our everyday life

How to Deal with a Harassing Neighbor

by Freddie Silver

Robert Frost wrote, "Good fences make good neighbors." This means that to maintain amicable relationships with our neighbors, you need to respect other people's privacy and keep a healthy distance. When disagreements occur, they may quickly escalate to action and revenge. Neighbor harassment might be caused by people who are desperately seeking new friendships that are not mutual or when an offense has been taken and vengeance is sought.

Examine your own behavior to determine whether you said or did something that may have triggered the harassment. Do not seek out your neighbor to borrow anything or initiate any conversations if the harassment stems from overly friendly neighbors who do not respect your privacy.

Cease any unreasonable behaviors you or other members of your family might have been doing. For example, if your teenagers have been playing very loud music late at night that disturbs your neighbors' sleep, your teen must refrain from doing so.

Discuss the situation face to face with the neighbor. Do not raise your voice or express your anger. State your feelings calmly and explain to your neighbor why his behavior is a harassment. For example, if he has been ringing your doorbell very early every morning to demand you move your car because he believes it is blocking his driveway, point out to him where the property line is and show him how you are within your rights to park there. If, however, you are blocking his driveway, you will have to find an alternate place to park your car.

Elicit support for your point of view from the authorities if necessary. Check your municipal by-laws to ensure you are within your rights if the harassment is caused by a dispute over property rights. Inform the neighbor that you will have to resort to calling the police if the harassment continues.

Ask other neighbors whether they are experiencing similar problems with the same neighbor. Gather signatures on a petition as a last resort if you feel it will help the neighbor realize his complaints are invalid.

Try a little loving kindness if the harassment consists of the neighbor complaining about your behavior. Bring the neighbor a home-baked cake or merely try some friendly conversation. Choose a time when the neighbor is not angry and try to connect on a personal level; your neighbor's anger might be stemming from loneliness.

Try avoiding the neighbor as much as possible until emotions calm down. Leave for work a bit earlier than usual, if possible, to avoid having to confront the neighbor every morning if that is when the harassment usually occurs. Do not answer back if the neighbor screams unreasonable comments at you. Childish behavior often can be corrected by responding in an appropriate way. Do not stoop to his level and scream back; this will only continue the unpleasantness.

Consult a lawyer and get her to send a warning letter to the harassing neighbor. Follow up with court action if the situation escalates; the courts may issue a "cease and desist order" that may cause the neighbor to finally realize he must stop his problematic behavior.

Put your house up for sale and move if none of the suggestions bring about improvement in the situation. Unreasonable neighbors can ruin the enjoyment and sanctity of your home, and moving may, unfortunately, be the only possible way to avoid the unpleasantness.

About the Author

Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.

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