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A couple of days ago we looked out our window and saw that our next-door neighbor was mowing our lawn. We have noticed her lack of interpersonal boundaries on several occasions since we moved in a couple of years ago, but it hasn't outweighed the positives of being neighbors – until now. Anyway, my husband went outside and asked her what she was doing, and her reply was a mixture of concern about leaves blowing onto her lawn and wanting to do us a favor because we are such helpful and good neighbors to her.

There were leaves in one distinct area of our front lawn close to her house, and we were on our way out to run some errands, so we shortsightedly shrugged it off and went on with our day. While we were gone she proceeded to mow our entire front lawn and the public right-of-way that extends around our property (we live on a corner lot), and she mowed it much shorter(*) than we customarily mow it.

Since the lawn care in our household is my domain more so than my husband's, I am volunteering to have “the talk” with her. The issues as I see them are as follows. She came onto our property and started altering it without our prior knowledge or permission and she preempted our agency and willingness to remedy something that she found problematic. She then corrected the problem far beyond the scope of what she had indicated to my husband and did it to her own aesthetic preferences rather than ours. There is another issue worth considering: the possibility of her injuring herself while on our property and our liability in that event. http://injury.findlaw.com/accident-injury-law/premises-liability-who-is-responsible.html

People with poor boundaries often don't take hints easily, so I want to be direct but not unnecessarily harsh. I guess I'm looking for suggestions to prepare myself so that I can say what I need to say, and suggestions on how to handle what I imagine will be defensive or deflective responses on her part. I think one opening she might use is the fact that my husband didn’t explicitly tell her not to do it, and she would have naturally assumed that he was speaking for both of us.


(*) We mow our lawn to about three inches, and mow it once a week during the growing season, so it is never anywhere near nuisance height. I had last mowed it in mid-November, and although we have had an unusually mild fall, it has not grown appreciably since then.

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    If they are not close enough to tell you they find something 'problematic' then they are not close enough to mow your lawn unasked. I have fixed problems with my neighbor's drainage ditch, but I asked them for permission first. – Acumen Simulator Dec 13 '17 at 20:32
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    One thing, lawnmower height adjustment tends to be something you do once and forget. And within a range of "not scalped to nowhere near nuisance height" very few people would notice. I don't think she even knew she was cutting it shorter than you like. Any response that spends much time on the length (as opposed to the invasion) is likely to confuse her or make her think you're a fussy grass nerd. – Kate Gregory Dec 14 '17 at 13:58
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    That's true (set it and forget it). But I believe she knew exactly what she was doing. She seems to spend a lot of time observing our yard and garden and flower beds. She is full of helpful advice. "You really should try (X) lawn service - I'll give you their number." A few days later: "Have you called them yet?" A few more days later: "Are you going to call them?" "You know, this tree has had branches fall off - you should have it cut down. I tried to get (former owner) to cut it down for years, but she liked it." A few days later: "So when are you going to have that tree cut down?" etc. – McCaverty Dec 14 '17 at 14:23
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    @KateGregory - I'm naming my next band "Fussy grass nerd" – DVK Dec 15 '17 at 14:07
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    @copper.hat the problems (plural) are clearly explained in the question: liability issues, cut height discrepancy, and lack of boundaries. – Doktor J Dec 17 '17 at 20:36
66

Let the past lie and make the focus entirely on what happens next.

There is no profit for either party in getting mired in what anyone’s thought processes were over that incident. But if you are to avoid that, you need to prepare what you want to say, but also have strategies on hand to rebuff any rehashing on her part. I would suggest considering some of the following:

Choose your moment and setting: decide where and when to talk to her.

Avoid situations when she is busy and might already feel pressured. You will be the best judge of your opportunities, but you ideally want her to be relaxed and unhurried, which might mean you have to keep this on a back burner until you have had a couple of straightforward ‘neighbour’ interactions with her where it isn’t mentioned. That will avoid the impression that it’s been grinding your gears ever since (even if it has).

Avoid obvious things like accosting her while she has an armful of groceries or is up a ladder, don’t beard her in front of her friends etc.

Broach the subject: Don’t start as a supplicant.

You don’t need to apologise for anything that’s gone before, or to ask her to leave your grass alone. Nor do you need her to apologise for the past cutting. Also, avoid thanking her for the previous grass-cut, even as a social nicety, it mixes the message.

You are not negotiating with her, so avoid making the whole thing a question which gives her ownership of the issue. Instead of

‘Hi, can I talk to you about the grass cutting?’,

try

‘Hi, I wanted to talk to you about the front yards, is now a good time?.’

That makes it seem like a wider topic and if she can’t talk then, she is at least likely to agree to arrange a time.

