Neighbour Problems: How to avoid them

A5 Get Your Story Straightneighbour problems. A bad neighbour is a misfortune as much as a good neighbour is a blessingNeighbour problems steal your sanity. They turn mild-mannered people into raging tigers.  Too often, minor issues become major ones and the problem escalates.  So how can we avoid getting caught up in disputes with our neighbours? What are the most common issues that cause neighbour problems? What can we do if problems arise?

How to avoid neighbour problems

Although I am a mediator, I continually strive to make myself redundant. So many conflicts would be resolved painlessly, if only people had the skills and the courage to speak up at an early stage.

All will concede that in order to have good neighbors, we must also be good neighbors. That applies in every field of human endeavor. Harry S. Truman

What is a good neighbour?

This is the tricky question. To some, a good neighbour notices when your curtains aren’t pulled and knocks on your door to ask if you are okay. For others, that would be a nosy, interfering neighbour. Find out (ideally before you move) whether what you want and the way you live your life fits into where you want to live. If you like parties and staying up late and you live in a neighbourhood where no one else does, you may well end up with neighbour problems, however nice a person you are.

Cultural differences and customs could also cause problems. Being polite and generous are valued in all cultures; what this means varies. For example, in some countries being polite means leaving people alone, in others it means calling round with an invitation.

Here’s a great thing to do when someone does something that makes you mad or feeling hurt.

Be curious instead of furious

What might have been the reason they reacted/didn’t respond? Do some research. Don’t assume their viewpoint is the same as theirs.

Build a relationship

It can be hard to start a conversation about sensitive topics, so look for things you have in common and build a polite relationship BEFORE there are issues arise. Why not say something like “I hope if I do anything you are unhappy with you are able to tell me.” If there are times or ways you would prefer to communicate, let them know and ask them how they would like you to communicate.  Some people prefer an email rather than a visit. Offer to take in parcels if you are at home, or do a small job. Smile when you see them.

Communicate early and tentatively as soon as there is a niggle

Speak before things get to the stage where they really bother you. Waiting until you are really angry is not sensible as when we are angry we don’t think straight. Confused about when to speak up and when to stay silent? Here is some guidance.   

What are the most common causes of neighbour problems?

There are two issues which arise again and again–noise and boundary disputes. Rather than rush to the council or the court with complaints, try and avoid escalating the conflict.


If you think there is going to be a problem, speak about it beforehand if at all possible. For example, if you are going to be working nights, mention this to your neighbours, not as a demand but a request. “When I’m on night shift, I sleep between 9 and 3, so I’d really appreciate it if you wouldn’t mind mowing the lawn after 3 pm if possible.” And if you are having a party, let the neighbours know, or even invite them. There are legal limits to noise, but just because you are within legal limits, it doesn’t mean that you should do it. A bit of thoughtfulness and communication will make like much easier for everyone.


Before getting riled, think about what is important and the consequences. Boundaries are not as clear-cut as people think they are, maps and deeds may differ by a metre or more. Is it really worth the cost and aggravation for a few inches? Gardening Which has some useful hints on how to resolve issues. Try and see it from your neighbour’s point of view–it is unlikely that they are trying to steal land from you, it may be they believe that is where the boundary is or that it makes it easier to build the fence.  Check the story you are telling yourself about the neighbour–is it true? The stories we tell ourselves can make us into victims and take away our power. By changing the story, we can take back control.

What can we do if neighbour problems arise?

At the first sign of something going wrong, pause.

  1. Stop and work out what has happened. What else might have been going on that made us or our neighbours react as we did? Download a useful worksheet to help you work out what’s going on  It might be that it happened at the end of a bad day, or the seemingly minor incident triggered bad memories.
  2. Acknowledge your own pain/annoyance/anger and soothe yourself (Let me know if you need some tools for this)
  3. Accept that your view is only part of the picture and the other person may see it differently.
  4. Apologise–it’s not about whose fault it is, it’s about putting things right.
  5. Act in a way that helps heal the situation. Try and see the other person as your teammate in solving the problem. Ask for their view, and try and be flexible.

Yes, I know these are all easy to say and hard to do.

That’s why it is important to do it early, before emotions get fired up and relationships are badly damaged. Practice on the little things…

Don’t rush to the lawyers or the council to complain. That’s for when you’ve tried the alternatives and they haven’t worked.

Talk to an impartial third party and get things into perspective. I’m always happy to chat about issues and help you work out the right way forward.