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The question

I am a new homeowner with a problem neighbour. I share some common space with several other neighbours. One really makes her presence felt. She doesn't have a job and is home most of the time. I must pass her home on foot to get to mine. She is quite nosy, and keeps an eye on everyone who comes and goes.

Recently I have been doing some small, short-term renovations and she has come to my door to complain every day about noise, mess or people parking in her way. I have done my best to keep the disruption to a minimum, but nothing will satisfy her. None of the other neighbours have indicated they are bothered by the work I am having done, and it's not as though she is the perfect neighbour. Her porch is piled high with junk and her dog barks non-stop. Yesterday I came home to find bags of debris that had been sitting outside piled up on my doorstep, blocking entry to my home.

I am furious about this and it is really interfering with my ability to enjoy my home. Up until this point we have maintained a cordial relationship, but this is too much! What can I do? How do I deal with this control-freak bully? It's too soon to move.

The answer

I feel your pain. Bad neighbours can be a nightmare. They can ruin your day, every day.

In fact, I would go so far as to advise everyone to snoop around, ask around, find out about potential new neighbours before buying a house.

You know, you check the furnace, you check the wiring, check for termites. But most of these things can be dealt with relatively easily. Bad neighbours can gnaw through your enjoyment of a house worse than a termite through wood. They can short-circuit your well-being worse than faulty wiring.

I've had neighbours who were merely off-putting and weird - and they've made me seriously consider selling a house I love, uprooting my kids, all to get away from them.

Not that they pushed my buttons personally. These days, I've been training myself to be a Shaolin sannyasin of non-confrontation with the outside world (about which more later). But they upset my wife, and I can't have that.

Anyway, sounds like you're stuck with your neighbour, so here are a few thoughts:

No doubt you've heard the saying "Good fences make good neighbours." It's true both literally and figuratively. On both sides of my backyard, I have the tallest fences allowable by law, plus a quasi-legal two-foot trellis top-up.

Not because I don't like my current neighbours: I do. But because I like my privacy. So, thank God, do they.

In your case, I don't like the sound of all this "common area" business. I think that is the root of your problem right there.

Either you need calmly to negotiate some terms with your neighbour vis-à-vis this "common area," or - better, I think - stay out of it altogether.

Homo sapiens is naturally a territorial creature. Before he died, my old neighbour to the north used to freak out if a single leaf from my yard fell into his. If a tiny tendril from one of my plants started to hang over his fence, Pow! he cut it off.

Annoying, true. But I understood. People get crazy about a piece of sod they've paid for.

And you should defend yours a bit more, too, sounds like. I would certainly not take it lightly if someone were to dump a bunch of crap on my front porch.

Clearly establish what is your property and defend it vigorously. If even a single gum wrapper crosses the perimeter from her place to yours, push back immediately.

Not with emotion. As I hinted above, the longer I live, the more I feel the overt expression of anger is rarely appropriate outside one's home.

Yelling at people in traffic, grimacing and gesticulating through your car window; getting in confrontations in shops and in the street; berating waiters; angrily chewing people out on the phone: This is not the way of the superior being.

The superior being is calm and clear and firm. Never hot-headed. Never "freaks out." If someone freaks out on the superior being, the superior being merely quietly suggests to the person freaking out that it would be better to discuss things calmly.

That's how you should be with your neighbour. Politely but firmly insist she not impinge one millimetre over the perimeter of your clearly defined territory; likewise, be careful to scrupulously respect her space.

Noise is a bit more difficult to manage. It is in the very nature of noise to float over barriers and disturb the peace and well-being of those in the vicinity.

But there are all kinds of by-laws covering that. As long as you remain within them, you are within your rights, and you should politely but firmly inform her of this fact.

Finally, if the neighbour by any chance is reading this: Madam, please get a job, do some volunteer work, anything. Another thing I've noticed more and more: People without enough to do cause all kinds of mischief.

You've got to stay busy, people. You have to.

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad. Damage Control, the book, was released in March.

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