Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ask Wednesday: Ask Susan

How can I amicably deal with my unbearable neighbors?

By Susan C. Price

[Questions are followed by answers and then, inevitably by DID expect that...didn’t you?]

My neighbors are making my life unbearable! They play loud music, especially on weekends, and they are always bar-b-cuing and the smoke comes over to my garden, making sitting outside very unpleasant. They are a young family with four children under 12. I know it’s hard keeping them all amused, but my husband and I are in our 60s and want a quieter life. We’ve already been there, done it, and wear the T-shirt, if you know what I mean!
    How can I approach the subject without causing an issue? We have been neighbors for five years, and up until the past summer we never had any cross words. –Neighbor

Dear Neighbor,
    Yes, it is always a challenge when things change and your happy home has new inputs that you did not order and did not expect and that annoy you. Similar sound and smell changes could occur, you know, from a new road, or changes in the weather. Sigh. Ok, now you have whined, and it’s time to put on your best behavior and treat your neighbors as you wish to be treated: with kindness, patience, and good humor.
    It sounds like the loud music, barbeque smoke, and noise of four children has increased in the past two years, and that this led to some disagreeable interactions? Start by apologizing to the parents for any prior nastiness on your part. Invite both parents over for “tea,” or simply bring them a baked good or nice plant and ask to schedule a quiet talk. Maybe you have items of mutual interest like fences or yards in which you can be helpful to one another. Maybe you have some things you do or don’t do that annoy them? (We have had neighbor complaints about seniors not keeping a house painted, and garbage cans not swiftly returned from the curb.) Find out, ask. When that pleasant discussion is finished, then you can ask if they can suggest alternatives or time limits to the loud music, and help with the barbeque smoke. They might be unaware of how and why these items are invading your life.

Some people do not respond to nice. It does happen. But you will have made the effort (so you will feel good about yourself). They might just say, “Tough! Playing and eating outdoors is how our family entertains in the summer...this is our home and we can use it as we please.” Or they might ask you to join them more often. If you understood the might like it, and you might like the barbeque?
    If they are totally dismissive of your concerns, well, you have lost a good neighbor relationship and might not find it again. You can involve the local authorities and call and complain...but this seldom goes well. You can perhaps re-insulate windows, get a sound machine to generate something more pleasant than their music, close your windows and doors, install a fan, stay inside when they barbeque, go out in the evenings,.... Yes, I know that none of these alternatives feels good or fair. Or you can move (and, trust me...there may be issues in a new location...including an over-55 development...people’s habits easily annoy each other...). Or you can wait. Children grow. Barbequing is usually not year round. And, while you wait, you can laugh and realize that life always has changes. Being flexible, and having a sense of humor, are the best ways forward. Spend some time being embarrassed and laughing about how you and your growing family made your former neighbors nuts. Put that on the T-shirt.
    Good luck.

[We would really like more questions to answer, so send ’em in….]

Copyright © 2014 by Susan C. Price


  1. Good advise Susan. Even in Costa Rica there is that problem.Across the road and just up the hill from us is a family who likes to start their music early each Sat, morning. It is Spanish and while I like Latin music all I can hear is the bass--boom, boom, boom. After an education (with a sound system far greater than theirs) into the wonders of Willie Nelson, and the Rolling Stones---they play their music at a reasonable volume. They do have large parties once in a while, which although it disturbs us I overlook it as I remember when we too loved to party.

  2. hey ed, go to the party! i bet its fun, invite yourself in with a food offering? i still love to party..i just tend to start well before its dark and end very early :-)

  3. I'm afraid that although we would be welcome those days are behind me I'm just happy to be alive to remember them. And if there is one thing worse than being around a bunch of drunk people and you are sober is having someone at your party that is sober.