Won't you be my neighbor? Consideration, respect, honesty necessary to build good relationships in neighborhoods
FARGO—Daniel Post Senning gets a lot of questions about which fork goes where.
But the etiquette expert said the way we treat our neighbors is just as important as any discussion of formal table settings.
Senning, co-host of the "Awesome Etiquette" podcast and spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute, said consideration, respect and honesty are the foundation of any good relationship.
While homeowners and apartment dwellers should brush up on city ordinances that dictate things like lawn maintenance and vehicle parking, Senning said there are broader considerations that just might keep peace on the block.
The Golden Rule applies to neighbors, too, and Senning said treating others the way we'd like to be treated can keep us accountable.
He offered an example from a follower of his podcast who sent notes to neighbors asking for patience a week before a big, disruptive project started on their property. The enclosed gift certificates to a local restaurant were a nice touch that turned what could've been a neighborhood pain into a positive development.
"There's potential difficulties, but also handled well, there's a lot of opportunity in any situation," he said.
Follow their lead
Good communication is essential, Senning said, but so is privacy. That's why shared borders, such as a fence that divides two yards or a wall that separates apartments, can be tricky.
He encourages everyone to "defer to a slightly higher standard" with neighbors, just like we do with professional acquaintances and co-workers.
Give neighbors enough space, especially when their behaviors suggest they value privacy over making friends. Home is one of our last "real sanctuaries," Senning said, and gates at the end of a driveway or a tall fence offer clues the neighbor would rather be left alone.
"Don't abuse the privilege of proximity," he said.
Talk to neighbors when everything's going well, Senning said. Instead of meeting a neighbor by complaining about a barking dog, bring over a housewarming gift or just say hi.
Be direct if there is a problem. A phone call or in-person chat will give the neighbor room to voice their opinions better than a blunt text message or note.
When something isn't right, Senning said it's often best to talk with neighbors and try to come to an amicable resolution.
Contacting authorities to report a minor problem will escalate the situation. Once authorities are involved, settling things with a neighborly chat might not be an option.
It's advice that Grant Larson, director of Fargo Cass Public Health's environmental health division, said is worth following.
"We encourage neighbors to talk to their neighbors before they call them in," he said.
There are times when we'll need outside help, especially if direct communication with neighbors can't resolve a problem, Senning said.
City ordinances specify what's required for property owners and renters, and the rules also spell out how to contact authorities if more help is needed.
In Fargo, for example, grass must be cut regularly to remain below 8 inches. Other regional cities also have laws like this to prevent overgrown lawns from harboring mosquitoes and rodents.
But the agency tasked with enforcing this in Fargo doesn't patrol neighborhoods to find offenders and instead only responds to anonymous complaints.
If a property isn't in compliance, Fargo Cass Public Health's environmental health staff sends a letter giving the owner nine days to take care of it before contract mowers are sent in, with the owner footing the bill.
By Tuesday morning, the agency had recorded 148 complaints this year just for tall grass and weeds. They recorded 393 tall grass and weeds complaints last year, 459 in 2013 and 383 in 2012.
Take the high road
Even if we keep our homes in picturesque condition, we risk finding ourselves guilty of another neighborhood headache—noise.
Preventing noise problems can be difficult, especially when balancing vastly different work and free time schedules in a neighborhood, but Senning said it's important to try.
Follow any neighborhood guidelines or city ordinances regarding noise, he said, and don't stoop to the level of problematic neighbors to express our own annoyance about noise, lawn maintenance or any other issue.
"The last thing you want to do is be the one hanging out your window at night screaming insults at the person who's walking by or driving by," he said. "That's guaranteed to make things worse."