Neighbor damaging my plants -- need a nannycam
May 1, 2012 5:42 PM   Subscribe

Neighbors (?) deliberately cutting down our young plants. They have been nasty to us before. Considering a "nanny cam" to train on the not-cheap plants ... would like a) advice on nanny cams to suit our purposes; b) any other avenues to consider?

These neighbors are not very pleasant people and there has been unpleasantness in the past. We have always tried to be calm and polite; they have taken to ignoring us and that's fine with us. Our houses are no more than 8 feet apart, and near the property line (but on our side, and demarcated by line of stones) we have planted some bushes that will provide some screening between the two front yards. We are gardeners and most of our yard is planted out.

Since we planted these bushes, on at least two occasions someone has cut -- clearly cut -- the bushes down quite low (one on the first occasions, the other three on the second occasion). They are woody bushes and it is a smooth cut. This has occurred either at night or when we are not at home. (I accept the possibility that it's a super-freakish rodent with clippers for teeth or that it's random teenagers, which is part of why we want a nanny cam.)

This planting bed is viewable from one of our windows and we could easily train a camera on it. It extends perhaps 12 feet. However, we don't want to spend a ton of money on this, since there's no guarantee they'll do anything further. (They also may be doing it at night.) We could mount inside or outside, although I don't necessarily need a permanent security system. It would be fine if the camera recorded "on board" for X hours before re-writing, and when we came home and found damage, we could review the previous 8 hours of footage or whatever. We can also use an always-on computer, or something motion-sensitive, though it'll pick up a lot of other motion I think. It can be plug-powered if it's inside the window.

We (obviously) need evidence of who is doing the cutting before we can do anything. They have done at least $100 damage so far, and we have a lot more plants, and they have a lot more nastiness, I suspect.

Secondly, is there any other action I should consider? (This is stress in my life I do not need!)

We have been here several years; they have only recently moved in. We are considering moving but we can't just up and drop everything because of these crazy people. Both of us own our own homes.
posted by Sockish American to Technology (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Someone in an earlier thread recommended a cheap "game camera" (google that phrase) that is motion activated and snaps still photos, saving them to memory sticks. They can be purchased very cheaply.
posted by jayder at 5:49 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would consider leaving them a note saying that you've encountered some vandalism on your property recently, and you'd recommend them being alert to the risk of similar attacks. Say that you have alerted the authorities and put a number of security precautions in place, including motion-activated cameras. Tell them you'd be grateful if they'd let you know if they have any similar experiences so you can present the most forceful case possible to the police. Then wish them well.
posted by argonauta at 5:54 PM on May 1, 2012 [88 favorites]

Depending on where you live, you may be able to file an action for timber trespass (that's usually where somebody trespasses on your land to cut and steal your trees, but I've seen it used for neighbor/hedge disputes too. Again, depending on the laws where you are, the damages can be significant.)
posted by spacewrench at 5:58 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's a thread related to jayder's game camera suggestion. Hide it in a birdhouse?
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:59 PM on May 1, 2012

A motion sensor light will make them think twice about doing it at night, if that's when they're doing it. If nothing else, it'll make sure the camera you do end up using has enough light to get the shot.
posted by mollymayhem at 6:07 PM on May 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

Meritline has self-illuminating infrared cameras starting around 35 bucks, postpaid. It might be more fun if you were to catch them.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:16 PM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you have a smartphone/tablet/laptop with a camera or an old webcam, there are free/cheap apps available that do time-lapse photography and even have the option to assemble the photos into a video. If you could point it out the window, it might be an inexpensive starting place...
posted by Gianna at 6:17 PM on May 1, 2012

I am no expert on cameras or security but under the circumstances you might consider getting a security case or ensuring the data storage happens somewhere other than the camera itself, because a person who would cut down someone else's hedges might be willing to steal the memory device or the camera.
posted by gingerest at 6:47 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there any reason why, in their minds, these bushes might be a bigger target than your other plantings? (i.e. Do they dispute the property line? Will it cause some other kind of annoyance/inconvenience to them?) Cutting down a woody bush doesn't seem like a great target of opportunity. It's a pretty deliberate act, requiring extra effort to bring over a tool, saw through a bush, make very little noise, and clean up the mess. If their only motivation was to annoy you, it seems like it would be quicker/quieter/easier to go cut flowers with a pair of scissors. It's not low enough they could be running over it with a lawnmower, right?

That being said, if my childhood neighbors travelled through time and space to move next to you, they'd argue 'down to the wood' is how a hedge should look and think nothing of trimming someone else's bushes 'for the good of the neighborhood' if they were already out trimming their own. Presumably you'd know if it was that kind of a busybody, right?
posted by Gable Oak at 6:56 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

In addition to a nannycam, would you consider installing a privacy fence?
posted by easily confused at 7:04 PM on May 1, 2012

b) any other avenues to consider?

Talking to them?

This may be a bit of a contrary view to what most people are saying, but...

