How to Be a Friendly Neighbor

neighborhood etiquette

A plate of cookies can go a long way.

“Getting to know people is a peacemaking strategy,” says Laura Jeffords, an Asheville, N.C. community mediator who is on the board of the National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM).

Starting off as a friendly neighbor

Making friendly overtures to newcomers sets the tone for your own relationship and can shape the culture of the entire neighborhood, says Jeffords, especially in changing or growing areas popular with families escaping cities, retirees seeking peace and quiet and longtime residents who expect to raise livestock or pets on their land.

Dialogue can help set neighborhood etiquette

People with different backgrounds, lifestyles and cultures often have different expectations about what it means to be a respectful, friendly neighbor, she says. Someone who wants to be left alone may not be happy to open the front door on Saturday morning and be faced with small talk from neighbors out for a walk. Conversely, newcomers seeking friends may misconstrue neighborly boundaries as standoffishness.

All of that is often unsaid, and that’s why conversations help defuse conflicts before they even start, says Jeffords. “The ultimate goal is for everyone to live peacefully in the neighborhood,” she says. A great conversation starter is to ask what the neighbor wants from living in the neighborhood. You can find mutual aspirations and bond over shared hopes.

Look over ordinances and rules

Review municipal ordinances and homeowners’ association rules to understand what’s OK before complaining. Homeowners’ associations regulations can dictate details right down to visitor parking and when it’s all right to water flowers. Municipal noise and nuisance ordinances usually outline what activities are allowed when. If your neighbor revs up the leaf blower at 8 a.m. on Saturdays, exactly when the law says he can, he’s perfectly within his rights.

How to approach a neighbor with a complaint

If a problem emerges, approach your neighbor with the expectation that you can easily work out a solution instead of expecting pushback. Jeffords says that a common problem of afternoon noise – from barking dogs, children playing outdoors or construction – can be disruptive to some.

Neighbors may not realize how disruptive the noise is for you. Explain the impact of the noise and ask how your families can arrive at a solution. Most people, are sympathetic and will offer a compromise, such as keeping a dog inside in the afternoon. After all, they’ll expect the same courtesy when they make requests of you. Common disputes, according to NAFCM records, include pets, pet noise, trash and traffic.

Jeffords’ tips for handling such disputes: Anticipate and try to mitigate the impact of traffic, congestion, parking and inconveniences if you run a home-based business that involves deliveries or a stream of clients to your house. Even regular meetings of a book club can cause difficulties if neighbors can’t easily get into their own driveways. Set rules and expectations for business operations and guests to minimize the impact on your neighbors.

Home improvement neighborhood etiquette

Home improvement projects inflict a heightened level of disruption, especially in city neighborhoods. Before your project starts, review neighborhood regulations and rules with the contractor. You might even draw up a courtesy sheet and ask the contractor to give it to all subcontractors so they know what disruptions are allowed, and when.

Clue your neighbors into the project schedule so they can plan accordingly.

Walk the project site daily and pick up debris that might end up in neighbors’ yards, especially important when they have pets or small children. When it’s all over, invite your patient neighbors over for an open house so they can see what all the fuss was about.

Find easy ways you can help your neighbors out

It’s always smart to turn your daily activities into an advantage for your neighbors. If you’re always catching the delivery van, offer to hold packages for neighbors with 9-to-5 jobs. If you’re nitpicky about your garden, offer to water your neighbors’ plants while they’re away for the weekend. If your neighbors are going to be away for an extended period, offer to look after their house. There are a few things a neighbor can do to help keep a house safe when the owners are away.

Having an open dialogue about neighborhood etiquette and offering a few friendly gestures can go a long way. That’s the kind of give-and-take that brings neighbors, and entire neighborhoods, together.