on gave the residents the freedom to continue the bad behavior; they knew the worst that would happen to them was having to read another letter promising a $50 fine.
Our new place is quite different and has a low tolerance policy for bad behavior. Considering that they also do background checks on potential residents and require renter’s insurance, I wasn’t surprised to hear about the policies in place to ensure all residents are able to live in peace and comfort. Even so, there is always going to be some sort of overlap between your life and the life of your neighbor. We have a door slammer, which I can forgive because the doors are quite tight. We have a crying dog who whines near his owner’s garage for about 10 minutes. We also have a private and attached garage, a quiet and secluded porch and backyard, an amazingly large bedroom and master bath, a roomy kitchen, a bigger bedroom for our boy, and overall a living space that we are proud of and comfortable with. It’s silly to focus on the negatives when there are so many positive things to occupy myself with.
Once my husband and I are ready to buy a house with a white picket fence for our 2.3 kids, we’re going to get a more permanent type of neighbor once we’re locked into a mortgage. Foreclosures aside for a moment, homes don’t get the type of turnover in residents like rental properties do. The process of buying a home generally doesn’t include a meet and greet with your future neighbors and a preview of their habits. You hope they won’t block your driveway, neglect their lawn, let their pets invade your space, or party during hours you’re trying to catch some sleep. Short of scoring a nice piece of land and surrounding your home by trees and other natural buffers, you’re going to deal with neighbors for better or for worse.
I feel confident that our current property management will handle any potential serious problems that could arise, but I think that I’ll be able to relax enough to not let anything escalate to that level. First, I can’t expect it to be totally silent except for my noise because that simply isn’t a tangible thing in any living environment. Second, I must resist the urge to retaliate with my own bad habits, the way I did with my chunky neighbor (he would stomp, I’d bang on the wall, and repeat) because the annoying saying that you can’t fight fire with fire is a truthful statement. Third, I need to remain in a positive state of mind; is hearing a door slam once a day better or worse than having kids throw things against my front door the way they did in our previous residence? And finally, possibly most important, I need to learn to block certain things out and RELAX! Is it worth being annoyed at a loud car passing by or getting in a Who Can Make Their TV Louder war? My biggest problem isn’t the disturbances themselves but my kneejerk reaction to them. Hopefully understanding that is the first step among many in letting things be and not turning speedbumps into massive mountains.