What You Can Do About Messy Neighbors

By: Matilda Davies

Poor upkeep of a neighbor’s home can ultimately affect your property value. In fact, the Appraisal Institute reports that a bad neighbor can decrease your property value by as much as 10%. Broaching the subject of messy neighbors can be uncomfortable, but a neighbor with great curb appeal can boost yours as well, so the conversation may be worth the trouble. Here’s what you can do about messy neighbors.

1. First, simply ask them to clean it up (or offer to help)

Let’s be honest, this option will be the toughest for most of us. Your neighbor may not be able to see their mess, so kindly pointing out the problem may be all that it takes. Try a simple, Hey, would you mind picking up those toys in the yard when the kids aren’t using them? We typically keep ours in the garage just to keep up curb appeal.

Your neighbor may be elderly, dealing with a health crisis, or unable to afford a fix to the problem. Your asking about the problem might open the door for a conversation about how you can help out a neighbor or help find them assistance.

“If helping them yourself is not a viable option, seek outside help,” says Sophie Kaemmerle of Neighborhood Who. “Most counties have home improvement programs for veterans, seniors, and individuals who have a low income, or other individuals who may be having difficulty maintaining their home. Search online for “single-family rehabilitation” and your city’s name. In addition, most counties have non-profit organizations where volunteers help individuals in need to repair their homes, such as helping a senior citizen paint their home or removing unwanted trash from their front yard.”

2. Call on your HOA, if you have one

Most homeowners associations (HOAs) and condo boards will require a certain level of upkeep from residents, so you can notify the HOA if your neighbors are in violation of a specific requirement.

3. Contact local government or an attorney

“If polite talk and offering to help doesn’t work, then it might be time to call your local town or city,” says John Graff, CEO of Ashby + Graff Real Estate. “Depending on the specific nature of the eyesore, your local government may be able to intervene. Try contacting your local city council member or try the building department.”

In fact, some municipalities, like Philadelphia, where Antonella Colella practices law, have a hotline dedicated just for this purpose. “If a property is unkempt on the outside, with tall grass, or trees that need to be trimmed or cut, for example, you can call a city number and a city official will inspect the property and issue citations.” Colella also points out some cities have nuisance ordinances that may be applicable to particularly sloppy neighbors. “If you have a home that is in disrepair or looks abandoned, you can file a nuisance complaint and have the city inspect as well.”

Tom Simeone, of Simeone & Miller in Washington, DC, notes that a nuisance in legal terms means that “the condition causes a negative effect on the neighbor’s land, by virtue of an odor, loud noise, rodents or loose running pets.”

“A nuisance is the use of land in a way that interferes with someone else’s use of their land,” says Simeone. “If reporting the conditions to the county or town government does not work, then it may be worthwhile to retain an attorney to write a letter requesting that the conditions creating the nuisance be stopped.  If a letter does not work, a lawsuit can be considered, although that is expensive due to attorney fees and litigation costs.”

4. Obscure your view

If kind requests and involving the authorities just aren’t working, then you can get creative with landscaping to obscure your view of your neighbor’s home and yard. Fast-growing trees like Leyland Cypress and American Holly are low maintenance and are a way to both screen your view of the messy property and boost your own curb appeal. Though more costly, you can also put up a privacy fence that blocks your view.

If you’ve got a green thumb, try a living wall or a vertical vegetable garden.

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