Hi-diddly-ho, Neighborino

If Your Neighbor Won’t Pay For A Problem That Affects You Too, Do You Pony Up?

An expert unpacks the sticky side of neighbor etiquette.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock

Becoming a homeowner is a lot like becoming a parent. Suddenly, you're given this enormous responsibility to take care of something (or someone) other than yourself, all while feeling extremely overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted. You put time and energy into this coveted investment, which you ultimately come to love and call home. But just as you can never fully prepare for the joys and stresses of having a baby, the same can be said with owning a house.

Appliances can break down at a moment's notice; the roof could leak; a fuse could blow. However, the one thing I never really thought to worry about was the protocols to follow when dealing with your next-door neighbors. The do's and don'ts of neighbor etiquette may seem trivial at first, yet they can find their way into everyday life when you least expect it.

The matter was first brought to my attention a few months ago when I noticed my neighbor had a serious bee problem. A massive bee hive had developed in a tree in their backyard, and the bees would swarm around the area multiple times a week.

Nothing was being done about the situation, and I was uncomfortable even going out into the backyard — especially with my toddler. The surrounding neighbors felt the same way. When we were finally able to talk to the neighbors in question, we learned that they were well aware of the problem but claimed they didn't have the money to fix it.

The entire experience introduced an interesting dilemma. How exactly should a neighbor proceed from here with something like this? Who is ultimately responsible for fixing the problem? Is there even a right or wrong solution? What etiquette guidelines are in place to help resolve this uncomfortable circumstance?

Etiquette expert and founder of EtiquetteExpert.Org, Jo Hayes, had a few thoughts on the matter.

To bee or not to bee?

Considering that the bees had set up camp in a tree that's not on my property, the next step needs to involve working together with this neighbor, ideally, as cordially as possible. This starts by initiating an open and honest dialogue about how and why this issue impacts your life — and the lives of other neighbors. (Mentioning your concern for your child's safety could definitely tug on some heartstrings, after all.) However, if that leads to a dead end, don't be afraid to seek outside help.

"The next course of action is to contact the local council. They have a responsibility to deal with this sort of neighborhood situation," Hayes explains to Scary Mommy. "It is highly likely they have a process in place to deal with this sort of situation. I would imagine it to be something similar to serving the property owner with a letter giving them 30 days to deal with the bee hive."

Such action would effectively end your involvement with the entire ordeal. The council would take charge of the matter, and if the neighbor chose not to comply, they would most likely face a fine.

The case would likely be the same for similar scenarios, like a fence with broken board protruding onto your property or a branch from a tree in their yard dangling precariously close to your roof.

There's another alternative.

Of course, it doesn't feel great to be at odds with people... especially ones that live so close to you. So, if you'd rather avoid any awkward confrontations, Hayes suggests pursuing some sort of compromise. Guilt should not play a part in that decision, though.

"It is, in no way, the responsibility of any other neighbors to pay for, or arrange, for [the problem to be resolved] — the property owner holds full responsibility," she states. "However, as per many situations in life, there is scope for charity, and, perhaps, if one of the neighbors (or, as a group, collectively) felt inclined, they could offer to pay for the service needed, or perhaps, offer to pay a portion of the costs."

But that's purely a judgment call on your part and not an ethical suggestion. "There is absolutely no ethical/moral/civil responsibility, or requirement, to do this," Hayes stresses. "This is simply a suggestion/option, as an act of charity towards a fellow human, who (apparently) has limited financial means."

Ultimately, it's whatever you as an individual feel most comfortable with, so do whatever feels right in your heart. And if others don't agree with you — just tell them to mind their own bees-ness.