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Neighborly Courtesy

I have always respected the conclusions of the administrators of this site. The recent post about the girls on the bus has shown me that my initial reaction to a situation is not always the right one and that I still have much to learn about situational etiquette. With that in mind, I would very much like some perspective about a minor incident that happened earlier this year and whether there was any etiquette breach by either party.

My husband and owned a house in a relatively compact neighborhood. The general pattern is that each house has a two-car garage off-centered on the lot. This means that each house effectively has a yard on one side and a driveway with a smaller patch of yard on the other. Our plot was situated such that our yard-half met our neighbor’s yard-half and the driveway-half met the other neighbor’s driveway-half.

During this time, I was between jobs, my husband was in school, my dad was between jobs, and my mom was a fulltime homemaker (as a follow-up, we’ve all landed excellent jobs since then). Given the amount of free time we had among us, we decided to take a week and build a privacy fence along the two remaining sides of our house. During the day the setup would be as follows: my car would stay in the garage, the second-half of the garage and the driveway would be filled with the building materials and tools, and my parents’ truck and/or mid-size SUV would park in the street along the yard-side of our house. They would either bring one or two cars depending on our needs for that day.

This meant that my husband, who still had to come and go for classes, sometimes had to park in the street along the driveway-side of our house. The curb here was just long enough that a single car could park without blocking a mailbox or a driveway. If you followed the property line, the car was about 2/3rds in front of our yard and the rest in front of our neighbor’s. When the weekend came, my husband was no longer coming and going, so the car stayed in this space for about 2-3 straight days after that.

It was on the third day then that we found a note on his car from our driveway neighbor. It stated, in what I could only read as a very passive aggressive tone, that our car had been illegally parked in front of her house for over a week, she was tired of looking at it, and we needed to move it immediately.

As a little background, my previous interactions with this woman are limited to one single occasion where our overly friendly Labrador wandered over to her yard while she was spraying weeds. We grabbed him immediately and apologized for letting him get away from us. She literally said nothing, simply glared at us, so we left it at that and went back to our business. It was a very strange interaction.

Back to the note, I believe this woman was wrong in several ways:

1) It was factually incorrect that the car had been there for a week. Whenever possible we would his car on the other side, but I do admit we would not relocate the car if one of those spaces became available.

2) The street space does not belong to any individual house. While it is convenient and courteous to only park in front of one’s own house, it does not cross any legal lines to park anywhere along the street so long as it does not block a driveway. (For what it’s worth, plenty of people regularly park in the street in our neighborhood, but I’ve always observed that everyone follows these courtesy guidelines. Even during a crowded party, no one ever blocks anyone else’s driveway and the street is always cleared the next day.)

3) We were clearly only using the space for a very limited purpose. A reasonable individual would be able to assess the situation and understand the car would not likely stay there after our work was complete.

4) The manner in which she relayed her request left a very bitter taste in my mouth. If she had come to our door or simply caught us outside and politely asked if we could move it, I certainly would have. A note simply felt rude and passive-aggressive.

Ultimately, I just rolled my eyes and moved the car because we had the space on the other side at that time and I really didn’t want to find that our car had been keyed or something. (I don’t have any reason to believe this is something she’d do, but I was not interested in tempting fate).

But let’s say I had chosen to stand my ground, would I be within my etiquette rights doing so? Am I wrong about the rudeness of her behavior? Was there fault on both sides? Should I have preemptively spoken to her and all my other neighbors with baked goods and apologized in advance for inconvenience we may cause them while we worked?

Again, this was a minor incident that was easily handled, but I can’t help but feel there is something to learn from the situation. I humbly acknowledge that my perspective is limited and probably skewed by time. I will submit to whatever judgments are placed upon me.  1227-12

I am a big fan of forthright communication and not making presumptions, to the best of my humanly ability.   I would have communicated to the neighbors the plans to add the fence which will result in your car being on the street for a few days during construction with the added hope that this will not inconvenience anyone.   It alerts the neighbors to what is happening and gives them a time frame for when the project will end and everything on the street resumes its normal status.   It’s just being courteous.

Basically you assumed the goodwill of your neighbors based on your understanding of the unspoken, unwritten “courtesy guidelines” of the neighborhood.    Your neighbor probably has her own interpretation of the neighbor guidelines and when both parties presume to know it and therefore enforce it, misunderstandings and conflicts arise.  I believe if you take the initiative to be a good neighbor (or co-worker or employee or in-law), the onus then falls to others to be responsible for their own part to play.   You can then sleep at night knowing you behaved to the best of your abilities.   As we’ve said here before many times, you cannot control how other people will act but if you do the best you can, that’s really what etiquette and manners is all about.