Choose assertive and positive words: there are too many variables for me to suggest a strict script, all the wrinkles about whether you are in a place where homeowner associations make strict rules about how your plot looks etc, but here are some things to think about.

What you are seeking is to:

  • inform her of your boundaries on the issue,

  • confirm that they are reasonable

  • thank her for her anticipated agreement and compliance

and perhaps express happiness that it has been so easy to work out how your different ideas of front yards can co-exist. Be warm without patronising.

Rebuttal strategies: Try to anticipate any objections or arguments she might make and be the first to claim them.

For example, are either of your gardens ‘out of step’ with the general run of gardens on the street? If so, be the one to raise that, whether hers is more fastidious than most or yours more relaxed, don’t leave that as something for her to try to beat you with. ie if you were to say

‘we like our grass the length it is’

it leaves it open for her to reply with something like

‘but no-body else’s is like that’.

Instead consider something which makes clear that you have made an active choice about your yard, and a right that is equal to her to do that.

I understand that the styles you and I have each chosen for our yards is different, but like you, we have a style we like.'

Consider if anything she has already said or done is masking a different issue. She mentioned leaves, are the leaves coming from a tree on your property? Might it be that its all the leaves that are annoying her rather than the ones that migrate from your grass to hers. If that’s the case, isolate it as an issue and come up with a leaf-specific strategy. There are more ways to get leaves off grass than cutting the grass.

Alternatively the leaves may just be a proxy for annoyance at the grass length, after all, leaves blow around more on shorter grass, longer grass tends to trap them.

Look for creative solutions: Is there a different maintenance solution for the ‘leafy bit’?
Can that corner be planted with, for example, a ground hugging juniper? Laid to paving? Decked? Can you differentiate that area in a way that it won’t look odd if you should decide to let her cut that limited area when she wants?

See things from her side: You don’t have to agree with her views on domestic landscaping, but you can recognise that if she is really bothered by something, it is as tricky for her to broach it with you as for you to broach with her, which may be why she went the route of direct action.

You can sympathise without agreeing to her preferred maintenance regime.

‘I understand that we do things differently from you, but we are consistent and you can trust us that we aren’t about to let things get out of hand, we just prefer the grass a little longer.’

Aim for a ‘Good Faith’ solution: if you offer to make any changes, carry through on it. Don’t commit to anything you can’t, or don’t intend to keep up.

59

It sounds as though she's genuinely trying to be helpful and a good neighbour. Maybe the people who lived in your property had more of a community spirit where people help each other out with chores like this, maybe they appreciated the extra help.

So approach her with an air of friendliness and thanks for what she's done (even if it's not been done to your exacting standards). The grass will grow back and there's no lasting damage been done here.

Just thank her for the help,and then indicate that you feel that you should be the one mowing your own lawn and that she shouldn't worry about it in the future.

If you edge toward being too demanding/exacting in what you want, then you may come across badly and this might end up in future disputes.

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    Much better and less confrontational than my "landscape-sculpt her bushes into pornographic figures, since we're imposing our own yard-wishes on neighbors" idea. – PoloHoleSet Dec 13 '17 at 15:30
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    In fact, we do have a sense of community spirit and mutual looking out for each other. But we also have the right to have respectful boundaries. Boundaries are something we define for ourselves - other people don't get to define them for us. So I agree that we should be friendly, and I do appreciate her good intentions, but I am not thankful for what she did and I don't want to give her the impression that she should feel free to do us this so-called favor again. – McCaverty Dec 13 '17 at 16:25
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    I disagree - rewarding her with "cookies, wine, whatever" for behavior you want her to stop is like giving treats to a dog for pooping on the carpet. – user7098 Dec 13 '17 at 16:31
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    @McCaverty: Can you thank her for having good intentions, and then go on to say that you're fussy about your lawn and like taking care of it yourself (or just that you want to)? If she asks you what you like to do with your lawn, you can maybe have an interesting conversation about your theory and practice of optimal lawn height. – Peter Cordes Dec 13 '17 at 17:51
  • @PeterCordes I agree, although she may try again to get it to your optimal specification just because she wants to please them. So it could be good or bad depending./ – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Dec 14 '17 at 22:52
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Several things to bear in mind:

Firstly, she very likely meant no harm whatsoever. She mowed your lawn, likely thinking she was doing you a favour. I don't know if you've noticed, but it's quite possible she keeps her lawn shorter than yours, and thought you simply hadn't had time to do it. Therefore, be friendly. If you feel at all irritated, you may want to opt for a card rather than an interview, since you can flower your edges a bit better.

Secondly, she is encroaching on private property. While she may be trying to be nice, it is still your property. You have the right to mow your own lawn, and you have a right to have her not encroach on it.

