It is 7:41 in the morning, on a Monday. I have exactly 4 minutes and 28 seconds to get my kids through the doors of their school. I turn the key, toss a command into the backseat about strapping in, and—tap, tap, tap.

There stands Bob, teetering a little on his cane, while his yappy dog runs circles around his legs. I roll down the window with a sigh, fake a smile and say hello.

“Did you see the piles of rocks in the road the other day?” he asks. I had.

“It’s Maggie and Sandy, they’re putting in a pool,” he says. I knew that.

“I guess there’s a lot of money in lesbianism these days,” he says. I grit my teeth, and comment on the weather, then nod back to my girls and say we have to go to school. We’ll be late. Again. Because I was polite enough to listen to a conservative crack against a hard-working couple by the neighborhood busybody.

We’ve all dealt with them—whether it’s the guy in the apartment above you who moves furniture around at 2 a.m., the family next door who lets their children run screaming up your driveway while their dog poops in your yard, the high-earning couple whose lawncare service comes at 6:50 a.m. every Wednesday like clockwork, or the sorority sisters causing a ruckus and hitting every call button, trying to get the cute guy from the club to let them into your building. 

Annoying neighbors are everywhere. But unless you want to move to rural Wisconsin and homestead, you’re pretty much stuck with one variety or another.

How to Deal

It all comes down to respect, or a lack thereof, and you have to tread carefully. An annoying neighbor is bad, but an annoying neighbor who hates you is infinitely worse. How do you deal?

1)      Try to foster a lowkey friendly relationship

Whether you are moving into the building or neighborhood, or you are welcoming the newbies onto your turf, if you make the first move, you set the tone of the relationship and dictate its boundaries. 

Picture this: you show up on their doorsteps with some fresh baked goods or a cute potted plant. Say a quick hello, welcome them to the neighborhood, hand off your wares and give them a wave goodbye. There. They know you are friendly, and they know you are not interested in a fast-moving best-friendship. 

Over the course of the next few weeks and months, you can decide how close you want to get, but you’ve set a baseline of polite acquaintanceship that respects their space…and your own.

2)      Keep up with neighborhood news via social media

Neighborhood apps and social media groups can help you keep an eye on the comings and goings in your area without you having to get involved. This way, you can read the room, get a feel for the personalities in your location. You’ll see who is the neighborhood mom organizing movies on the lawn, or the building mail chief, alerting everyone to when a delivery comes in. You’ll get a feel for their habits and priorities, and you’ll have a better idea as to whom to befriend and whom to avoid.

3)      Stay polite, but do not engage

Sometimes, you’ll come across a neighbor a lot more interested in your business than you’d like. Like Bob. They’ll come over and talk your ear off, regardless of whether or not you’ve invited them. They’ll assume you really care that trash day used to be Wednesday but they switched to Tuesday, or that electric rates have skyrocketed over the last year, or the exact perimeter of the flood zone on your cul-de-sac. 

They’ll inquire about your lawn care routine, or ask you to sit for their pet while they go on vacation. In these cases, you don’t want to hurt their feelings, but you cannot let them feel entirely comfortable because they’ll push that line farther and farther. Beg off conversations at the three-minute mark if you can. A phone call, the oven is on, your kid is calling you, any of the old excuses everyone knows. If you’ve been talking for more than five minutes, it may already be too late for you. They’ll be well into describing their family’s genetic history before you know it.

Sometimes, it’s the opposite. You’ll come across a neighbor whose habits are accidentally annoying to you. They don’t want to monopolize your time, but the things they do on their own just…bother you. 

The dude practicing his bass that he just ordered from Amazon. The woman who talks to her sister in cell-phone-shout every Saturday morning while pacing up and down the street. In these cases, try to resolve your issues on your own. Adapt your behavior to minimize the aggravation to yourself. When that’s not an option, if you do have that friendly acquaintance level, you can try to broach the subject in a nice way. 

They might not know they are impeding on your space, so a simple, ‘hey, that bass is sounding really great! But it’s waking my kids up in the morning because their room is right next to yours. Is there another room you could practice in?’ could make all the difference.

It can be hard to say things like that to people who live near you and have the power to make your life worse, but if you are polite about it, even though it makes you uncomfortable to ask, it is worth your quality of life to try.

4)      Set firm boundaries

Use your words. When the polite friendly route doesn’t get it done, you need to be more direct. If your neighbor continues to come into your yard, talk to your kids, knock on your door, be all up in your business, you must tell them you are not interested. 

Neighbor-friend will not be possible here, but a grudging respect of your personal space will take its place. Make sure you say without malice or grievance that you need your space and would appreciate it if they stayed in their own yard. Sometimes people need to hear it directly. Sometimes that is kinder than trying to drop a hint.

5)      Invest in privacy measures if you can afford it

If none of this works, it might be time for a Ring doorbell and a privacy fence. Nothing says “leave me alone” like a “beware of dog” sign, especially if they know you don’t have a dog. Hang out in your backyard instead of out front, and keep your door locked and your garage door closed. It sounds excessive, but some neighbors, if they decide they’re coming in, they somehow get in.

If this is all for just one or two neighbors, you can continue the friendly approach with the others around you. That way, if they have to ring the bell, they won’t hesitate to do so, and you know that if you don’t answer, they’ll simply walk away like normal people.

6)      Understand when reinforcements need to be called

There are times when someone really crosses a line. They won’t take no for an answer, and their hostility grows to the point where you or your family feel threatened. One time, Bob walked over to my children and gave them an unwanted, unsolicited hug. He didn’t have a shirt on. Not okay.

In these cases, look at bringing in a third party. Another neighbor would be one way to go—strength in numbers. The housing association or building management is another place to look if you have one. Check the rules and bylaws. 

Never call the police unless it is a true emergency and there is literally no other way to go. Depending on the socioeconomic and racial makeup of your area, this could be incredibly dangerous, so make sure you react in metered steps before going to the top authorities who may not think before they take action.

All in all, neighbors are a fact of life that everyone has to deal with. If you keep your head high, mind your business, keep friendly but aloof, and find the gems around you while leaving the rest, your life will be all the better for it. Good luck, and watch out for the Bobs of the world.

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About Darlena Cunha

Darlena Cunha is an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Florida and freelance writer whose work appears in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic and more.

View all posts by Darlena Cunha