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4 Sharing strategies for being a good neighbor

What’s OK to share — and what might lead to neighbor disagreements? Read on for ideas to avoid property line disputes, build bonds and maintain community.

Home with fence between neighbors

From time to time, we all borrow the proverbial cup of sugar from our neighbors — whether we need a jumpstart, a socket wrench or someone to water our plants while we’re away. Being a good neighbor means it’s important to reciprocate and find your own ways to share, but it’s also necessary to protect your home and stuff and set appropriate boundaries so that you don’t have property line disputes. These simple scenarios may help you create your own boundaries and share ideas for great neighbor relationships.

Can my neighbor build a fence on the property line without talking to me?

According to the old saying, good fences make good neighbors. But it’s perhaps equally true that good neighbors make good fences. It’s better to communicate about fence construction beforehand than to deal with an argument (or even a legal dispute) afterward. In some communities, fences can be built directly on your property line, with both neighbors sharing the cost and the responsibility of maintaining the fence over time, making it doubly important to proactively partner with your neighbor. If a neighbor builds the fence entirely on his or her own property, they won’t need to agree on costs or design with you, but it’s standard etiquette to face the “good” side of the fence (the one without the rails and posts) toward the neighbor’s property.

My neighbor has a great table saw. May I ask to borrow it?

If your neighbor can’t find his Phillips-head screwdriver and needs to borrow yours, it would be silly to say no. But it’s probably not a great idea to start lending (or borrowing) more expensive equipment. Sharing large items like this can create the sense that you’ll always lend things out, and can also reduce the lifespan of your large purchases or increase the risk of breaking a spendy item. If a neighbor has a lawnmower in the shop, you might make an exception (or, in a good-will gesture, give their yard a quick trim when you’re out doing your own). But otherwise, your neighbors should be responsible for buying and maintaining their own equipment.

My neighbor’s tree is beautiful — and it arches beautifully across my backyard. I think it needs trimming. Who is responsible?

Ahh, you’re talking about air rights, one of the most interesting things about owning property and sharing boundaries with neighbors. The branches that extend over your yard are in your air space, so if you’re worried about them or see a dead branch, you may certainly have it trimmed. However, it’s best to talk about your concerns with your neighbor. Perhaps they’ve noticed branches in their yard that need trimming, too, and you can come to an agreement to split any bills.

My neighbor likes music that I don’t — and we share a wall. What can I do?

For starters, reach out to them in person. They may not realize that the noise is bothersome or that your walls are not as insulating as they might have thought. If that doesn’t work, contact the landlord with documented instances to find out next steps.

My neighbor’s Wi-Fi is out and he’s asked to borrow mine. Should I share my password?

In a world where connectivity is everything, it’s a good idea to keep any tech access private. A guest network on your own router will keep neighbors from infecting your data and devices if they are hacked. To prevent neighbors from permanently accessing your Wi-Fi, you can occasionally change the password.

OK, fences, tools, tech: What makes for great neighbor sharing?

If you’re a gardener, consider offering surplus veggies to families in your neighborhood. Building a Little Free Library box in your front yard is another way to cultivate a sharing culture. And there are a number of websites and apps, such as Nextdoor, that allow people to connect with others in their neighborhood to give away unused items — leading to interactions that may turn neighbors into friends.

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