Is Compromise Possible When Neighbor Is Completely in the Wrong?

Your neighbor is 100% in the wrong -- what is there to compromise over?!

The world is full of irrational people. Sometimes, you’ll get stuck living next to one of them. If you’re in the midst of a dispute with your neighbor, you might be advised to enter into a negotiation or mediation to resolve the conflict. Negotiation and mediation are, of course, all about compromise. But how can you possibly compromise, you might wonder, with someone as irrational, antagonistic, or just plain wrong as your neighbor?

Compromise can be difficult, even when both parties have merit to their arguments and are completely rational actors. Consider large companies with teams of smart attorneys engaged in protracted litigation. Even for those companies, where dollars and cents are what ultimately inform strategy, settlement is elusive.

It becomes immeasurably harder when emotions are involved. A sense of right and wrong can often form a wall preventing settlement. What do you do when your neighbor is  100%  certain that he or she is “right” and you feel you have nothing to compromise?

Disputes Over Objective Facts

First, consider whether you are arguing over something  objective, like whether or not a particular statute allows your neighbor to grow certain plants in the front yard, or the value of your property that your neighbor damaged during home construction, you might be able to reason with your neighbor by relying on third-party benchmarks.

A third-party benchmark is a source, not from either of you, that can objectively make a factual analysis. For example, if your neighbor says that local regulations allow growing a farm on the front lawn area, and you believe they say otherwise, you can go to a third-party source (perhaps a local attorney or municipal leader) for an advisory opinion.

Or, if the neighbor’s contractors accidentally damaged your car while doing home remodeling work and your neighbor believes the repair costs are lower than you believe they are, you can agree to get the damage appraised.

The advantage of such third-party benchmarks is that they are purely factual; you are relying on objective sources that do not have an “axe to grind” against either of you. If you say the damage to your car was $5,000 a neighbor who doesn’t believe you is much more likely to believe a third-party neutral “expert” who doesn’t know either of you.

Disputes Over Subjective Perceptions

If your dispute with your neighbor is  subjective, your discussion will surely be more difficult. Your neighbor might argue that he or she should be able to play music in his or her apartment, even though you explain that the sound seeps into your apartment. Your neighbor might insist on putting up cheap-looking Christmas decorations that you believe lessen the value of the neighborhood. Or your neighbor might feed deer outdoors, which are then attracted to your property as well. In these situations, there might not be an  objective  right and wrong – a municipal code that governs your neighbor’s conduct, like what homeowners can grow on their property, or a “bluebook value” for a damaged car. These are situations governed by common courtesy – a courtesy that some people, unfortunately, may lack.

Don’t give up on negotiating, even when you believe your neighbor’s perception of reality is 100% wrong. Instead, it’s worth trying to come up with ways of attaching objective benchmarks to these subjective realities. What does this mean? Consider these examples.

  • If you claim your neighbor’s music is annoying in your apartment, and your neighbor says it would be impossible for you to hear it, you can agree to let your neighbor play music while an objective neighbor enters your apartment to see if the music is unreasonably loud. You can both agree to be bound by the decision of this neutral neighbor.
  • If you believe the ostentatious Christmas decorations are harmful to the value and appearance of the neighborhood, you can both agree to consult real estate appraisers, who might be able to weigh in on the effect of the decorations.
  • If you see the deer that your neighbor feeds wandering onto your property, see if you can take pictures to prove that they come directly from the feeding bowl on your neighbor’s lawn onto your lawn and eat your plants.

Make an Offer of Compromise

If your neighbor still refuses to abide by these objective standards, see if you can offer compromises. For example:

  • See if your neighbor would be willing to only play music during certain hours, ideally when you are not home.
  • See if your neighbor would be willing to consider different Christmas decorations next year, perhaps in consultation with a unified neighborhood association to create aesthetic uniformity.
  • See if your neighbor would be willing to split the cost of a fence with you, so that your neighbor can continue feeding the deer but the deer would not be able to go onto your property.

You might feel that these ideas are unfair to you because your neighbor should refrain from the offending activities in the first place. This might be true.

But remember, it might not be worth your time and effort to initiate legal action. In the above situations, as in many others, your neighbor’s conduct is  annoying  but not necessarily  illegal. Therefore, it might be easier and more cost-effective to bargain rather than sue.

Get Help From Your Building Management or Neighborhood Association

If you complain to your neighbor about the music or annoying habits that are interfering with your enjoyment of your property, he or she might perceive you as easily annoyed – a person with a single axe to grind.

Your neighbor might be more willing to cave into peer pressure. If you were to speak to your building management company or neighborhood association (if you live in an apartment or a common interest development) about the problem, perhaps that larger administrative body would take up your cause. This also saves you from the awkwardness of having to be the person to negotiate with your unreasonable neighbor.

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