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Sunday, July 12, 2015


This isn't about a HORRIBLE AWFUL neighbor who does completely TERRIBLE MEAN things.  This is about a long-time merely annoying neighbor who just finally got me all ticked-off today.

OK, lets say you have a drainage easement along a property line.  And that drainage easement is shared by a neighbor.  And you are mutually legally responsible for it (the storm drain itself is a county responsibility).  The responsibility means keeping it free flowing right into the storm drain (meaning around the storm drain and the grate on the top of the storm drain is OUR responsibility).

Let's say you have had that same neighbor for 28 years, they refuse to pay any attention to cleaning (because their yard is higher and the occasional flooding caused by the debris-covered storm drain never causes them any problem), and you have mentioned this very politely several times over the years.

Let us further suppose that you have cleaned the sides and grate numerous times.  And picture the sides and top as "beaver dam material" - interwoven sticks and small branches that fill in with leaf-packed mud like the squishy stuff at the bottom of a natural lake but also plastic bags, fast-food containers, and general trash).

And let us further suppose that you had spent over an hour 2 weeks ago wedging the sticks and branches loose with an iron bar (throwing most of them onto your own side of the property line) before ripping loose handfulls of leaf-packed mud and feeding them into the newly-rushing water escaping into the now partially opened storm drain to break apart in the flood-flow.  And you are doing all this bent over at the waist with pooled water 3/4 the way up your boots.

After doing all this work, you clean up your property side, but also pick up all the trash plastic bags etc on both sides and fill up your trash can.  You leave the 1/4 of the sticks that happened to land on their property while you were pulling them all loose so that they will notice it while mowing and see that you have cleaned the storm drain grate ONCE AGAIN!

I don't usually act passive/aggressive (and it wasn't intended to be the "aggressive" part).  But I almost never see those neighbors outside and I didn't want to go bang on their door with my muddy hands and temporary annoyance.  I figured they would see the branches, see the cleaned storm drain grate and just pick up their minor share of the sticks pleased that I had cleaned the storm drain again...

Nope!  Are you surprised?

And, then imagine that after all that neighborly work, you return home today from errands to discover they have picked up all the sticks and dropped them onto YOUR lawn...

Now THAT's "passive-aggressive"!

I suppose I have to go knock on their door some Saturday afternoon and discuss it.  Again.  Explain the work I did, that I picked up most of the debris and all the trash, scooped the leafy mud with my bare hands, and that I am tired of doing this myself all the time when we are both responsible for it, and that I expect them to clean the storm drain grate themselves sometimes.

Not to get too far afield, but I DON'T like having to tell people what they should be doing.  I avoided several management offers in my career for that reason.  So I really don't want to go knock on their door and surprise them with a complaint (they may be utterly clueless).

Several ideas come to mind...

1.  Knock, knock.  "Hey neighbor are we having a stick fight"?

2.  Knock, knock.  "Did you notice I cleaned the storm drain in June?  It's your turn every November". 

3.  Knock, knock.  "Thanks for the sticks.  Is that a cultural gift I should know something about"?

4.  Anything else.  But please don't suggest "I should have just picked up their sticks as well".  I won't go for that one.

I'm willing to have a minor fight about this if there is a positive outcome.  But they seem to have some problems.  They half-built a garage and then let it stay that way for many months.  They did some yardscaping another year and that stayed half-done for several years.  A psychologist friend of mine said those are signs of personal and/or family dysfunction. 

1 comment:

Megan said...

Confrontations of this kind cause me enormous stress, Mark, so I typically don't handle them well. If it were me, I'd find it easier just to keep doing it myself - at least that way I would know that it had been done and done properly.

I allow for the possibility that they don't understand that they have joint responsibility for it, although you seem to suggest that that's unlikely.

Perhaps there's merit in knocking on their door, asking them if they've got time for a chat - even perhaps going over with a few beers in hand to share? Then ask them if there's a problem. You're interested to know why they took the time and trouble to move the sticks on to your property. Let them say their piece. Make it a conversation.

In addition to not handling conflict well, I guess my other thinking is that none of us knows what is going on in other people's lives - what stresses and strains and problems they're dealing with. It's frustrating and disappointing that the neighbours don't do their fair share but perhaps it's not even registering on their 'to do' list because of other issues.

Nevertheless, I think there's merit in opening the dialogue and understanding what their perspective on the matter is. I'll be interested to hear what they tell you.

Good luck.

Sydney, Australia