Before starting to gather evidence, you may want to go over and ask them. Say "Hey - something weird has happened. It seems our hedges have gotten trimmed a couple of times. Do you have any idea what may have happened?". As Gable Oak points out, it's a pretty strange and time-consuming act of vandalism, which, to me, suggests the story may be different or more complicated than the story you are guessing at.

If you talk to them, you may find out that, again as Gable Oak suggests, they may have been cutting your hedge, for some reason they feel is completely justified (because they feel it's impinging, because they think it looks better, for some other reason that none of us imagine). You might totally disagree with that reason, and then you can talk to them about it, and explain why that's not okay. Heck, you may even find that the trimming has nothing to do with them, but they know something about it.

You may think that you don't want to go talk to them, because you don't want a complicated entanglement with these unpleasant neighbors. But it sounds like, unless I am misunderstanding, what you are planning for is a complicated entanglement with them: Say you take the photos, and catch them in the act. What are you going to do? Confront them with the evidence? Go directly to the police without taking to them first? In either situation, while you may win some short term victory, I would be a little surprised if the resulting situation ended up being a more peaceful situation than you have now. You'll still have the same neighbors as before. They'll be a lot angrier at you. And you will have established that the way for you and your neighbors to solve disagreements is through things like surreptitious recording devices, and calling the police, as opposed to things like trying to let each other know about problems. My general sense is that things like setting up cameras and reporting people to the police should usually be a last resort, not a first course of action.

(All of this, of course, acknowledging that I have no idea of the back story of how hard these people are to get along with. But my own experience of dealing with difficult neighbors is that trying to create a better relationship, while not easy, yields better long term results than trying to win battles with them, which is a bit what this sounds like...)
posted by ManInSuit at 9:05 PM on May 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: It's not actually a hedge -- these are newly-planted bushes, with just a main shoot and a couple branches each, and they were cut almost to the ground. So like fewer than 10 clips with a hand lopper to destroy the entire planting, which was obviously well on our side of the marked property line (they marked it) and each bush was surrounded by chickenwire to keep off varmints.

I don't think they're willing to talk to us. The cops have actually already been involved at least a couple of times in their various disputes with neighbors, including something about another neighbor's kids. (It is otherwise a quiet and pleasant block with people who are either friendly or mind their own business. These folks haven't made connections in the neighborhood and have been pretty aggressive about being unpleasant; they don't seem to understand they moved to a neighborhood where they can't, for example, play loud music at 3 a.m., or shout obscenities at other people's children, or park on the lawn, or let their dog run loose and dig up another neighbor's plantings, or dispose of their waste on that other neighbor's lawn. They are in their 30/40s and have kids. When someone whose lawn the dog has just pooped on says, "Please pick up your dog poop," they get furious and shouty.) So I guess my goal is to HAVE the evidence (I've also got a file that records my interactions with them in person) in case it continues or escalates and we end up calling the police or going to small claims court.

I'd be delighted to wave polite hi's and otherwise ignore them, but my fear is that they have decided to target us and will keep at it and damage more of our property. I tried to speak to them once before about a minor property issue (routine shared fence repair) where they screamed at me, and that's how we found ourselves in the situation where they literally turn their backs when we're outside. I ran into one of them at a nearby store recently and smiled and waved a bit (both of us had kids with us), and she literally turned her back and walked away.

Fences: We have a privacy fence in the back yard but I don't think zoning allows it in the front. I will check to be sure. There are no front-yard fences in the whole neighborhood, though, so I think probably not.

Are there good resources on how to set up these sorts of cameras and what setup would be best for me? This seems very overwhelming.
posted by Sockish American at 9:49 PM on May 1, 2012

Response by poster: (I just want to add, our neighbor on the other side just had some major work done on the house that they needed to use our property to bring in the big trucks, and we were able to work that out just fine even though we're only acquaintances and we have some expensive plantings. We gave permission and pointed out the expensive plantings, the husband stayed home to make sure the truck drivers knew where to go on our property, there was a little damage done, they offered to pay, we said oh no, no, it's hardly anything, and they baked us thank-you cookies. And then today we helped neighborhood kids catch their escaped cat in our yard. So it's not like we can't work things out with NORMAL people; normally the neighborhood relationships are quite pleasant, but these people ... do not have good neighbor relationships.)
posted by Sockish American at 9:53 PM on May 1, 2012

The set up should be easy to do. My parents use a "deer cam" (also google) that will start recording as soon as the camera senses movement, saving it to a memory stick (someone else mentioned this upthread, too). They are using it though because they recently had a break in and wanted to catch the guy, so a similar situation to yours. Assuming there are windows right where the bushes are, you can easily set up a camera and have it point directly to the area and have it record to the computer. Even easier, set up a motion activated flood light so that when they approach the bushes, the light will come on, likely scaring them away (or if they are ballsy enough, they'll just use the light to make some cuts!), in which case, you'll have video evidence of it.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 7:10 AM on May 2, 2012

I would both install the video camera (assuming it's not too much of a pain in the ass) AND have the conversation with the neighbor, but I would wait until having something on video before approaching them, regardless of whether it's them doing it, someone else, or impossible to tell from what you get.

