Real Simple’s Modern Manners columnist on how to talk to neighbors about an unkempt home.
Alexandra Rowley

Q. I live in an old neighborhood. Most of the homes are modest but well cared for. The house right next to mine used to be one of the best kept in the neighborhood. But it changed hands several years ago, and now it has peeling paint, weeds, and trash around it. How do I approach my neighbors and ask them to take care of their house?

K. U.

A. First ask yourself: Is this a health-and-safety issue? If the garbage is attracting vermin or the neglect is attracting vagrants, you need to deal with the issue right away. Find out if your town’s regulations address the matter. Many municipalities have ordinances that govern property maintenance. Then take action: Snap a photo of the offending house, bring it to the proper office at City Hall, and ask the authorities to enforce their own laws.

If, however, your beef with this home is largely aesthetic, step back for a moment. It sounds as if you don’t know much about your neighbors’ situation and the origin of the dilapidation you perceive. They might be struggling with finances or illness, or they may simply be somewhat laissez-faire homeowners.

Before confronting your neighbors, engage them in conversation to learn more. If they’re in a money or time bind, you may want to offer your assistance with yard upkeep. Should you determine that they simply aren’t zealous about maintenance, you don’t have much recourse. Try building a fence or planting a hedge to protect your view.

Catherine Newman

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