Help me diffuse a neighbour dispute...
November 8, 2006 9:05 AM   Subscribe

I want to avoid a feud with my neighbour - what is the best way to go about doing this? Of course there's...

Here's the background: I live in an upper-middle-class suburban neighbourhood. The neighbours are generally friendly, respectful people, with one exception - the people next door. They appear to be a nuclear family (mom, dad, two university-aged kids).

These people have assorted junk strewn about their yard (garbage cans, aquariums, etc) and their back deck is literally falling apart. In short, their back yard is an eyesore.

I could live with the back yard looking crappy, but a few years ago they left a rusted-out deep freeze sitting on their front driveway. After it was there for three weeks (!) I called the city's bylaw enforcement department, who came out and sent an official request that the junk be removed from their driveway (if they don't do it after the official request, they get fined). I know I should have just asked them to move the freezer before calling the city, but I didn't know them or want to have much to do with them.

This past weekend their son had friends over. One of the friends was kind enough to park his truck such that it was completely blocking my driveway. I was pissed off, went over and rang the doorbell, and asked that they have the truck moved. To their credit, the owner of the vehicle did move it right away, but I made sure that I voiced my displeasure about his poor parking decisions, pointing out that there were plenty of parking spots on the other side of the street that wouldn't block any driveways. The son and his friends came out, and seemed surprised that I was pissed off.

This morning I ran into the mom out front, and tried to ask her to remind their guests not to block my driveway. This deteriorated into a shouting match complete with assorted insults (going both ways) and several complaints from me about their yard, parking choices, etc. It became clear that these people don't like me because I called the bylaw people a few years ago (I knew they always suspected it was me, but I confirmed it for them this morning). The main insult that the mom had for me was to call me "a woman", which I found most ironic given her gender.

Anyhow, I've now calmed down and want to put this dispute behind me. I don't want this problem to escalate. Here's my plan:

- I will bring over a peace offering after work today, and sincerely apologize for calling the city before talking to them, and for any insult or offence I caused this morning and last weekend.

- If they don't accept the apology, I will leave the peace offering on their step, and let them know that they know where to find me if they want to put the dispute in the past.

After all that, here's my questions:

1) Is the above plan a good idea? Should I apologize ASAP, or wait a few days?

2) What is an appropriate peace offering in this situation? I was thinking something like a coffee gift basket or something similar?

3) The family is of Asian descent (Chinese, I think). Are there any cultural mores that I should know about that would let me handle this situation without creating more insults?

4) Any other advice from people who have had similar disputes? Any other advice at all?
posted by gwenzel to Home & Garden (23 answers total)
 
I'd say apologize at once. You were right to demand the removal of the freezer; but I would have talked to them first. However, that's all in the past now. Their bad behavior is ongoing. Be sincere, and be strong. Tell them that you don't WANT to call the officials to help settle these things - but make it clear that that's what'll happen if they keep blocking your drive, etc.
posted by Mister_A at 9:14 AM on November 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


Sooner is better. You've already lost face, and caused the neighbors to, also. Don't compound it by introducing any ethnic attributes to the interactions. And next time, make your request calmly and without making sure you voice your displeasure about their choices. Your asking them to unblock your drive or remove their refrigerator or whatever conveys that clearly enough.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:16 AM on November 8, 2006


You mentioned that they blocked your drive way only once and that they moved it as soon as you asked them to. Why would you then bring it up again to the mom? That looks as if seeking out a conflict.

Also, you obviously dont like these people and chances are they will have something in their yard that will upset you again, so extending an olive branch now that you will only break later on seems a bit premature.

Send them a letter stating you want to be civil and live next to each other comfortably and hope you will be able to accomplish that going forward.

oh, and lighten up
posted by crewshell at 9:19 AM on November 8, 2006


Good on you for apologizing, I don't think the gift matters, it's the thought that counts.
posted by zeoslap at 9:43 AM on November 8, 2006


From your description, it sounds like you vented a lot of frustration in their direction, when they'd just complied with your request. This makes you look like a real asshole.

Follow the first part of your plan but do not get upset when you are not warmly received. They will likely "accept" your gift and apology, and let you walk away, but you will be left feeling ambivalent. Expect this and you'll be fine. Later, things should smooth out a little more.

Whatever you do, after apologizing, you can never blow up at them again. You'll need to act rationally, avoid insults and confrontations, and generally try not to look like an asshole, like you do when you say things like this: "but I made sure that I voiced my displeasure about his poor parking decisions"

In the future, when somebody tries to make something right, let it go then and there. It's better to leave them in the embarrassed-but-happy place where they just tried to help, than to put yourself in the position of The Prick.
posted by fake at 9:47 AM on November 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


You did some things that were uncalled for. I'd say just bring up issues only when they are a definite problem (i.e. the parked car). If you are bothered by stuff in their yard, put up a privacy fence. You shouldn't have a right to complain about things in their back yard.

