Sunday, June 05, 2022

Should neighbor report landscaper’s suspicious activity?

When you think there might be something amiss with the construction job going on in your neighborhood but aren’t sure, what’s the right thing to do?


A reader from Boston we’re calling Lil emailed me recently to fill me in on all of the construction that’s been going on in her neighborhood for the past two years. Many three family houses have been sold and are being converted into luxury condominiums. Some formerly empty lots are now being populated by even more high-priced condos.


“All of the trucks in and out and the sound of pile driving has been constant,” wrote Lil. “Traffic is regularly blocked off in our neighborhood making it challenging getting in and out of our driveway. All of the activity has resulted in noise, and more rodent sightings than ever.” As she emailed me, Lil wrote that there are at least 11 condo projects in some stage of development within a block of her house.


“Now one of these projects has finally begun to do landscaping and put down sod in front of seven condos, three of which are already on the market,” Lil wrote. “But I saw from my kitchen window that the landscapers had attached a house to a nearby fire hydrant and were using water from the hydrant to water the sod they had just put down.”


Lil seems incensed about the landscapers tapping into the fire hydrant. “How could this possibly be OK to use water from a public fire hydrant to water the grass?” she asked. “What, if anything, should I do?”


It’s relatively simple for Lil or anyone else to look up the City of Boston regulations about connecting a house to a public fire hydrant for public use. When I did a quick search, I found it is against the law to make such a connection without permission from the city.


If the landscaper has used the hydrant without permission, it should be stopped and cited for its illegal activity. But unless Lil checks, she has no way of knowing if permission was sought and granted or not. It hardly seems prudent or right for Lil to have marched over to the landscaper and tried to disconnect the hose even if she knew they were tapping into the water illegally.


Like many cities, Boston has a public utilities division that can be called to seek information. Boston also has a dedicated 311 phone number, website and app for residents to call when they have questions about public services ranging from trash pickup and snow removal to illegal parking and rodent activity.


If Lil or other neighbors are concerned that any construction workers or landscapers in their neighborhood are violating the law or causing a public disturbance, the right thing is to report it as soon as possible and let the city agency inspect the scene. If the city receives multiple reports about the same construction project possibly violating the law or causing disturbances, the right thing for the city to do is to keep tabs on the project to make sure it doesn’t slip back into bad behavior after receiving an initial citation. Lil might not be able to have the landscaper undo what has already been done, but she could be instrumental in ensuring it doesn’t happen again.

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.


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