Simple solutions to neighbor disputes

THE REAL ESTATE WONK

July 18, 2008|By JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS

Loud music playing in the wee hours. Front yard doubling as a junkyard. Incursions into your property.

What to do about a neighbor who's driving you crazy?

Before you turn to the police, an attorney or small-claims court, Maryland's Peoples Law Library suggests you try:

* Talking. Broach the subject with your neighbor - nicely. If you've never spoken before, introduce yourself first; complain later.

* Writing. Put your concerns in a letter, if talking goes nowhere. Do you think the neighbor is breaking a law or ordinance? Include a copy of the rules with the letter. You might also want to keep records of the problem, if it's a recurring one, should you later need to involve the police or other authorities.

* Reaching out. Are others in the neighborhood bothered, too? Can any of them intervene because they have a better relationship with the neighbor than you do?

* Mediation. It's usually cheaper than going to court - it can be free - and is a chance for both sides to hash out their issues under guidance of a neutral third party.

Nancy Hirshman, director of the Mediation Center of the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office, says she sees a lot of neighbor disputes. "'Your music is definitely disturbing me, and your dog is running through my petunias.' ... All those irritants that really get to you over a period of time," she says.

Think your neighbor would never come to the mediation table? You might be surprised. Hirshman says people respond to her "trump card," which is pointing out the mental-health benefit of ending an ongoing battle. And once they sit down together, a "substantial percentage" of neighbors come to an agreement, she adds.

She recommends against making the authorities - whether a homeowners association or the police - your first resort.

"As times get more stressful, for whatever the reason - whether it's the economy or someone's house is about to go into foreclosure - patience runs thin and they might not handle a situation as nicely as they would have if they didn't have this degree of stress," Hirshman said. "But they're not criminal. ... I always believe that face-to-face communication is the best policy, provided that you don't go over there right after some incident that has really set you off. Calm down first."

Her center offers its services at no charge to Anne Arundel residents. Fees vary elsewhere. You can find a list of Maryland mediation centers at marylandmediation.org/ centers.htm and a list of Maryland mediators at www.mcdr.org.

Find more information at Jamie's blog, baltimoresun.com/realestatewonk.

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