You've had enough bad experiences with them that I'd hesitate to go into a conversation without having things worked out a move or two ahead, including your expectations of the conversation and what you'll do civilly or legally if it doesn't work out to your satisfaction. I definitely wouldn't mention that you have a video camera installed until you've got something damning on video, because someone off-kilter enough to vandalize their neighbor's property will probably figure out how to conceal their identity with a mask or something if they think they're being filmed, so best to keep the idea off their radar entirely.

A conversation with them isn't going to do much good to give you peace of mind about this affair, because you already know you can't trust them. They may have some as of yet unthought of explanation that puts everything in a better perspective, but that's really the only way the conversation accomplishes anything. If they say they don't know what's going on, you've got nothing, and if you tip them off to the video camera and they're the ones who are behind it, you've just made it more difficult to prove that it's them.
posted by alphanerd at 7:25 AM on May 2, 2012

I think that you need to think of your goal. Is it to stop them or catch them. If you catch them, then what? I can only assume it would escalate tensions. A motion sensor light and a camera could prevent them from trying again, if you make sure they know about it.
posted by Gor-ella at 8:43 AM on May 2, 2012

You know, you don't even need a real camera. You just need to make them *think* you have one. A sign saying that "this area is under surveillance due to vandalism" can be effective. Though they'll probably steal the sign.
posted by RedEmma at 11:05 AM on May 2, 2012

Response by poster: So, I actually ran into the woman today, with nobody else around but our kids, so I took a chance and approached her and I said, "Hey, we've had some vandalism on our property lately, I think related to those garage break-ins on [next street over]. If anything happens to you, will you please let me know? I'm also going to install some motion-sensing lights, in the hopes that will just scare them off, and I want to make sure the light doesn't bleed in your windows or bother you, so please let me know if it does."

She was curt but actually fairly polite and seemed keenly interested what sort of vandalism, exactly, we'd had. I didn't mention the camera.

(I also know it's not related to the garage break-ins because that was a teenager-on-teenager prank and everyone involved was caught and had the fear of God put into them. But it seemed like a good way to deflect tension.)

I guess I split the difference, putting her on notice that we were aware of what was happening and were taking steps, but not saying I thought it was them, or all the steps we were taking.

It looks like a deer camera is the right solution, now I just have to decide which one to buy.
posted by Sockish American at 7:25 AM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'd strongly advise against any sort of confrontation. (mind you I am Canadian so it may be a genetic thing)

Neighbours are kind of like family except they are even harder to get away from so if things go wrong it is an awfully long road to travel.

Think of them as a manageable natural pest in your garden and work to cultivate them into being something you can work with.

It is very hard for people to stay confrontational with relentless positivity and friendliness. Share plants with them. Give them cuttings (air bag propagation is great for shrubby plants) . Be generous. Help them out with anything you can think of. Offer to do them favours and ask them for favours (Perversely people actually like you more if you can get them to do you favours ). Even if they are difficult of diffident - engage with them. Once you get past the initial barriers you will be able to ask them if they have a problem with you planting something and they will feel able to tell you if they do. Also keep in mind that it might be other people trimming your shrubs (pricey shrubs might result in some sticky fingered gardener helping themselves to cuttings they will root up in their own garden)

People often seem cranky or hostile but they very rarely really are. Usually it is something else like a bad job, life stress, divorces, social awkwardness, ..etc...

This isn't quite in my nature being much more reclusive than that but my next door neighbour is a natural PR man and he does this with everyone and as a result our tiny little part of the street has no problems at all with anything despite having a house full of heroin addicts and hardcore alcoholics right across the street and even worse a member of the House of Lords next door.

Even if they turn out to be crazy, going to war with your neighbours is an awful way to live. There is so little to gain from gathering evidence that I'd suggest you not bother with it. You ultimately will win nothing even if you do win a court case and you are just investing in confirming things that make you miserable.

Also - I really really really hate motion activated lights. You might as well build walls and put up concertina wire and imprison yourself with no hope of parole.
posted by srboisvert at 7:44 AM on May 8, 2012

Two things come to mind, if they're owners and not renters then you're likely to be stuck with them for a while. So unless they managed to get convicted of something that puts them in prison for decades you'd probably want to choose your legal avenues carefully. Spiteful idiots are a hassle, antagonized ones even more so.

This isn't to say having the local police come give them a talk isn't worth considering. It may well be, especially if the cops play along with the 'vandalism in the area' notion. Perhaps the cops can get a better 'read' on the neighbors. If they're crazy it won't be hard for the cops to pick up on it. Or maybe they're just miffed about something trivial and a cop talking to them about problems will give them a chance to vent, without making things worse between you.

Secondly, consider a fence. You know the old saying. A fence cuts right to the issue. Vegetation takes too long. Yeah, it'll cost more but it gets the stress out of the way.

Meanwhile I'd look into a motion sensor spotlight mounted HIGHER up on your house. One that covers the area in question. Sometimes shining a light makes the problem move elsewhere. They're likely to stay being crazy, just not toward you.
posted by wkearney99 at 12:01 PM on May 9, 2012

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