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  • Jewel January 4, 2013, 2:03 pm

    Shalamar — Of course the homeowner had every right to build a fence on his property and, no, there was no expectation that he talk to everyone on the street about his intentions first. His biggest failing was that he didn’t give his immediate neighbors a courtesy “heads up” before beginning installation. That he seemingly didn’t understanding the culture of the neighborhood as demonstrated by the lack of fencing up to that time was another, albeit lesser, issue.

  • Kit January 4, 2013, 2:53 pm

    Shalamar, my father did it the other way around. After purchasing a summerhouse, he told his neighbours: “I hear you have built this fence between our properties all by your resources, what did it cost – I’d like to pay a half?”

    We live in a small dead-end street, and we tend to go ballistic (inside, watching at windows) whenever someone parks under our windows (that is, on street in front of our house which is one car length away from house, no fence but a low hedge). “What do they want? Are they coming to us for some reason (door-to-door selling, mail, asking to sign something)? What are they parking there, not coming out of car? Spying for breaking in, maybe? Should we worry about our garage door staying open? Or are they those people who are building a house opposite? Are they guests to our neighbour? If so, why aren’t they standing there where there is some free room in front of their house? Darn it, I wish I had known they are going to have so much company that they need ‘our’ street – I planned to shovel it today and would have done that part early in the morning, now I can’t!” and so on. (Our neighbours have only a bit of street, and if they have lots of guests, about one of guest cars ends up under our kitchen window. I don’t quite remember but I think they warned us in one of first times it happened.)

    Speaking about that house that is being built opposite, once one of builders came and asked if I could drive my car from driveway somewhat into garage, as they had to get a huge truck out and he wasn’t sure they won’t accidentally hit our car in the process (narrow street). Courteous, wasn’t he?

    I didn’t quite get it where the fence was being built – in front and back? I sure hope that the dog is kept within a fence, not let wandering around! At some point, some neighbourhood dogs were in habit running through our property (maybe they used to go that way when it wasn’t fenced in yet). Believe me, it is NOT fun to see a huge strange dog running straight past you and through your children’s playground like it belonged to it, even if your children happen not to be there at the moment!

  • Cat January 4, 2013, 6:47 pm

    I was very concerned when a car with very dark windows was parked in my neighbor’s parking space, was left running, and I knew the neighbor was gone for the holidays.
    In my childhood, a friend’s father commited suicide by running a hose from his car’s exhaust to an almost-closed window. I was afraid that, since this car was running, someone was behind the wheel, but he did not live there nor was he visiting, it might be someone who was planning on doing the same thing.
    I walked over to check on him and found that I was interfering in a police stake-out. The officer was amused that I was afraid he was suicidal.

  • Bint January 5, 2013, 8:45 am

    “we tend to go ballistic (inside, watching at windows) whenever someone parks under our windows (that is, on street in front of our house”

    Yes, how dare someone park legally on what is NOT your property?

    I have no patience whatsoever for people who think the public street outside their house belongs to them. It does not. You have no control over who parks there and no right to it either, so get over yourself. You can get involved when that person blocks your access, for example, but otherwise it’s tough.

    I’d have knocked on the neighbour’s door and said, “I’ve got your note and I’m rather surprised. That’s a public street and I’m legally parked.” In fairness, I would also have told her beforehand about the works going on in case they disturbed her. But neighbours don’t get to decide who can and can’t park in a legal, public parking space, however long they’re there, and I’m surprised to find so many people on an etiquette site have that much entitlement. You’re tired of looking at it? Tough. It’s still a legally parked car, NOT on your land. There is no discourtesy to you whatsoever, no matter how little you like it, and acting otherwise is ridiculous.

    And you haven’t known parking hell until you’ve lived in Edinburgh.

  • LawGeek January 5, 2013, 9:39 am

    People try to control who can park on public land? Remind me never to move to the suburbs. That’s nearly as nuts as telling folks what to do with their own lawns. I will never understand that culture.

  • Allie January 5, 2013, 10:22 pm

    It really boils me up when people think they own the public street in front of their house. I would politely suggest if she thinks the car is parked illegally she should call parking enforcement. They’ll set her straight.

  • mojo January 6, 2013, 3:25 pm

    I agree with ALL the people who get frustrated by neighbours assuming they own the road outside their house. They don’t. No one owns that road, no one owns the rights to park there.

    As you say, sometimes communication works. I had a new neighbour who started putting her wheelie bin out in the street, to reserve ‘her’ parking space. I popped round, asked her not to, and she agreed. She’d seen people do it further down the street, so she thought it was common practice. We got on fine after that.

    Sometimes communication is more direct. We parked, just once, outside the house across the road. They smashed our back windscreen in.

