What to Do if a Neighbor Approaches You About a Problem

Rather Than Get Tense or Defensive, Follow These Tips

Neighbors chatting in hallway
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Most of the time, you read about how to deal with a bad neighbor, including how to discuss issues with a particularly difficult neighbor.

But what if you're the "bad" neighbor? Of course, you're probably not really bad, but you may unwittingly be doing something that's annoying another tenant in your building.


Tips for When a Complaining Neighbor Comes Knocking

Here are some pointers on how to handle yourself if your neighbor comes over to your apartment to complain:

Try Not to Be Argumentative ​

With any luck, your neighbor will act reasonable in expressing himself to you. If that's the case, there's no need to turn the conversation into a confrontation.

On the other hand, if a neighbor first alerts you to a concern by yelling or acting disrespectful to you, don't take the bait. Instead of yelling back, calmly say, for example, "I'm happy to discuss this with you, but I don't see why we need to yell," or "I'd like to hear you out, but I think we'll be much more productive if we have a conversation."

Screaming matches don't solve neighbor disputes, so it's best to take the high road and stay centered and rational. Not only will you look and feel better by not getting excited, but you'll increase the chances of ultimately resolving the problem and not straining relations even further with this neighbor.

Listen and Show You Understand the Problem​

Since your neighbor is the one who approached you, let your neighbor talk.

If you don't understand the problem or need more information, ask questions.

While you're listening to your neighbor, try to put yourself in her shoes. Also, offer any information to your neighbor that may help explain where you're coming from. For example, if your neighbor complains about loud music but you believe you've been playing songs at a reasonable volume, you might point this out and say that you didn't realize the walls were that thin.

Smile ​

When a neighbor pays an unexpected visit to alert you to a problem that you're allegedly causing, it's natural to feel defensive and not smile. But smiling helps keep the conversation in a positive, productive place. When your neighbor sees you smile, she'll feel more at ease and probably smile back, which all helps prevent the tension underlying the issue from escalating.

Try to Come Up With a Reasonable Solution to the Problem

Sometimes, a small, innocuous change in your behavior or habits is all that's needed to solve a problem. For example, if your next-door neighbor complains that every night you come home talking loudly on your cell phone and this wakes up her baby, you can solve the problem by speaking softly as you approach your apartment or making the call at a different time. If your apartment door is the heavy, self-closing kind and your neighbor complains that you let the door slam behind you late at night, you need only take a little care to close it more quietly yourself.

Don't Make Promises You Can't Keep ​

As mentioned above, sometimes the way to address a neighbor's complaint is clear and something you can implement immediately. But more complex issues may not have an easy or obvious answer.

For example, a neighbor may drop by to complain about noise after you just bought a new piano for your apartment.

Keep in mind that you don't have to fully resolve an issue in that first conversation with a neighbor. If you feel pressured to do so, you might just make promises you can't keep, which will only make the situation worse.

So, don't be afraid to end a conversation by telling your neighbor something to the effect of, "I hear everything you're saying. Let me think about this and we'll talk again." If your neighbor can't get a firm resolution immediately, she should at least leave knowing you understand her concern and are addressing it.