In a perfect world, your neighbors would be as lovable as Joey and Chandler, as kooky as Kramer, or as beloved as Fred and Ethel. But, in reality, you don't have to be BFFs to establish great relationships with the folks living next door or down the hall. We spoke with two national etiquette experts, Diane Gottsman, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, and Elaine Swann, founder of The Swann School of Protocol and author of Let Crazy Be Crazy, for their best advice for being a good neighbor. (Hint: The frequent pop-in is much more entertaining on TV.)
1. They're mindful of noise.
On school nights, Swann says to tone down the noise levels by 9 or 10 p.m., and on weekends, by midnight. "When you are hosting a soiree, it's important for you to let your surrounding neighbors know you are having an event, and to give them a means of contacting you if they have a complaint," she advises. "If they feel confident that they can reach you immediately, then they will contact you directly first instead of calling the cops." She recommends saving your neighbor's number in your phone (something like "911-Neighbors") and always answering or responding right away. If you think you'll be too busy hosting, make sure someone else can be readily available. "If your neighbors call the cops on you, that will set up a bad relationship that could possibly continue on," Swann says.
2. They pick up their papers.
"Your neighbors don't want to see all your old newspapers laying around outside your door," Gottsman says. "Anything that's left outside should be brought in."
3. They reach out about their own potential annoyances.
If you have moved recently and have an infant, young children, or a new pet, it's a nice idea to introduce yourself to your new neighbors. "Simply say 'We have a small child; please just let us know if the noise bothers you.' Or, 'We just got a new puppy and are still getting acclimated; if you hear barking, here's my contact information,'" Swann says.
4. They think before they cook.
"If you're living in an apartment where you're in a confined space, be aware of smells," Gottsman says. "If you cook fish or bacon, do what you can do to get proper ventilation."
5. They're pleasant.
"When you see someone outside or down the hall, proactively make eye contact and say hello," Gottsman says. "You don't have to go into a long conversation."
6. They deal with nosy neighbors—nicely.
If you're just hoping for a little alone time in your yard or on your patio, but your neighbor always wants to hang out and chit-chat, Swann says it's best to be direct. "Be brutally honest without being brutal," she advises. Saying something as simple as "I'm really busy during the week so I cherish this time alone with my family—I'll catch you next time," will help you get your point across in a very direct manner. "That's what's most important," Swann says. It might sting for the neighbor a little bit, but the feelings will pass.
Gottsman agrees. "Be pleasant, but tell them you need to finish up the lawn or you're trying to get 15 minutes of meditation or solitude in before you need to go in and start dinner for the kids," she says. "I think it's possible to set your boundaries in a really nice way."
7. They return things.
"If you borrow a lawn mower or a hammer, make sure you return it," Gottsman says. "Don't make them come look for it."
8. They make first contact.
"A commonly asked question is, 'Do I go to them or do they come to me?' Gottsman says of new neighbors. "There is really no set-in-stone rule, but it's nice to reach out if you're the one already living there" Start the conversation by letting them know about the good dry cleaner in the neighborhood or your favorite place for barbecue.
If you're the new neighbor, don't hesitate to walk over and reach out. Gottsman recommends saying, "Hey, I'm new to the area and it's great to be here," and introducing yourself.
9. They're conscious of their pets.
"It's important to be mindful of any noise your pet is making," Swann says. She recommends to get a doggie cam to see whether your pet suffers from separation anxiety after you leave and gauge how big of a problem it is for your neighbors.
The same rings true for barking dogs. "If they are barking all day long, it means they're not stimulated or they need something," Gottsman adds. "As the neighbor, you could go over and say, 'I know you're gone during the day, but the dog barks all day long—maybe she's lonely or hungry—I don't know, but she's not comfortable.'"
And when in doubt, bribe. Gottsman recounts the story of a couple with a neighbor with an annoying animal. "They could never catch them in person to discuss it, but they sent a cute dog treat with a note that said, 'We love pets, but this is keeping us up.' It was a sweet, effective way to handle the situation."
10. They keep their dog on a leash.
Swann says to follow the rules of your HOA or apartment complex, as well as city guidelines, as they pertain to leash laws. "Often, we think because our dog is well behaved, or because it's small or friendly, or we're just taking him out for a quick bathroom break, it's all right to let him go without a leash," she says. "But it really is offensive to your neighbors when you don't follow leash rules."
11. They know it's never too late to introduce themselves.
So, you keep meaning to say hello to that new couple down the hall—but you blinked and suddenly six months have passed. Do it anyway, Swann says. "Don't allow time to prevent you from displaying kindness toward your neighbors," she says. "I think people are gracious enough to understand that we all have very busy lives and the mere fact that you took time out to say hello—and maybe brought a welcome gift—would be greatly appreciated. I wouldn't put a time limit on it at all."
12. They let the management handle minor complaints.
Swann says if your neighbor is doing something bothersome—parking in your spot or leaving trash out in the hall—rather than complaining directly to your neighbor, utilize authority figures, such as your apartment manager, to get what you want. "Then there's no bad blood between you and your neighbors," she says. "Most apartment complexes have rules and guidelines, so if they get that message from the apartment manager, you can minimize confrontation and it gives you the opportunity to have a better relationship with your neighbor. The key is to try to dwell together in peace."