  • NostalgicGal January 7, 2013, 12:14 am

    The only time you own the place in front of your place is in heavy snowfall and you dig a vehicle out… (in neighborly where you can’t or can park) IMO…

    Several years back in another town, a friend lived just past the T join of a road, about 1/4 their lot was where the ‘leg’ joined the T, on the ‘T’ top. Person across and first house on the leg…

    The place was known for sudden and catastrophic spring or fall snows of 24 hours and 2-4 feet, just one of the two seasons and not every year… and this happened. Close to 4 feet. The vehicle that was in front of friend’s place was an explorer, and. He spent three hours digging it out. He moved it down road where plow had not been obstructed by buried vehicles and went back to hole and finished digging and making it in-out-able.

    He went after his vehicle and went around block to find good turnaround and come back up his street and park. This neighbor got their vehicle out with a lot less effort (big jeep) and parked it in the premium hole/space just dug out. Asked to move it, they slammed their front door in his face.

    He called several others including myself and told what had gone on and said ‘bring your shovel’

    We had fun ramming snow under the vehicle and en-tombing it. Fellow called police after he went over to complain about the snow reappearing and burying his vehicle and didn’t like having friend shut his front door in the fellows face (passive aggressive yes, but also karma payback I believe the other fellow deserved) and the police refused to do anything but offer to tow HIS vehicle and charge him for removal.

    I’ve seen many youtubes posted where someone poached a dug out spot and someone else snowblowed them in… Is it wrong? Is it right? Dunno. But if someone busts their arse to dig a majorly buried vehicle out, you better be bleeding, dying, or going to have a baby in the ranks of why you should take their work and poach…

    Also almost everywhere I have ever lived, if it’s a vehicle on the street, it should move after 2-3 days. Even if it comes back to roost in the same place. If it’s on land or in a driveway, that’s different. Just don’t want one to be abandoned, so comments to whoever parked it there should be done civilly, but to find out if the person means to leave it there or not….

  • Natalie January 7, 2013, 1:46 am

    …Maybe this is because I live in LA but a parking spot on the street is just that, a parking spot. Available to all and to all a good night. As long as no driveway was blocked nor a mailbox, I’m not sure what issue the neighbor had with the car….

    The only potential issue I can see her having is if it was some random car parked on the street for a long time period. But, since it was your husband’s car…. unknown error in processing :/

  • Daphne January 8, 2013, 10:08 am

    In my neighborhood it is considered common courtesy not to park directly in front of your neighbors’ homes. We all have garages in the alley so parking isn’t really an issue here, but we have no driveways, so the front parking spaces on the street are what we all use most of the time for coming and going. I don’t think any of my neighbors think they “own” the street; it’s just nice to be able to park directly in front of your own house and we respect that about each other.
    If this is the case in the OP’s neighborhood (and it sounds like it might be), then I think it was rude of her to leave a car in front of the neighbor’s house for 3 days. The fence construction was probably already quite annoying; so the OP should have done everything possible to mitigate further bother to her neighbors.

  • K January 17, 2013, 4:07 am

    This vaguely reminded me of a (frustratingly) humorous incident a couple of years ago. We live in a rather rural area that borders a busier town built along the interstate, and have 45 acres with a private drive approximately 1/4 mile long. There’s a bend in the first 1/3 of it, and some trees that are situated so that drivers coming down the drive cannot see the house until they are almost upon it, but we can see them from the front windows nearly as soon as they approach the bend.

    On this occasion, we had several family members visiting for an anniversary party. We noticed a sedan approach the bend, then stop just short and pull over. Doing a quick headcount, the typical conversations of, “whose car is that? Was Mark coming? He has a new car, doesn’t he? Is that him? Why did he pull over?” quickly followed. It was decided, when no driver appeared within 6-7 minutes, that my uncle would go down and check things out.

    It turned out to be an out-of-state driver who had somehow gotten off the interstate and become completely lost. She had decided to pull onto what she assumed was a public “back road” and take a nap. My uncle, worried about our liability should something happen to her, as well as our safety since we did not know her at all (and this turned out to be prophetic), politely let her know that this would not be possible. He offered to give her directions to the small bed & breakfast about 6 miles away, or even to have one of the ladies at the party escort her, if she was worried about nodding off. Rather than matching my uncle’s placid politeness, however, the woman went BALLISTIC.

    She screamed that we could not tell her what she could and could not do on a public road and we needed to mind our own business. When my uncle attempted to explain — again — that it was not a road, but a private drive which we *do* own (and, point of fact, we own the land all the way to the crossroad without even an easement), she called him a liar and actually lifted her hand as if she would slap him.

    By this point several of us had walked down, curious about what was going on (nosiness is a family trait…LOL.) When I realized how she was acting, I knew there was going to be trouble, and I ran into the house and called my cousin, who happened to be on the town’s police force at the time. In the end, she had to be escorted off and, after taking a swing at my cousin’s partner, she spent the night in a holding cell where she got some much-needed sleep. Surprisingly, she apparently blew 0.00 when she was brought in. She left the next day, after retrieving her car from impound, without so much as an apology to anyone.