The neighbours from hell

It is past midnight on a Monday evening and sleep does not seem to be on your agenda for the evening. On the contrary, the neighbours’ celebration seems to be just hotting up, as the thumping music, alternated with excruciating karaoke numbers, has just increased in volume.

Your heart is thumping, your stress levels are going through the roof and you are having visions of ways in which you can achieve silence. These range from automatic gunfire, to tubs of arsenic, followed by methods of torture last seen during the Spanish Inquisition.

Furthermore, phoning the police seems a bit radical, and, hey, they have enough on their plates without having to police a suburban karaoke jol.

Dealing with neighbourly conflict

  • Accept that people are different and have different value systems. Your opera music might be as offensive to them as their Whitney Houston CDs are to you.
  • Our sweethearts can do no wrong. Accept that people are often blind to the faults of their pets and their children. The blind spot with regards to the latter could help explain why the human race still exists. The children and the dog next door are unaware of you and your desire for silence. Although it might not feel that way, they are usually not deliberately taunting you.
  • Rules, rule, OK. There are certain municipal regulations to which people must adhere. In urban areas people may not run businesses from home, especially not noise-generating ones, such as panelbeating workshops or childcare centres. Most municipalities will follow up these complaints quite stringently, but you might have to exercise a little patience.
  • Old MacDonald's Farm. Certain animals, such as geese and chickens, or more than three dogs may not be kept in urban areas. A complaint to the municipality should get results.
  • Boom, boom, boom. Most municipalities have noise regulations with regards to music. Usually these require silence after 10pm or 11pm during the week and after midnight on the weekends.
  • Get to know the neighbours. Do this when either you or they move in. It is always easier to sort out problems later if you have met them already on neutral or friendly ground.
  • Discuss matters. This might sort out the problem. If you think a discussion might not be very civil, write a letter. Don’t be aggressive or insulting or threatening, as this will not get their co-operation.
  • Are you outside of your limits? Are you being unreasonable? If the neighbours have one party a year and it carries on until half past one, it is unreasonable to complain. If, however, it happens every weekend, your complaint is justified.
  • Report abuse. If you suspect that children or animals are being abused, alert the authorities. It can be done anonymously. It is always better to be wrong, than to have been right, and done nothing to alert the authorities.
  • What if they do something to me? If you are too scared to complain, either to the neighbours or to the authorities, for fear of retribution against you or your property, it might be time to consider moving. Do you really want to live next to people who make you feel unsafe? Blocks of flats with strict house rules might be a good option if you want peace and quiet.
  • Be a good neighbour yourself. Tell your neighbours when you are planning a birthday party, whether a 40th or a party for your toddler. If people are forewarned, they are less likely to complain. It also makes them feel as if you are considering their needs and sets the tone for the neighbourhood.
  • Do unto others. If you are considerate, you can expect your neighbours to be too. If your neighbour has taken up the trumpet or the saxophone, it is not unreasonable of you to request that this instrument is played only between certain hours.
  • Tit for tat. Don’t underestimate the levels of viciousness to which neighbourly conflicts can escalate. Neighbours firing shots at each other or poisoning each other’s pets are unusual, but certainly not unheard of. If you can’t or don’t want to move, think of getting in a mediator before things turn really ugly.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated August 2010)

Read more:
Dealing with difficult people
Ask the CyberShrink

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