I would say to apologize ASAP and not necessarily to give a gift unless you know they would appreciate it. Don't expect them to want to be friends with you but go out of your way to avoid any future confrontations. And I would repeat to put up a privacy fence at least in the back yard.
posted by JJ86 at 9:54 AM on November 8, 2006


I second the lighten up suggestion.

It seems like you went way overboard on the parking thing. Dude moves his truck right away, but you continue to express your "displeasure about his poor parking decisions" and then bring it up again the next day. Maybe he thought he was just going to be there for a few minutes. It's possible he really was that inconsiderate, but one such instance certainly doesn't warrant an ongoing discussion.

The back yard does sound like a real eyesore and it would probably bug me as well. They might not have had any idea you were bothered by it since you hadn't said anything to them previously. Now that you have in the middle of a shouting match I can't see them trying too hard to please you.

I'd apologize sooner rather than later. I don't really think a gift basket is necessary. (on preview, agree with fake)
posted by ODiV at 9:55 AM on November 8, 2006


The freezer incident is water under the bridge. Either way I think the "class" of neighbors you have is really what is going to dictate the situation. As others have pointed out, they may be perfectly reasonable people. On the other hand, you can bet that there are ignorant/trashy types out there, and having dealt with a few trashy neighbors in the past and read a lot of posts on Usenet years ago, they really don't change their ways and efforts to be reasonable last a couple of weeks at best. I'd try something like sending some movie passes, an "extra" case of beer ostensibly from an office party, or other neat freebies that make it look like it's neat stuff you thought they might want to have, without trying to buy favors. I'd start down that path and see what happens.
posted by rolypolyman at 10:36 AM on November 8, 2006


It depends on the community, but a quick convo with the same people you called for the freezer in the driveway (Bylaw Dept) will tell you if you have any options for the backyard. I would venture a guess and say that you're SOL here. From a community standpoint, backyards are largely considered as private space like a living room would be, and you have no claims (as legitimate as they may seem) to how these people should have it arranged.

As to people suggesting you "lighten up" about having your driveway blocked, this is ridiculous. I suppose that parking on your lawn would be ok, as long as they moved when you asked? The justification for rehashing the issue with the mother is because she and her husband are the (likely) property owners, and this is exactly the type of thing you should do. Tell the kids to move, and bring it up with those in charge. The shouting match is regrettable, but it seems clear that these people are the inconsiderate ones, placing dead appliances in their driveway/blocking your driveway and such.

If you are going to apologize, do it sooner than later and make sure your apology is clear that you are sorry for how it escalated beyond where it should have. If these people put an old fridge in the driveway again or block your driveway again, nothing about your apology should prevent you from calling them on it again.

A gift basket (or anything other than your apology) might be too much. I would just hand over a note with your contact information on it and tell them that if they find themselves in your position (you 'accidentally' block their driveway, etc.) that they can call you immediately to have it resolved. If they can do the same, then you guys can at least move from "enemies" to "neighbors".
posted by littlelebowskiurbanachiever at 11:01 AM on November 8, 2006


I think that your plan sounds like it would be affective. However, when you talk to them you need to remember to:
a) Not blame in any way
b) honestly apologize, don't use the word "but"
c) try to make a plan for better communication in the future.

good luck!
posted by irisell at 11:10 AM on November 8, 2006


I know I should have just asked them to move the freezer before calling the city, but I didn't know them or want to have much to do with them.

While the neighbors might be complete jerks, this is the root of the problem. I remember growing up in a neighborhood where most of the people on the street at least knew each other and were capable of being at least civil to each other. The idea of having neighbors you know nothing about seems odd to me -- you share a property line, the public area in front of your houses, and so on. They're your eyes when you're out of town and they're your backup evening plan when it comes to sitting on the porch and talking. If you knew these people, you might have had the opportunity to bring up the trash issue casually and it'd be resolved -- or you'd understand what was going on and possibly not care as much.

You've likely created a one-sided battle in your mind that they know nothing about, other than their suspicions about the freezer. Make an effort to be friendly. You may find out that they're just the jerks of the neighborhood and you'll never get along, but every block has those and it's better to know.
posted by mikeh at 11:18 AM on November 8, 2006


Step back a minute and look at it from her side. You "voiced your displeasure" the next morning to the mom, who neither owned nor parked the offending truck. There were "insults both ways" but the worst thing she called you is "woman."

How would she have "always suspected you" of calling the city on them? What has transpired in the last several years that you believe that she is still holding a grudge over the freezer? Because, sorry to say, it sounds like you are the one holding the grudge, unless there is a littany of other actively unfriendly, disrespectul behavior that has been going on.

