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There are neighbors who try to annoy and then those who seemingly don’t know any better. How bad neighbors can affect your sanity and your property values—and what you can do about it.
A neighbor insists on walking in front of his sliding glass door—naked—in Raleigh’s Victoria Place neighborhood
In a different subdivision, someone threatens to call the cops on a Girl Scout Troop distributing luminaries at Christmas.
These are reader anecdotes. What is going on? Certainly there are neighbors that are heaven-sent (and thank God for those), but lately we’re hearing a lot about neighbors behaving badly. National media outlets like 20/20 have even started doing regular segments called “Neighbors from Hell.”
Are “bad” neighbors getting worse?
Bob Borzotta, who lives in Philadelphia, is 20/20’s on-air “neighbor troubleshooter.” He’s also appeared on the Steve Harvey Show and consulted for NPR, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
He makes a living from neighbors behaving badly. He wrote “Neighbors from Hell” in 2009 and manages a website of the same name.
So, are neighbors getting worse? Borzotta answered that and a few other questions via email, while prepping for yet another 20/20 episode.
Q: Have we always had neighbors from hell or are they becoming worse?
A: Neighbor disputes are nothing new, but their violent outcomes are sharply on the rise over the last 10 years—particularly during the last five.
Q. How did you get interested in this topic?
Were you the victim of a “Neighbor from Hell” yourself?
A: Yes, I was among the millions who mistakenly had a reasonable expectation of neighborliness from those living in close proximity—keeping the noise down, respecting boundaries such as fence lines and privacy, containing dog-doo and other unpleasantries—just the basic things a good neighbor does.
Eighty percent of us are decent folks who make for just-darn-fine neighbors; the other 20 percent (by my calculations after doing this for 15 years) are loud, smelly, obnoxious jerks, hell-bent on causing conflict. How do you stop a war you don’t want to be in when you’re dealing with someone like that? I learned from my own experience, and then through helping thousands of people online before writing the book, that it’s nearly impossible. But it can be done.
Q: What’s the biggest mistake people make?
A: The biggest mistake many of us make when dealing with a Neighbor From Hell—present company included—is to lose our cool. They do all sorts of stuff to upset and anger us, so naturally we get mad and might really want to throw a punch or make a threat against them.
But there are two big reasons not to: First, they want that; they want us down at their level, and they want our confirmation that they have successfully caused us unhappiness and pain. Second, taking a violent action or making a threat is like going over to the Dark Side. You are the “good guy” only as long as you remain good.
Handling hellish humans
Borzotta says he’s learned to be creative in handling troublesome neighbors.
“You know, you have to talk to people with respect at first and, when that fails, start speaking their language,” he says. “What the good neighbors need to learn is that they (the bad neighbors) are actually just as vulnerable to us as we are to them.
“Let’s say you have a dozen college students renting a small home next door, and they party every night past 2 a.m.,” Borzotta continues. “I see this a lot—police seem unable to stop it from happening and won’t make arrests or write tickets, so it just keeps happening.”
Borzotta takes this approach: “You like late-night parties while we all need sleep? Guess what? You’re not sleeping in past lunch ever again. You’re on our schedule now, kids. We’re up at 6 a.m., and our legal construction work outside your bedroom will shake you out of any stupor.”
And if that doesn’t work…
Going before a judge can be useful and it doesn’t necessarily have to cost a ton.
“If you have video proof of a neighbor’s ongoing campaign of harassment, noise, endangerment of your children, etc., you can visit your local court clerk in many cases and file a private criminal complaint,” he says.
In most cases, a clerk will schedule a probable cause hearing and you present the evidence to a judge; the neighbor is subpoenaed and must appear as well. If the judge sees harassment, he or she might issue a restraining order or a bench order to stop the behavior. The next time you call the police when the activity comes up; if it does, the police can arrest the neighbor.
If you’re selling or buying a home
A terrible neighbor can be a terrible problem. Raleigh has its fair share of ornery neighbors. RM sat down with a roundtable of local Realtors to ask about the neighbor-wrangling they’ve encountered and how cranky neighbors can kill a sale.
A zoo out back
One neighbor living in a house off Falls of Neuse had animal pens out back.
“Not only did they have the backyard chickens, it was Noah’s Ark—one of every outdoor animal, including llamas,” says Realtor Gina Gilliam with Gilliam and Associates Realty. “It was like a petting zoo. We were representing the buyers and they said, ‘That’s adorable they’re doing that, but we don’t want to live next door to it.’”
