God tells us to “love thy neighbor” without offering any good reasons not to. But your local code enforcement officer can tell you right off the bat and with some authority.
To confirm my suspicions about the top issues that turn neighbor against neighbor, I checked with Joe Hughes, a soft-spoken former cop who until just recently was Code Enforcement Officer in my home town of Yorktown. I thought he should know about this because, with 40,000 residents in town, as many as 500 complaints were registered with him annually.
“Most people want to make their complaints anonymously,” he said, “although most times the people they complain about guess who they are. It would be better if I could know definitely who is complaining, because then I could report back to them and tell them what has been accomplished or ask more questions.”
Whether the caller is anonymous or identified, here are the top ten complaints, listed in order of frequency.
Complaint #1: Trash. Surprised? I was. The complaints deal with how trash is handled, bundled, where it is placed or whether it blows on to other neighbors’ properties. Also figuring heavily is bulk pick up, when people pile their throwaway junk at the curb to be picked up by the town. If it is placed out too early before pick-up, there are complaints from neighbors. Or, worse yet, if the dates get mixed up and the junk is on the street after the scheduled date, it can be very testy with neighbors if it’s left there for the next month’s pick-up. Yes, it happens.
Complaint #2: Fences. There can be trouble when a fence is constructed with the “ugly” side facing a neighbor, when town codes usually specify that the decorative side must face away from the house. This complaint is so endemic that fence manufacturers have invented the fence where both sides are decorative.
Or, the complaint may be about a “spite” fence. You might remember that Martha Stewart was accused of harrassing a fence contractor with her SUV at her East Hampton home when he attempted to construct a fence between her and a neighbor who was not among her legions of fans.
Complaint # 3 and #4. Trees. Part A of the complaint is when a tree on one person’s property is hanging over a neighbor’s yard, casting shade or dropping leaves or limbs. Part B is removing mature trees when they significantly change the landscape. Most towns have tree ordinances to prevent this, but it happens anyway.
Complaint #5: Visual Blight. This is a broad category and can involve anything from excessive numbers of vehicles in driveways to non-repair of a home’s exterior or any pile of stuff that is covered with that horrible shade of blue plastic.
Complaint #6: Noise. This covers several categories. There is noise from loud music, mostly yard parties with amplifiers, which by the way, can go on forever and as loud as one likes as long as it doesn’t last past 11 p.m. By that time, however, you may start to have fantasies of engaging the Exterminator to visit the party. Lawnmowers or leaf blowers used after dinner time are particularly challenging to neighbors staying friendly.
Complaint #7: Signs. So you really don’t want to learn about kickboxing? Or losing weight? One of the world’s worst inventions are those commercial Styrofoam signs on wire holders that litter our landscape.
Then, there are the ubiquitous “tag sale” signs attached to telephone poles, which is a patently illegal place to place them. The double dip of annoyance is when the offenders fail to come back to remove them after the sale.
Complaint # 8: Dogs. Continuous barking is the main issue with dogs, and some towns have specific allowable time frames considered acceptable to let dogs bark. In my town, a resident can complain after 15 minutes of .
And here’s one for the books about dogs. It involves poop. One client whose house I listed complained bitterly about his neighbor next door, saying, “That S.O.B. trained his dogs to (do their duty) on anybody’s property but their own! And their owner doesn’t clean up!” Upon leaving with my contract, I was advised to “be careful where you step.”
Complaint # 9: Water Runoff. When a new construction project creates water runoff on another property, the complaint usually goes first to the code enforcer, but then to the town board and town engineer to try to get something done about it.
Complaint #10: Outdoor Lighting. This is a distant last category. Perhaps because of security measures or safety, there seems to be more outdoor lighting used today, which sometimes is pitched directly at neighbors’ bedroom windows.
I have a friend who says that when her neighbors across the street pull into their driveway at night, the entire property and sky light up like there's a prison break in progress.
Hughes also told me that I might do more research on the website called The Neighbors from Hell where people can vent their un-neighborly grievances. When I went to the site, filled with fiery fonts and a flaming background, there was a message that read: "This site has been closed. Thank you for your past support. For all you still living with The Neighbors from Hell, just remember: This too shall pass. :)"
Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® (www.PrimaveraHomes.com), affiliated with Coldwell Banker, and a lifestyles columnist who writes regularly as The Home Guru. For questions or comments about the housing market, or selling or buying a home, he can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.