[Opinion] How to Deal With Terrible Neighbors

Sean Kernan

I polled my readers, “What’s the worst and most prolonged feud between neighbors that you’ve seen?”

The worst one was from an anonymous woman in Ireland. Her neighbor, three doors down, and she entered began a blood feud after her dog bit the man. Because of local laws, their dog had to be euthanized.

Three months later, at Christmas, they got a card from that neighbor saying, “Your dog didn’t bite me — I just wanted some entertainment.”

It began a nine-year feud between neighbors. Rightfully so. My mother (who owns six dogs) would have been on trial for murder.

We moved 13 times for my dad’s military career during my childhood. I have had a few bad neighbors, into adulthood as well. Here’s how to manage.

The Hunting Dog

A military couple moved in two houses down.

Everything was fine until about four months in. They decided to buy a beagle. In the wee hours of each morning, this dog would bark for a full 20 minutes straight.

Beagles were originally bred in fox hunts. Their bark is designed to carry across great distances, signaling to hunters that they’d found the fox.

And hence, their bark easily cut through my walls, and the pillow I had pressed over my ear. At the time, I still worked a hard, long-hours corporate job and coveted every moment of sleep.

By the time the dog stopped barking, I was awake, as were others. Frustration ran through my veins like boiling magma.

You are probably asking yourself, “Why would this lady not bring her dog in? How could she not know that a dog barking at 5 AM isn’t cool?”

It took me a bit to figure it out. Then, it all clicked.

The wife was also in the military and her husband was deployed.

She was home alone and letting her dog out while she showered in the morning. The dog must have started barking just after she’d turned on the shower.

Or she heard it and ignored it.

Either way — it was unacceptable.

The problem continued for weeks. I tried to knock on the door several times but nobody was ever home because they both worked so much. One night at 12 PM — the barking kept going. So I called the cops.

A nice, middle-aged female cop with short-cropped brown hair showed up. We knocked. But nobody was home.

She had us walk around the side to scope out the noise out back — where the barking was coming from.

Notably, as we walked around the side — a raccoon sprinted across the walkway in front of me and startled me. She laughed — hard. I know this would be a story back at the police station.

She said, “Why don’t you write them a letter? Instead of me putting this legal notice.” She paused a moment in thought and then said, “I mean, I’m happy to do the warning — but I’ve seen this cause a turf war.” There’s something about a ticket pinned to the front door that triggers people.

The next day, I sat down and handwrote a letter, being as diplomatic as possible. I expressed an understanding of the challenges of having a dog. I also owned a dog. The letter ended with my phone number on it.

I didn’t hear anything for weeks. I assumed she hadn’t read it.

Finally, I got the call.

My neighbor was very appreciative of the tone of the letter. We talked for about 10 minutes. I got off the phone feeling like we were good with each other.

And, thankfully, the barking stopped.

They were replaced by a new problem

A few years after the dog incident, a lady moved into the same house the military family had lived in (they got stationed in South Korea).

It was a hot mess from the get-go.

She was in her mid 50’s and had just gone through a bitter third divorce. We’ll call her Ally.

Ally was in full mid-life crisis mode — to the point of it being cliche. She was partying at all hours (she has tons of money and doesn’t work). I could hear her laughing extremely loud, well after midnight, on some occasions.

Then, often, Ally started blasting music at one in the morning and passed out from drinking too much.

I started to question what I’d done to deserve this. Was this revenge for sins from my early life? Was I some barbarian in my previous life that pillaged small towns?

This problem was more complicated than the beagle one.

Ally knew she was being loud. I’d spoken to her about it. She’d given me this ravenous, drunken smile in her doorway, “Oh I’m so sorry, Mr. Sean. What ever can we do to fix this problem?”

Others had too. She even complained to me about a neighbor coming over and yelling at her about the noise.

It was a mess. But I wasn’t as mad as you’d think.

She was actually a lovely person when you spoke to her (when she was sober). However, she wasn’t exactly in control of her life at the moment.

The problem became more of a management issue — specifically, with me managing the problem.

There was one incident where she was asleep at three in the afternoon with her music blasting inside. I went out front to see one of her friends trying to get into the house. It was locked. Her friend gave me her phone number and asked me to keep an eye on the neighbor and so I did.

Going forward, if she left her outdoor speakers on, I went over and turned them off for her.

In one instance, she passed out and accidentally locked her tiny poodle out of her house. The next day, she came over to my house and was freaking out, “Have you seen my dog?! Have you seen my dog!”

I had seen the dog — she was in my house.

I would continually text her or call if the noise was loud. She was responsive about half the time. Sometimes, I’d go over and bang on the door until I woke her up. I had to throw a stick at her bedroom window on another occasion. Fortunately, the window didn’t break.

Eventually, with time, things got better. She got through that phase of her life. And she became a rather pleasant neighbor. We are on good terms.

If you are dealing with difficult neighbors, calling the police should be your last option. You could end up with more problems than you started with.

Make it a point to talk to your neighbors regularly. If you see them walking their dog, stop and chat with them. It helps build rapport and will make it easier to deal with issues later.

And if problems come up, talk to them directly, and with kindness. Have a lot of empathy. If you can’t get ahold of them, try writing a letter. And understand that you won’t be able to make every problem go away. Sometimes you will just need to take steps to manage it.

Always try to take the path of least resistance. It will save you a ton of pain in life.

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