Neighbor Lady: Land of the Free, to Be Messy

In Somerville, eye-sore neighborhood buildings come with the territory.

"Dear Neighbor Lady,

How do I get my neighbor to remove all the crap from his porch? There's a ripped-up old couch, a rusty dorm-room-sized refrigerator, some beach chairs and children's beach toys from the mid-1990s and some random pieces of lumber. It's like a miniature dump out there. It would be one thing if my neighbor sat on the couch and used all that stuff, but he doesn't. It just sits there. Maybe he doesn't have storage space in the basement, or something, but I kind of don't care. Also, how do I get him to paint his building?


Eyes are sore

Dear Sore Eyes,

You’ve heard the anthem: “…in the land of the free and the home of the brave.” I suppose, with my hand over my heart, your neighbor is free to be as untidy as he likes on his own property. 

Do you have to accept it? Well, are you brave enough to ask the neighbor to change it? Does he have to abide by your requests? Time to drum your fingers on your desk and think about this.

There are American communities that are a little bit less free than perhaps your neighborhood here in Somerville. The people who have chosen to live in controlled communities have gates and elected (appointed?) committees that lay down precise regulations.

The committees are all about deciding what is on whose porch and when. Not only are they concerned about the frequency of your house painting, they give you directives about the precise color you are allowed to use. These committees have the authority to ship you right into shape, thank you very much, because you signed onto their opinions at the dotted line when you got the key to the wrought iron fence.

Many of us, and I am counted among them, prefer not to live so bound by strict rules designed to maintain others’ ideas of what is acceptable—unless I happen to agree with those rules (such as stop at red lights, go at green). 

I could never keep up with what I thought were trivial or meaningless expectations. Therefore, I am willing to pay the price by living amongst others more or less like me. We do the best we can with the time and financial resources we got and sometimes we fall in and out of others’ expectations. 

Like you, I think it is important for the sake of property values, beauty, and general enjoyment of pleasant landscapes for homeowners to maintain a junk-free porch and a painted house. But not everyone does. While you are free to speak politely to your neighbors about it, your jurisdiction over their behavior them ends there.

Previously, I have offered some (I like to think) peaceful ways to approach a fellow property owner with a delicate message about home maintenance:

I have even helped someone fend off a neighbor who had too-eager a corrective message about lawn upkeep:

You could try of one of these strategies for pleasant communication and then hope for their charmed compliance. 

If not, well, I guess your view is shot but your neighborly rapport might be OK—if you can let your disappointment go. When it comes to neighbors, it is better to feel good than to look good.

Got a question for Neighbor Lady? Email neighborlady617@gmail.com or visit Neighbor Lady's Facebook page.

Jodie Dow-Novaes September 19, 2011 at 12:22 PM
perhaps this person could (nicely) offer to help the neighbor move the things out for the trash pick-up? or offer to do it for them? perhaps the person can't physically do it themselves.


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