Sunday, June 06, 2021

Neighbors should give neighbors a heads up on upcoming work that affects their property

In May, housing prices in the United States were up 13.2% over the previous 12 months. That’s the highest gain in housing prices since 2005. While housing prices had started to increase before the pandemic partly because of low interest rates, they rose further as workers started working remotely and started looking for different types of houses in perhaps different types of neighborhoods.

Phoenix may have experienced the largest gains in housing prices with a 20% increase, but many other cities witnessed or are witnessing a surge in demand that continues to drive up prices. In Boston, where a reader we’re calling Betty lives, housing prices are up about 14% over the past year.

“There’s a lot of renovating and new construction in my neighborhood where I’ve lived for the past 40 years,” writes Betty. “Neighbors are fixing up their houses or selling. And there are constant pile-drivers going during the week where every spot of buildable land seems to be getting developed.”

Betty writes that a few days ago painters began setting up outside the house next door to her. There was no sign of the owner, but she’d noticed that a lot of trash had been put out by the neighbor recently including old furniture and bric-a-brac. Betty suspected that the owner was preparing her house to put it on the market and the arrival of the house painters seemed to confirm her suspicion.

“We live in the city and there is less than 20 feet between her house and mine,” writes Betty. “I know the painters are trying to be thoughtful by covering my garden with a drop cloth, but I don’t know how long the garden won’t be getting sun or water when the plants might need it most to grow and bloom. I didn’t have a chance to make sure everything was watered thoroughly before it got covered up.” Betty’s neighbor never alerted her to the painters covering over her garden and that strikes her as wrong.

“Shouldn’t the neighbor next door have checked to make sure I’m OK with having the painters cover my garden with a drop cloth?” she asks. Betty believes her neighbor has crossed a line and she wants to know what the right thing to do is now that the line has crossed into her garden bed.

The painters did indeed seem to be thoughtful by covering over anything that might get covered with old paint scrapings or new paint splatters. But it was thoughtless of the owner to not give the neighbors on either side of her house a heads up that painters would be arriving or clear with them anything that would infringe on their property, whether that meant covering over a plant bed or moving an automobile.

If Betty truly doesn’t want her garden covered with a drop cloth she should ask the painters to remove it. Or she might want to ask them how long during the day they plan to keep the drop cloth on.

The right thing would have been for Betty’s neighbor to talk with her and other neighbors before the work began. Given that she didn’t, the right thing now is to comply with whatever Betty asks them to do if it involves their work materials on her property. 

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

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin. 


No comments: