Steve MehtaBy StevenG. Mehta

 

A city in Arizona is reintroducing a mediation program to help people resolve neighbor to neighbor disputes. In particular, the city of Scottsdale, Arizona is primarily introducing this program to assist neighbors resolve their barking dog problems.

In most cities, the police or animal control are called to handle a problem that neighbors should be able to resolve among themselves. The problem is, however, that neighbors just don’t know how to talk to their neighbors.  Many times, the neighbor with the dog doesn’t know it’s an issue.  Another problem associated with the inability of neighbors to speak with each other about difficult issues is that the dispute will escalate — often into full-blown lawsuits.

The reason Scottsdale is reintroducing its mediation program for neighborhood disputes is because mediation works.  According to the city of Scottsdale, approximately 70% of mediations that took place involved barking dogs.  In fact, Joy Racine, the coordinator of the city’s mediation program explained that “when [this program] did go away, we did realize how much it was missed within the city.” “We realized it was definitely a program that benefited the citizens in Scottsdale.”

 

Most cities, however, do not have mediation program specifically designed for neighborhood disputes.  Common disputes amongst neighbors include the following:

·         barking dogs

·         view issues

·         excessive noise

·         encroachments or trespasses on property (such as trees, bushes, and foliage)

·         privacy issues

Mediation can assist in all of these types of disputes.  Mediation helps the parties to be able have a conversation in a safe environment. Further, mediation assists each of the neighbors to listen to the other neighbor.  You would be surprised at how difficult it is for people to really listen to someone else during a dispute.

In one case I mediated, two neighbors that lived on different streets shared a common fence in both of their backyards.  One neighbor was higher than the other and was able to look down into the other neighbor’s yard. The parties ended up in a significant lawsuit costing thousands of dollars because both wanted their privacy and the lower property’s neighbor erected a fence that the other neighbor considered to be “hideous” and blocking his view. The reason that the lower neighbor created the fence was because she was concerned that other people could look down into her yard when her teenage daughter and her friends were using the pool.   The problem was that nobody told each other what their needs were and their real concerns. This case was resolved short of trial because the parties were able to mediate the case and resolve their differences.

The following techniques can be used to assist in neighborhood disputes:

 Try to open a dialogue with your neighbor regarding your concerns.

  1. When expressing your concerns use “I” phrases instead of “you” statements. For example, “I am concerned about my daughter’s privacy when she’s using the pool.”
  2. Ask questions about how you and your neighbor can both try to work together to resolve the problem.
  3. Ask your neighbor if your neighbor has any concerns.
  4. Offer to help your neighbor with a common problem; or even a problem that is unique to your neighbor. This might help you to get on the good side of your neighbor.
  5. If your neighbor won’t, or can’t, speak with you, write a friendly note and then give it some time before you follow up.
  6. Give your neighbor a small gift such as some chocolates for a special occasion such as a holiday.  Remember, good neighborhood gifts make good neighbors. 
  7. Do not escalate the situation by threatening to file a lawsuit.
  8. When communicating with your neighbor, make sure that you listen actively. This means you must focus on listening to what your neighbor has to say and not on figuring out how you want to respond to what she has to say.
  9. Try to rephrase what your neighbor says in your own words.

Using these techniques, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to avoid getting into a lawsuit over a neighborhood dispute. However, if you feel that the problem is escalating, consider mediation to provide a safe environment for you and your neighbor to discuss these issues.

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