Do you really want to go to war over a hanging tree branch? Or is it more worthwhile to have a friendly neighbour you can turn to for a cup of sugar?
Just as you can’t choose your family, it’s also true that you can’t choose your neighbours. Whether you live in an apartment, a condo or a subdivision, you run the risk of your real estate being in proximity to people with whom you will not get along. Even the most reasonable person can find themselves in an unwelcome situation that’s not of their own making.
I was awakened to this fact of life early in my relationship with home ownership. In my very first house there was a guy next door who had a big, unfriendly dog that pinned me against the brick wall of my house and growled menacingly into my face. My neighbour eventually convinced his pet to let me go, and I wasn’t physically harmed, but the owner’s apathetic attitude disturbed me.
I called the SPCA for advice on getting safely into and out of my front door. Their visit to my neighbour angered him and he launched a campaign of imagined revenge. He followed us to a park where we allowed our border collie to run off-leash; he popped out of bushes and snapped photos of us, with the goal of getting us fined (it didn’t work). He aimed a laser pointer at our heads when we took our dog out at night. Only a visit from the police convinced this man to keep his dog leashed and to stop stalking us.
Many such matters end up in court. Several years ago, a Toronto apartment tenant sued over what they described as a daily aromatic assault from ethnic food cooking. Ventilation, air circulation and vegetables were discussed at length. The issue came down to one family’s right to cook smelly food versus another family’s right to not have to smell it.
Most disputes seem to centre on property lines and standards issues. People become understandably upset when non-road-worthy vehicles are abandoned at the sides of houses and when someone else’s structure encroaches on their own piece of land. Recently, when we took down a fence, we were asked by our neighbour to ensure the patio stones we laid in its place respected the actual property line — which he claimed was about half-a-foot further into our yard.
The fence had been erected three decades earlier, seemingly with no objection. It’s my understanding that we did not have to agree after so much time, but we acquiesced in the name of maintaining a harmonious relationship.
It isn’t whether you win or lose, it’s the value of the thing being disputed.
Take the time a neighbour arrived on my driveway with a beet-red face, in full anger mode over a little bush on my lawn that apparently blocked his view of the street when he backed out of his driveway. It never once occurred to me that the shrub was in anyone’s way and, despite his over-the-top approach, I happily removed the offending foliage.
The one sure thing about real estate is they’re not making any more of it. We just have to learn to get along and share it — and make sure we’ve always got enough sugar on hand.