What do you do if you’re a Hatfield and your neighbor is a McCoy?
Acrimonious standoffs happen often, as attested by Journal Star readers:
— ”The neighbors … leave their dogs out to bark for hours on end in the early morning to late in the evening. One of their dogs bit me when I was trying to fix my fence.”
— ”The dreaded neighbor! I can't wait until the day that (his) 1990-something Suburban goes to SUV hell!! That baby fires up every morning at 5 a.m., right across from my bedroom window.”
— “I had a horrible neighbor to the right of me, when my daughter was a baby. They were loud, annoying, and inconsiderate. So glad they moved! I don't know how many times I called the cops on them.”
As the last comment illustrates, it’s hard rely on the law to fix neighborly disputes. Law enforcers suggest you grin and bear it — and hope kindness melts rudeness. Otherwise, for the most part, it’s not a crime to be irritating.
Sure, some misbehavior (loud noise, loose pets) might violate local ordinances. But if you call 911, how can you prove a neighbor was cranking AC/DC (or, for that matter, Lawrence Welk) at an illegal volume?
“There’s not a legal remedy for neighbors who don’t get along,” says Peoria County State’s Attorney Jerry Brady.
That’s not to say his office doesn’t get plenty of calls about bad neighbors. But only in extreme cases with plenty of proof could one neighbor seek a restraining order against another. Even then, a piece of paper wouldn’t stop a jerk from looking at you cross-eyed.
So what’s a decent neighbor to do?
“Keep the peace and try to get along,” Brady urges.
That advice is echoed by Peoria County Sheriff Brian Asbell, whose office also gets plenty of bad-neighbor complaints.
“We advocate a community-policing approach where we look to find a solution for the issue, basically playing a mediator role, and try to elicit a constructive communication between the two parties,” he says.
In other words, police try to get everyone to play nice.
“The best-case scenario is, try to find a solution during the initial call for service,” he says. “As these situations progress, they become retaliatory in nature: Party A called police on Party B for loud music; the following night, Party B calls about an alleged trespassing issue; and so forth.”
If a neighbor seems unwilling to compromise, Asbell suggests you document any issues.
“Keep a notebook of times, dates and details of an incident, with photos if necessary,” the sheriff says.
“This can serve a couple of purposes. You can give this to your neighbor at a more opportune time and he or she can more objectively look at it. Or this can assist with civil or criminal proceedings down the road.”
Proactively, you could set up a video-recording system.
“Sometimes the knowledge of the cameras themselves serve as a deterrent to future negative behavior,” Isbell says.
That’s a lot of work. It might be easier — if initially more difficult — to try a little kindness.
“Sometimes it’s easier to swallow your pride and initiate an apology for any perceived wrongdoing,” Isbell says. “Get to know your neighbor: try to establish a level of trust and understanding. If there is a noise complaint ask your neighbor to call you instead of the police.”
PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.