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Sunday, April 23, 2017

How much do I need to tell my neighbor?



The real estate market in Boston is booming. One city neighborhood after another is finding its housing stock being purchased, renovated, and sold to new owners. It's not unusual to drive down a neighborhood street and see three or four houses being gutted and readied for new lives.

Long-time residents are finding themselves subjected to truck noise, construction debris, and more traffic in their neighborhoods than typical. While the end result might be to raise the value of all neighboring properties, that's little solace to the hard-working folks who would like some peace and quiet when they happen to have a week day off from work.

L.W. lives in an old Boston neighborhood in a house that his family has owned for six decades. Down the street to the left of his house, an old house is being gutted while the empty lot next to it is being prepared for concrete foundation to be poured so a new house can be built. Right next door to L.W.'s house is a three-family house, once owner-occupied, that is being gutted and transformed into three luxury condominiums. 

While L.W.'s house is on a corner and on one street, the house next door is technically on another street. Yet, the houses share the same street number. Over the years, food deliveries, party guests, mail, and other stuff has found its way to the wrong house. It's been easy enough to re-direct items as long as the neighbors took the time to do so. 

But now, L.W.'s neighbor is a contractor who is renovating the house next door. No one is living next door, so errant food deliveries and party goers no longer appear on his doorstep. But a week or so ago, L.W. writes that he received a letter from the city informing him that he owed $35 in fines for improper disposal of trash. 

When L.W. took a closer look at the letter, he saw that while it was addressed to him, the photo that accompanied the letter was of loose trash piled up against the house next door. The city officials had mistaken the same-numbered house next door for his, even though the photo clearly showed that they were in error. 

In the past, L.W. says that when he received mail meant for his neighbor he would simply walk next door and put it in her mail box. But he's not sure what the right thing is to do with this notice. 

"I could get in touch with the contractor and let him know," writes L.W. "But if he ignores the notice, the city might think it was me who ignored it. Am I obligated to let the contractor know about this notice? Wouldn't that be the neighborly thing to do?" 

No, L.W. has no obligation to let the contractor know about the errant notice. The right thing for him to do is to call, email, or write the city agency that sent him the notice, let it know that the photo of the trash is not at his house but the house next door, give the correct address, and leave it to the city to notify the correct owner. And the right thing for the contractor to do is to do a better job of cleaning up his site. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2017 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.



Sunday, April 16, 2017

How far do I need to go to do my newspaper deliverer's job?



A reader, M.N., from New England, has been a subscriber to the print edition of his city's daily newspaper for more than 30 years. As more and more of the news migrated over to digital platforms that were updated throughout the day, M.N. says he still enjoys waking up early each morning, walking out to his front stoop, collecting his newspaper, and then sitting down to read it at the kitchen table over a hot cup of black coffee. It's how M.N. likes to start his days before he heads off to work.

Most often, even during inclement weather, which is plentiful in New England, the newspaper is there waiting for him at his front door. On the occasional days when the snow footage is overwhelming and the newspaper will be late, he generally receives an email from the newspaper's circulation department advising him that delivery might be delayed. But those days are rare and M.N. remains, for the most part, a happy customer.

Until recently.

For several days in a row, M.N. woke up and found that his newspaper had not been delivered. No note from the circulation department. Just no paper. He reported the missing paper online and asked to receive a credit, which he assumes the newspaper gave him.

On the fourth day he received no paper, M.N. reported it to the newspaper, but then he looked out his kitchen window at the house next door that was in the process of being renovated and was boarded up. On the wooden porch of that house were about six or seven copies of the daily newspaper in the same colorful plastic bags his delivery person typical used. M.N. went next door, gathered the papers, recycled the old ones, and kept that morning's paper so he could read it over coffee.

The next morning, the same thing happened. M.N. reported the non-delivery, then went next door to grab the incorrect delivered paper that was at the boarded up house.

Later that morning, he used the online chat service on the newspaper's site to inform them that his newspaper was being delivered to the wrong house. He expressed surprise that the deliverer wouldn't know not to deliver a newspaper to a boarded up house, and he gave a specific description of his house and his porch.

Still, for two days M.N. received credit for a missing paper that he ended up reading by recovering it from the boarded-up house next door. Even though he feels he was inconvenienced, he asks, "Am I obligated to let them know that I actually got the paper on those two days I got credit for?"

M.N. did read the newspaper on those two days. But when he reported a missing newspaper, he did so honestly and with good intent. He also was forthcoming during the online chat. He pays for the delivery to his house not to the boarded-up house next door. M.N. did the right thing by taking the time to straighten out the delivery issue. But he has no obligation to pay the newspaper for a product that was never delivered to him. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2017 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.