That in mind, I would word a conversation / card something along the lines of,

Say, I noticed you mowed our lawn the other day. Thank you for the thought, I appreciate your kindness! In the future, though, would you mind just giving a call before coming over? My husband and I appreciate a fairly high level of privacy, and it would mean a lot to us if you would just contact us first.

If she does call, you can always say, "Oh, thank you, but that won't be necessary: I have it on my schedule for < Tuesday >. We usually leave the grass until it's about 4 inches; we like the ground cover it makes."

Of course, you could just plant a hedge on the property border or some other kind of barrier, but ideally, you don't just want to communicate, "You are a nuisance!"

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    I think this is the best answer so far. I do think she had good intentions, and she stated that she wanted to do us a favor. And I certainly have noticed that she keeps her lawn shorter than ours – lol! And I do not want to show any anger or ugliness. But as I said in another comment, her behavior and communication style is often passive-aggressive, so I feel like I need to step out of my comfort zone in this case and be direct, because being indirect in our communication with her seems to have resulted in where we are now. – McCaverty Dec 13 '17 at 16:14
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    Not easy. You may want to consider making it a note or card in that case. It enables you to say exactly what you mean, without the pressure of having to answer her replies now. – anonymous2 Dec 13 '17 at 17:02
4

Your neighbor sounds a bit like mine. Both of my neighbors had been used to a bare minimum presence on my property before I took ownership, and used it as they saw fit. The real answer here is to try Snow's approach first, but if that fails here is your fall back plan:

If you're permitted to do so, install a fence around your property. This will eliminate the need to feel as though your neighbor needs to mow your yard by removing her access to it. If your neighbor asks why, you could say something along the lines of "We are considering getting a dog".

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    Unfortunately, putting in a fence is not in our budget. But I agree, that would solve a lot of problems. And it's true, we bought the house from an elderly lady who this neighbor looked after a great deal, so she is used to moving pretty freely on our property. – McCaverty Dec 13 '17 at 15:26
  • @McCaverty Try Snow's answer first, but ultimately that is what I had to do in order to solve the problem. – Mister Positive Dec 13 '17 at 15:28
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    I won't go into all the details of her behavior, but at this point looking back we kind of feel like our "niceness" in letting past issues slide has culminated in the current situation, and it makes us wonder what she will do next if we don't respond pretty firmly. – McCaverty Dec 13 '17 at 15:34
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    @if that is the case, I bet in the end you put up a fence. – Mister Positive Dec 13 '17 at 15:35
3

You mention you want to be direct with her about this, and I agree that with folks who don't take hints well, this is how you should handle it.

That said, you can definitely be kind and polite while being firm and direct. How I would phrase your concerns to your neighbor:

Hi, X. We noticed you mowed our lawn the other day. While that was very kind of you and we understand you were trying to do us a favor, this feels to us like you are removing our right to decide when and how our lawn is mowed. While we absolutely appreciate your kindness, we must request that you not do this again without getting our permission first.

She also mentioned that part of the reason was leaves blowing onto her yard from yours. She really should give you a chance to fix issues she has stemming from your property. How I would approach this:

You mentioned to Husband that part of why you were doing this was {reason}. The next time there is a problem with our property that is causing you issues, please bring it to us and give us a chance to fix it ourselves. We may have different plans than you do, and we would like to have a choice on how to fix things.

If you wish to bring up your concern about liability, there are a couple ways you can incorporate this. You could simply mention that you would want to make sure someone is here in case something happens and she needs a hand, depending on how this person would take a hint of ever needing help.

We want to make sure that someone is here if we let you do work on our property, even something as simple as mowing the lawn. If something were to happen, we would want to make sure that you had help immediately.

You could even make it sound like you're preventing liability against her if you think that would go over better.

What if you needed to move something of ours to mow around, and it became broken or went missing? We know that you would do no such thing on purpose, but if something we absolutely need is broken and worth enough money, we would have to have you at least help replace it. I don't want something like that to come between us and ruin our friendship.

An important point here: Enforce those boundaries. If she agrees to what you're telling her, you must hold her to it. If she comes onto your property doing any sort of yard work and you spot her, you must immediately go and remind her of what you spoke of. If you don't catch it until after the fact, do not accuse. It might not have been her that raked your leaves, even if no one in your house did it. In those cases, be polite and just inquire if she knew who did the work. If she admits to it, thank her and remind her of the boundaries she agrees with.

I personally feel that a talk like this is best handled in person, and it may be best to have your husband there as well. Showing a united front will keep her from having the excuse of, "Well, McCaverty doesn't like this behavior, but Husband doesn't mind! I'll just do it when Husband is home and do the favor for him!" Discuss what you will say with your husband first, to make sure he agrees with the points you intend to raise. This way, you truly will have a united front and either of you will be able to reinforce the boundaries at need.

