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Are your neighbours nice or nasty?

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Experts tell you how to ensure you remain on good terms with those living next door and nearby

To live in a great neighbourhood and enjoy all the comforts that come with being part of a tight-knit community, you have to be a good neighbour yourself.

There’s certainly no shortage of examples of bad neighbours in TV shows and films (think Homer Simpson or any neighbour in Desperate Housewives). But what does it mean to be a genuinely good neighbour?

Etiquette experts share ways to build and maintain positive, long-lasting relationships with your neighbours. (It takes more than lending someone a cup of sugar.) 

Share important information

One of the best ways to welcome new neighbours is by providing them with a “need to know” checklist, says Diane Gottsman, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life. If you know a great housekeeper, handyman, dry cleaner, dog walker or gardening service, give their contact information to your new neighbour. Include suggestions on the best and nearest grocery stores, restaurants and pharmacies.

Keep up your pavement appeal

Just one ugly home in a community can reduce property values for the entire neighbourhood. You don’t want to become known as the owner of “that ugly house” – the one with knee-high grass, overflowing gutters, dirty windows, peeling paint or toys scattered across the front yard.

“You should be cleaning up the front of your house as much as possible,” says Lizzie Post, co-president of an etiquette training business.

Be a responsible pet owner

“Pets can be a big bone of contention between neighbours so you need to keep animals in check,” says etiquette consultant Lisa Mirza Grotts. Begin with Pet Etiquette 101: Clean up after your pooch. “When you take your dog for a walk, do not deposit your dog’s poop bag into someone else’s rubbish bin,” Gottsman says. “It sounds basic, but it happens a lot.”

Organise a service project

You may want to attend block parties, community cookouts and other neighborhood events so you can mingle and form friendships. To go an extra mile, suggests etiquette expert Elaine Swann, coordinate a community-wide project that neighbours can participate in together, such as decking out your neighbourhood’s playground for Christmas. Live close to a senior citizen? Assemble a group of neighbours to help hang lights outside the person’s house for the holidays.

Invite your neighbours over

Recently moved in? One way to build rapport is by inviting your neighbours over for a house-warming party, instead of inviting only your friends.“Let people know you’re not accepting gifts,” Post says. “This should simply be a social event.” Once you’ve established a relationship, you could form a neighbourhood book club or weekly soccer game to deepen friendships.

Don’t be the town gossip

Part of being a good neighbour is avoiding gossip. However, Post says, there’s a difference between “good” gossip and “bad” gossip. “If a neighbour’s mother passes away, communicating that news to other neighbours so that people can attend the funeral is good gossip,” she says. Bad gossip, meanwhile, spreads negative rumours (for example: “I heard Jerry got fired from his job. I’m not surprised”).

Be a respectful party host

Keeping music at a reasonable noise level when you’re throwing a party is common sense. An aspect people frequently overlook is minding where their guests park. “The last thing you want is for your guest to block your neighbour’s driveway,” Gottsman says. You also don’t want your guests’ cars to take up the entire block, which is why Gottsman suggests hiring a valet service to handle guest parking (if you can afford it).

Abide by community rules

If you live in an estate or complex, you have to comply with the community’s rules. A lot of people don’t take the time to review their association’s rules, Swann says. These rules may dictate parking restrictions, rubbish and recycling schedules, landscaping requirements, move in procedures and more. 

Breaking your association’s rules can not only result in fines but also ruffle feathers with neighbours. “It’s your responsibility to police yourself if you want to avoid conflict,” Swann says.

Check local codes to make sure you’re following city ordinances, particularly regarding noise. A new survey by Improvenet.com showed that six of the top 10 complaints people have about their neighbours involve noise from music, voices, parties, children, pets and the TV set.

Handle conflict judiciously

No matter how friendly you are, you may have disagreements or quibbles with neighbours. Handling these conflicts with tact is crucial. Generally, if you have an issue with a neighbour, your first line of defence should be to try to resolve the problem with the person directly. This should always be done face-toface, not by text message or email, Swann says.

The Washington Post

Know your rights about other properties in your area

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER You may hate the sight of what your neighbour thinks is beautiful. Picture: Supplied

Has a neighbour ruined the value of your property?

Some residential property owners in South Africa have been through the frustrating experience of finding that the value of their homes and the pleasures they derive from it, are suddenly greatly diminished by what their neighbour does with his or her property.

However, you may not always be right, and the law may not always find in the offended person’s favour. If a homeowner, for instance, objects to a neighbouring property because it lowers the tone of the neighbourhood or is architecturally displeasing or blocks the view, there is usually nothing he can do about it if the new building complies with municipal regulations.

“In some cases, if the new neighbour is befriended by those around him he may be amenable to altering his plans. This is certainly a course worth pursuing,” says Rowan Alexander, director of Alexander Swart Property.

Alexander says there have been many cases where large double- or triple-storey homes were erected on the northern side of smaller homes, obstructing their views and sunlight.

“In almost every case the new buildings were perfectly legal, with the result that the neighbour had to accept the situation.” However, homeowners can object when a neighbour breaks the law or municipal regulations, for example proceeding with building without planning permission from the local authorities, or has disregarded zoning rulings or restrictions such as height and distance from the boundary.

Owners of such buildings can then be reported to local authorities, who have the power to either stop the work and/or order a demolition, says Alexander.

If the offender fails to take action, the courts have the same power and, in addition, may order the offending party to pay compensation for the trouble and disruption he has caused his neighbour or other nearby property owners.

In some cases this compensation is paid out while allowing the illegal building to remain intact.

Keep it neighbourly on social media 

BE CAREFUL Do not share personal information and political views on social media groups for your suburb. Picture: Pixelkult/Pixabay

Neighbour groups on social media are the modern solution to face-toface interactions with our neighbours. The invention of the neighbourhood group has been beneficial in many ways.

Adrian Goslett, regional director and chief executive of Re/Max of Southern Africa, gives the following best practices for all homeowners who participate in these suburb groups:

Never Share Personal Details No matter how tightly managed entry to these groups may be, do not share bank details, cellphone numbers and any other personal details. Rather do this via a direct message. Similarly, rather than announcing your holiday plans to the group, approach just one trustworthy neighbour to keep an eye out on your home while you’re away.

Avoid Controversial Topics Neighbourhood groups exist to share information you think your neighbours might find useful and relevant. To avoid conflict, do not share content such as politics, religion and conspiracy theories that might spark debate or conflict.

Double-check Facts

“Before sharing anything on the group, be sure it comes from a reliable source. Fake news is becoming more and more prominent on social media these days, and the last thing you would want is to spread panic in your suburb based on incorrect facts.” 

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