You're doing the right thing by trying to fix this now, congrats. A peace offering would be very nice, indeed. Flowers are traditional.
posted by desuetude at 12:00 PM on November 8, 2006


The eyesore next door could easily be fixed with a nice concrete block fence. Such a fence for an average-sized in-town property would likely cost about $800, sans paint or stucco covering, etc. I can tell you from experience that, though sort of sad and American, a good fence makes good neighbors.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:27 PM on November 8, 2006


Wow, their houseguest didn't really make a good choice. The family next door did not likely direct them to park in your drive. You did yell at your neighbors.

Do not tell them you called the city. Do not mention the trash in the yard.

At this point it might be wiser to send flowers with a card (go to the florist and write the card) apologizing for your terrible behavior. Express that you hope you can be friends and have a nice dinner or conversation or cup of tea or something. If you ring the doorbell they'll probably just think "Oh, it's that ass Gwenzel again. Wonder what they want now!" Besides, you probably don't know what they eat sweets wise, and no need to prompt any poison food jokes.
posted by bilabial at 12:33 PM on November 8, 2006


There were "insults both ways" but the worst thing she called you is "woman."

I probably should have clarified that I'm a guy. I didn't exactly understand how "woman" was an insult (especially coming from somebody who's female), but it seemed pretty clear that it was intended as an insult.

How would she have "always suspected you" of calling the city on them?

They've been living there since the neighbourhood was built (15+ years), and we had moved in about six months prior to the "freezer incident". No complaints had been made to the city about them before we arrived on the scene. Of course, after the argument this morning, they now know that I made the call (I said exactly that). The phone call to the city regarding the freezer happened in 2003, so it's been three years now.

One thing that I should have clarified is that there is a certain amount of language difficulty involved here - these people speak English, but I'm not sure how well they'd be able to read it. I don't want to send a note without knowing that it's going to be understood, and I don't want to put the parents in the position of asking their kids to translate for them - that's why I want to go in person.

Thanks to everybody for the suggestions - I certainly realize that I've been an asshole about what should be trivial issues. Please keep the advice coming.

As of right now, I'm inclined to pay them a visit along with my wife and daughter (to show them that we're a family too, and to minimize the chances of an argument breaking out again), but not to bring a gift.
posted by gwenzel at 2:09 PM on November 8, 2006


I think visiting with your wife and daughter sounds like a good icebreaker & tension-reliever. Don't take a gift -- that sounds too "Bree Van de Camp," if you know what I mean.
posted by Robert Angelo at 2:21 PM on November 8, 2006


I don't know about the big summit meeting. I think that would be weird -- unnecessary, overdramatic.

You were an asshole about the truck, but obviously that is not your usual MO from what you've written here. Everyone gets stressed and unloads on (mostly) innocent people sometime.

If I were your neighbor, that is already how I'd be looking at it:
(a) Gee, Gwenzel must have had a bad day because no reasonable person would bitch that much about the stupid truck. Whatever.
Either that, or
(b) Gwenzel is a dick. I guess this means we're not going to be cohosting the block party. Whatever.

If you were my neighbor, I just wouldn't care that much about what you thought about what I did. Don't get me wrong -- I do try to be considerate, and I wouldn't let appliances rust in my front yard or block your driveway. But I wouldn't really need you to be my best friend.

If you came to your neighbors now with a gift basket and an apology, I think they would probably think you were kind of a drama king. It just doesn't matter that much. Just be nice from now on, and let it go.
posted by Methylviolet at 2:58 PM on November 8, 2006


I'd bring a copy of this thread. show that your desire to make good and be a good neighbor is genuine.

No better way than to show that you solicited advice and took it.

It would make a real difference to me if I was in their place.

One more thing. I wouldn't expect anything in return. They might just stay pissed off for a while. Don't get into a thing where you expect results and don't get them and drive the feud thing much higher.

Good luck!
posted by asavage at 4:16 PM on November 8, 2006


Just apolgize and then take your cues from them after that.
posted by LGCNo6 at 5:57 PM on November 8, 2006


As a language teacher, I wouldn't worry about them not understanding the written note. Written language is always easier to understand than spoken. Just keep it simple and sweet.
posted by fake at 6:53 PM on November 8, 2006


Just an update: I took a lot of the advice given here to heart (especially the part about trying to lighten up), and had a good talk with the neighbours this evening. I sincerely apologized for overreacting, and they apologized for the parking issue and for their deck (which they have promised to get fixed sometime soon). We ended up shaking hands and agreeing to a fresh start.

Honestly I think the main thing I needed was an objective voice telling me that I was overreacting and being an asshole. Thanks for the dose of honesty, MeFi!
posted by gwenzel at 7:37 PM on November 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


Anytime you need to be reminded that you are overreacting and an asshole, you've come to the right place.

I am glad this appears to have worked out.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:46 PM on November 8, 2006


Nice work in acting like a good neighbor and taking criticism well.
posted by anildash at 8:08 PM on November 8, 2006


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