While the concept of “being neighborly” is one that most neighbors seem to grasp and achieve, tiffs can sometimes flare up when you’re living in close quarters (particularly in apartments where you have to share walls). Arguments can arise over anything: from noise levels to dogs barking to stolen parking spaces. Whatever the argument is about, it’s always best if neighbors can work things out without having to get the police or a court date involved.
Whether you’re a landlord or a neighbor yourself, you may at one point or another be called upon to mediate neighbor disputes. As a neutral third party, you may be able to find a solution to the problem without having to escalate things to the next level. This can result in a happier living situation for both you and all other residents involved.
When your neighbors just can’t seem to get along, here’s what you can do to help mitigate the situation and bring peace to your apartment complex once again.
Be Cordial and Neutral
When facilitating mediation, the most important thing is to show kindness and sympathy to both sides of the dispute. Being angry, rude, or attacking any one of the two neighbors will only put them on the defensive and will likely cause the mediation to fail.
Don’t use incendiary language, and always be calm and collected when you are addressing either neighbor.
Request Facts First, Then Feelings
Don’t just let one neighbor spout out angry words or even discuss their feelings right at the beginning. The first part of the mediation process should focus on laying out the facts of the disagreement. Ask who did what when and for evidence of their actions. This will enable you to approach the problem analytically without being overwhelmed by emotions.
Of course, you will need to take emotions into account eventually, but do so near the end of the mediation process (or at the very least when all documentation has been gathered). Ask each neighbor how they feel and what they seek, and give them two to three minutes to express themselves. Do not allow name-calling or other abuse, as this will effectively end the mediation’s neutrality.
If possible, talk to each neighbor separately in order to get both sides of the story straight. Figure out what facts these two stories have in common and whether or not there is an opportunity to find common ground. If you try to glean information with both neighbors present at the same time, there’s a chance that the situation could get ugly pretty quickly.
Facilitate a Solution
Remember, as a mediator, your job is to help the fighting parties create a solution to the problem that they both accept. This means that you shouldn’t try to create or force a solution on the parties.
Listen to each party, and ask how they would like the situation to be solved.
For example, if one neighbor is upset that the other neighbor’s dog barks nonstop, they might provide a solution of investing in more soundproofing for their apartment or taking their dog to an obedience class to stop the unwanted behavior. The neighbor with the dog may not want to shell out the money for either one of those things, but maybe they would be willing to take some extra time to train the dog themselves or purchase a crate to put the dog in during the day so it doesn’t disturb anyone.
When you’re trying to reach a solution as a mediator, it’s your job to make sure that both parties are as satisfied as can be. Occasionally you might have a neighbor whose expectations are a little too high. In that situation, your best bet is to try to be understanding while also making sure the other party doesn’t give in too much.
Don’t Suggest Anything that Might be Against the Law
Whether you’re a landlord or just a fellow neighbor, whenever you are facilitating a resolution to a neighbor dispute, you want to be sure you’re not suggesting anything that could be illegal.
For example, if your neighbor is complaining because another neighbor is partaking in something illegal, then you can’t suggest that the latter simply alter their behavior or only do it when others are asleep or aren’t home. It’s your obligation to report that behavior to police.
Know When You Are In Over Your Head
Sometimes situations are just too much for mediators to handle — even if they have only the best intentions. If you just can’t seem to facilitate an agreement, or if the situation is more serious than you originally thought, don’t be afraid to get apartment management, your landlord, or the police involved (if it escalates to that point).
While you may feel disappointed for not being able to solve the situation internally, sometimes it’s just best to get professionals involved who are skilled at easing tensions between feuding neighbors.