Nasty disagreements and escalating arguments over fences and boundary issues and other neighbourly annoyances have a long and storied history.

Whether it is the Black Donnellys or more recently, the wacko neighbours we hear about in the news, beware of extremely bad neighbours. They are usually very easily offended, and can they hold grudges. Not only that, but they’re vindicative, and they will get you back for any slight or imagined insult. Slashed tires, dog poo on the front porch, setting your house aflame … you get the idea.

Not all neighbours are nasty, of course. Many, including mine, are lovely. We’ve had spats, yes, but in the end, we still remain good neighbours. I like to think it’s because we have a basic respect for each other and a willingness to solve problems. That, and good fortune in having good people as neighbours, I suppose. At least that’s been the case up until now.

If you’re unlucky, and you happen to live beside or near the psycho neighbour from hell who threatens you and makes you feel unsafe, contacting the police or taking legal action may help. Moving is another possibility.

But most people don’t have the neighbour from hell, thank goodness. Some may be annoying and somebody you’d rather not be friends with, but you can civilly reach an agreement with this person. Perhaps the whole thing is simply a misunderstanding, or your neighbours don’t speak English well, and misinterpreted your intentions. With a little help, the two of you may be able to come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement. It’s certainly worth a try, right?

And if civil discourse doesn’t work, and an angry or abusive response is all you get, you may decide to have as little contact as you can with your crabby neighbour, and somehow try to physically or mentally screen out what you find annoying. That may work.

But the bottom line in a big city is that many people crammed into a small space. Regarding fences and other boundary issues, there are bound to be concerns from both sides. Expect this, and be prepared to work together if possible, to solve the issues.

Regarding annoyance issues, keep in mind that there’s got to be a little give and take. A chatty dinner party on the neighbour’s patio may disturb your solitary reading activities, but keep it in perspective. You too will have a chatty dinner party one day, and hopefully, your neighbour will return the favour.

Here are some pointers to help develop and maintain good relations with your neighbours.

• Try to establish good relations with neighbours as soon as you move into the area, before any disagreements arise. Introduce yourself, bring cookies, send over a small treat on holidays. Inform them ahead of time of any plans that may concern them (boundary issues, a planned party, construction work, etc…).

• When a problem arises, do not make it personal. Discuss the problem (loud music, for example) and ways to resolve it satisfactorily, rather than criticizing the person, his or her culture or family.

• If you get no satisfaction, suggest mediation. (Usually the city police department can refer you to a community organization that can help you and your neighbour come to an agreement, if both parties are willing.)

• If your neighbour tells you off or is simply unresponsive, do not react with anger. You may come up with a solution yourself. If not, contact the city’s bylaw officer to see if you can pursue your problem in this manner.

– Sylvia Putz is a journalist with an interest in decor and design. She’s written for the TV show Arresting Design;

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