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    This must have been fun to write, but it's cheap fantasy. Here, you presume yourself to be both righteous and superior (first mistake), and basically throw a stream of pithy lectures* at - well not so much a person, but an object - you expect to passively listen to all this (do you plan to bring a talking stick?), perceive your meaning accurately (whilst you yourself make sport of misinterpreting), somehow not punch you in the face, and admit their well-meaning act was wrong. I wouldn't even talk like that to my friend Harvey, and he's imaginary (so people keep telling me). – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 15 '17 at 18:02
  • Ace job bringing up liability aspect: OP should well-document this event, even if they don't do much action to assist with potential future legal issues. What if the neighbor decides to do some tree service and falls? – ti7 Dec 15 '17 at 21:30
  • This technique has worked well for me in the past, I will note. On several occasions, and especially through college when I needed it most, @Harper. If you see it as unrealistic, I understand completely. I can see where you're coming from. I too would share your feelings had this not been incredibly helpful and successful for me before. – Kendra Dec 18 '17 at 14:11
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I have far more experience mowing lawns than I would like to have, having mowed a complicated acre or two every week in season. My personal tendency is to be glad if someone else mowed or did other yard care.

BUT I have heard that there is some sort of "use it or lose it" legal property ownership principal involving yard care. If you let the neighbors routinely mow and do yard work on the near side of your property they will begin to acquire part of your ownership of that section of the property, or something like that.

You might want to look up the local laws about that in your jurisdiction and decide if that is something to mention in the discussion with your neighbor.

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    The term you're looking for is adverse possession. I am not a lawyer, and these things vary heavily from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but it may be a concern. – ceejayoz Dec 14 '17 at 22:05
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    True, but this has to be for quite a long time. 15-30 years typically of it looking, walking and quacking in all respects like it is their yard and not yours. Any documentable usage by you resets the clock. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 15 '17 at 18:18
  • Another way to stop the clock is by documenting permission for the neighbor to access the area. Then it's no longer adverse. – mkennedy Dec 21 '17 at 23:38
-1
  1. Thank them profusely for mowing your lawn. Don't say one negative word.

  2. Tell them "in the future..." And exactly how you prefer it cut, in careful detail. Offer to write it down.

  3. Ask them "Do you think you can do that?"

Perfect world, they are inspired and learn by your logic, and you sip margaritas while they mow, and after, bring them margaritas. Worst case, they decide that's too complicated for them and decide to let you mow your own lawn.

Right now there are two factors for you. For you, the big one is that their conduct was inappropriate and intrusive. On this issue, you/they are too far apart. You will never arrive at a meeting of the minds.

My point is, you don't need to litigate on that. It will suffice to work out the other issue: that "the lawn wasn't done to your spec". They will infer this when you tell them entirely positively how you want it done in exact detail; thus you can send that message without being negative at all.

From your particularity (and implicit displeasure in what had been done), they will also infer an object lesson: that humans are particular, and that's why we have interpersonal boundaries. This will make them think twice about further intrusions on you, and on others in the future.

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    So, you're basically, from my reading, saying it's okay to allow your neighbors to be inappropriate and intrusive regarding you and your property? Your suggestion will, in my opinion, only encourage the behavior the OP wishes to discourage, for more reasons than it wasn't done how she wanted. – Kendra Dec 14 '17 at 17:45
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    @Kendra No. You didn't read it or consider it. In fact, your comment (and your answer) violates a basic principle of IPX - don't assume idiocy, jerkdom, malice, or other nastiness about the other person. If it instantly seems like one of those, that is your personal bias - and you are not really listening or communicating, just enjoying the cheap indulgence of dehumanizing the other person. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 15 '17 at 17:46
  • Nice one, non-ordinary logic. It’s a pattern of strategic problem solving applied to an everyday situation. I doubt though that OP will be willing to apply it in their situation. But definitely among my favorite answers to that question, as it opens up a third realm beyond “stop her firmly” and “let her have it”. – michi Dec 15 '17 at 22:03
  • Telling the neighbor that the lawn needs to be done differently, to a certain standard, and possibly adding more requests like when it should be mowed in order to make the neighbor lose interest seems like a nice solution while profiting from it. Maybe some people are seeing this as more of a how can I discipline my neighbor who is out of place situation instead and that's where the negative votes came from. You know what? Most adults can't be changed. Just take advantage of the situation and move on. – Alex Cannon Apr 6 '18 at 22:35
  • @AlexCannon Thanks. This was also during a moment in time when some on IPX were really mad at me. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Apr 6 '18 at 23:12

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