When talking over the fence fails: Neighbourhood disputes
Back in the day, when Leviticus coined the Biblical cliché, ‘Love thy Neighbour’, heavy metal played on mega speakers was not a problem. Neither were shared driveways, trumpet lessons, retaining walls, dogs who defecate on other people’s property or jack hammers on residential construction sites. If Leviticus knew then what we know now about our neighbours, he may have been more pragmatic in his approach, instead suggesting to ‘Try and talk to thy neighbour over the fence first and when that fails enter into mediation.’
When talking over the fence fails it may be time to try mediation
The ‘I love where I live but I’m a war with my neighbours’ problem is more common than you think. Sometimes dislike of a neighbour comes from a relatively innocuous incident (their dog may have escaped and headed straight for your newly planted garden) where a sincere apology would have resolved the unfortunate situation on the spot and life goes on. In the absence of an apology, or even acknowledgement of the situation, anger simmers until conflict rises to the surface and all-out war ensures. Other times it’s a great neighbourly relationship until you see their plans to erect what should be a fence but is really the Great Wall of China specifically designed to obscure your view. Whatever the issue, the common ground tends to be the same: nobody wants to move.
At this point there are a few choices left:
Remain in conflict and live a miserable existence – but at least in a home you like.
Call in the lawyers and take the neighbour to court – the cost of which forces you to take out another mortgage or sell the house you love.
Enter mediation with your neighbour and try and reach a compromise both of you can live with.
Unresolved neighbour disputes can wreck more than your neighbourly goodwill. When these kinds of disputes are left fester and grow, there can also be a huge mental health toll – some people withdraw from the community and others become reclusive in their behaviour, in a way imprisoned in their own homes. And in some instances, what begins as a disagreement between one household member against another in the neighbour’s household can turn entire families against one another, where the distress is shared among the entire household.
Why mediation is a good way to approach a dispute with a neighbour
An important part of the mediation process is to find common ground, and in most disputes between neighbours, the common ground is that nobody wants to move – making it quite unique from other mediation disputes where people want to move on and begin new chapters in their lives. In the interests of staying in a home you love, in a community you belong to, if you can approach a negotiation with the idea that rather than one party being right and another wrong, through a lens of calm negotiation you’ll come to an outcome both you and your neighbour can live with. It’s also wise to try mediation before court – as courts (no matter how much you spend) will often order the case into mediation, anyway.
Mediation levels the playing field
Yelling over the fence or small but annoying acts of revenge are not a solution. Mediation brings a neutral, third party to the dispute who is not going to assign blame, but rather help you pragmatically arrive at an agreement – which will not be perfect insomuch that you get everything you want – but will be something you can co-exist with and most importantly, get your life back. Following a clear process, the mediator manages the discussion ensuring each party has a chance to state their concerns without interruption. Part of the mediator’s skill is taking the emotional heat out of the discussion and helping to break the dispute down into the main key issues. Once those issues are on the table, a negotiation can begin.
Mediation will not break you financially
We’ve all heard one of those stories about the disagreement over the fence that ended up in court, cost thousands, took years to reach an outcome and financially ruined everyone. Your neighbour dispute should not become one of those legendary horror stories. Mediation is cost-effective, almost immediate, takes between a half and full day, is confidential and most importantly is not a judgement where blame is assigned to one party over another. Facilitated by the mediator, together you nut this thing out.
The agreement is not legally binding (but it will factor if the dispute winds up in court)
Agreements reached in mediation are not legally binding. That said, most parties try and uphold them given the effort it took to negotiate. If, however, the dispute does end up in court due to a clear breach of the agreed to outcome, then the agreement reached in mediation can be presented to the court as a factor for the judge to consider.
And finally, it’s your neighbour, so whatever the outcome, you need to live with it
Most of us just want a peaceful life – yourself and your neighbour included. Mediation is a confidential process allowing you to deal with the key issue – that may be a fence obscuring the view – and not the thousand other things that have been flicked on like a switch since the issue of the fence came up. Good neighbourly relations are a cornerstone of community life. If your house was on fire and you weren’t home, you’d want the neighbour to raise the alarm. As far-fetched as that idea might be – it’s a motivation to keep in the back of your mind, giving you one more reason to try and work this dispute out.
To help you prepare for mediation, we have created a library of helpful information including checklists, tips and added detail around the process of mediation. For useful and relevant information you can download for free, we encourage you to visit our resources page.
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