Trying to make nice
Amy Butler, vice president and sales manager for Fonville Morisey’s Glenwood Avenue office, says one popular house sat on the market because of a neighbor issue. The potential buyers tried to make friends with them.
“They quickly found out that it wasn’t even in the realm of possibility so they backed out and did not buy the home they loved so much,” says Butler.
“The lady that screams
Another realtor (who wanted to remain unnamed because she still lives in the neighborhood) lived beside this family for 15 years; the wife would scream at people walking by the house or parking on the street—even at kids playing. She was known by the other neighbors as “the lady that screams at everybody.”
“I think she was mentally ill. We never confronted them. We ignored it,” says our Realtor.
One day, the husband of the woman approached our realtor’s husband outside and said, “The bitch is dead.” The woman had died of an aneurism. The man decided to sell the home and his neighbor, our realtor, listed and sold it.
“I remarked how the kitchen floors looked like they’d never been walked on,” she recalls. “He said, ‘I was not allowed to eat in the kitchen. I had to eat in the garage.’”
Frivolous police calls
Realtor Molly Bonis of Fathom Realty in Raleigh has a client whose neighbor keeps calling the police to report her cat roaming the neighborhood. And Penny Breen, who lives in Cary, said someone called the police to report her and her friends walking in the street. A police offer came and she asked, “Where else should we walk?” He said he didn’t know and drove away.
Doing yard work—next door
A woman trying to sell her home was confused when potential buyers focused on the downtrodden yard next door. Realtor Gina Gilliam says her client finally knocked on the neighbor’s door. “She said, ‘I’m trying to sell my house and yours is impacting the sale.’
“Apparently the guy was widowed, and he’d just kind of let everything go,” continues Gilliam. “She spent an entire weekend just cleaning up his yard, including mulching and landscaping. It was worth it to her to check that off the list.”
Molly Bonis was attempting to sell a patio home in Raleigh:
“As soon as I went back out with my clients, there were a swarm of neighbors,” says Bonis. “Who are you? Where are you from? It was horrible. It ruined the sale.”
The power of purple
Years ago, another couple looked at a home at night and were ready to write an offer right then, but Gilliam suggested they go back and look during the day to be sure.
“We went back the next day and, sure enough, the house next door was bright purple. The buyer said, ‘I don’t want to look at a purple house every day when I go to get the paper.’
Loud and smelly!
When Gilliam listed a house in Quail Ridge, she heard anecdotes of one neighbor (luckily far away from her listing). “She would come out in the middle of the night and bring a shovel and drag it across the street to make a terrible noise. And she knew her neighbor next door was really sensitive to chemicals, and she would stand on her porch and spray Raid in their direction. The police were called a million times, but it was really difficult to prove some of the stuff.”
What is an HOA?
A governing body in a neighborhood that comprises homeowners, all agreeing to certain set of “covenants” or guidelines—from exterior paint colors to where a basketball hoop can go. Monthly dues are typically paid for maintenance and elected members sit on a governing board. Failure to pay dues or maintain property can result in fines, a lien on your home and even foreclosure.
or not to have?
“I think it’s better to have one but you have some clients who don’t want to be told what to do with their property,” says Molly Bonis, Fathom Realty.
Gilliam adds: “I agree. That being said, there are certain HOAs known for being
Tales from the HOA
Brooke Hoff has patient ears—ready to hear complaints and disputes and figure out how to handle them. The most common are barking dogs, parking issues and loud neighbors.
The more unusual veer into the category of anxiety and hurt feelings:
“My neighbor has a hive of bees, and I am worried about them getting into my yard and stinging my family,” says Hoff, recounting one complaint. “Or ‘My neighbor sits on her front porch and glares at me.’”
Hoff is the co-owner of Professional Properties Management of Raleigh, Inc. (PPM), which manages more than 180 residential and office condo associations in the Triangle.
How an HOA can help—or not
The biggest mistake Hoff says homeowners make is not understanding how associations work and what the HOA’s parameters are in terms of being able to assist with homeowner concerns.
“The HOA is not responsible for everything that happens in a community so homeowners should first find out if their concern is addressed in the community’s legal documents and what recourse is available through the association, says Hoff.
“Some concerns may need to be addressed by the local government—for example violations of municipal laws and ordinances such as animal control, drug enforcement and noise disturbances.”
Best advice: Be objective and don’t react with a hair-trigger temper. “Don’t overlook the value of having a good relationship with your neighbors,” says Hoff.
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