How To Be A Good Neighbor
Are You A Good Neighbor?
Growing up on the winding roads and cold shores of Wisconsin, I was always around family. They were the people I gossiped with, worshipped with, worked with, and, occasionally, smoked a cigarette with behind the local Borders (sorry, Mom). When I moved to Los Angeles, it took me years to find a smoke-behind-Borders-level of community. It wasn’t until last year, on the heels of a massive pandemic, that I was able to buy my first home: a tiny, mint green Craftsman Bungalow with a loquat tree in the back and an actual driveway. (Yes, parking! I really am living the dream).
I thought I knew what I was getting into, but I had no idea. In my already not-at-all-normal year of homeownership, I’ve learned a lot about “neighbor etiquette,” or the expected behavior of and by a neighbor. Of course, COVID has only intensified the unprecedented neighborly expectations, but if this year has taught me anything, it’s that the strength of community goes beyond these challenging times. Using these tips, I know the relationships I have with my neighbors will be even healthier post-pandemic (metaphorically and literally)!
Good Neighbor Cheat Sheet
1. Make Your Introductions Early (And Often)
When I moved, I was pretty overwhelmed; saying hi to my neighbors wasn’t exactly at the top of my priority list. Mercifully, one of my “key” neighbors (we’ll get to that next) informed me that I really should extend a hello. He gave me the contacts of a few people in my vicinity, and when I texted, they felt immediate relief that I was friendly and interested in connecting. I hadn’t realized that most people on my street have lived there for decades, and integrating myself into such tight company was crucial. If I didn’t reach out, I know things wouldn’t nearly be as harmonious as they are now. And I wouldn’t get as many free tangerines. See tip four.
2. Have “Key” Neighbors
It’s likely you have more than a few neighbors, so try and designate a couple of people to be your priority neighbors, or as I call them, “key” neighbors. (They can actually have a key, too. Fun!) You can exchange phone numbers and email addresses, and even knock on their door if you need something—safely, of course. This is the person who should know when you go out of town, be your go-to for borrowing stuff, or check in when you light a candle on your porch and the flame gets out of hand and maybe lights part of your tablecloth on fire (hypothetically speaking).
3. Notes Are The Preferred Form Of Communication
People may have different communication methods across age and culture—but the one thing everybody understands on my block? A note. And here I thought they were reserved for moody roommates with post-it notes to communicate about dirty dishes.
Notes are a neighbor’s love language. Concerns? Requests? Comments? Events? Write a message, and put it on your neighbor’s door. Not their car or in their mailbox. On the door. It’ll be a guaranteed read, and you’ll get bonus points for good COVID-safe communication!
4. They’re Always Watching (But Nobody Cares About Your Car)
Months after I moved, my house was broken into (I’m okay). The thing is, before I even knew what happened to me, my neighbors did: They saw the open window and handprints, and they immediately contacted the local police.
Fast-forward a couple of months to a false alarm on my new security system: I immediately got texts and calls from my neighbors. It’s comforting to know people are looking out, like cool, nice, tangerine-abundant, non-dystopian Big Brothers. Also, know: Nobody is watching your car. Not when the alarm goes off, not when there’s street sweeping, and certainly not when someone’s loitering around it suspiciously. That one’s on you, friend.
5. Garbage Collection Shows Them Who You Really Are
Forget lawn care—the true worth of a neighbor is how they handle garbage collection day. Are your bins out and back on time? Did you call the city to pick up oversized items? Is your recycling tidy? Garbage is the metric of how much you care.
6. The Backyard Is A Sacred Space
Backyards are not to be trespassed on, messed with, or even acknowledged (not in regular times and not until everyone has had both rounds of Moderna). The only thing dividing my backyard from my neighbors is a small wall and a tree. When he’s putting golf balls, I let him be. When I’m out doing weird yoga videos, he lets me be. It’s a respect thing.
7. Everybody Has The Same “Person” (For Better Or For Worse)
Because of all this healthy, neighborly communication, most people use the same “Person” (you know, plumber, security place and handyman, etc.). Using similar people as your neighbors will endear you to them, though sometimes these people can be more expensive. This is why I recommend lending skills to your neighbor if you have them. One of the best parts about having neighbors is pitching trades. Your skill for a meal, their skill for a favor from you in the future!
8. Packages Are To Be Protected
At any cost. Your job is to get them to their rightful owner, with the least amount of time exposed to the elements or vulnerable to theft. This is the oath you take as a good neighbor: Serve and safeguard those packages.
9. Holiday Treats Are Key
Or fruit from fruit trees. Spread the wealth because you’ll get it right back. Me? I have a healthy stream of fresh, organic tangerines coming at me for the rest of my residency, and all it took was a bottle of wine on my Pinot-loving catty-corner neighbor’s doorstep.
Every community is different, but if you’re reading this, you’re likely interested in how you can be a better neighbor and unlock the perks that go with it. You don’t have to own a home, either; these principles can work in apartment communities. Renting, owning or subletting, this “Good Neighbor Cheat Sheet” will help you master the art of being a great neighbor—an art I learned through observation, action, and plenty of mistakes.
And honestly, it’s not just about mastery: It’s about people taking care of one another. From a sick neighbor to a pregnancy meal train to borrowing a rake—when a community takes care of itself in issues small and large, it’s a nicer place to live. Now turn down the music, grab an N-95 and go leave a note for your neighbor! I believe in you!
Rebecca Leib is a writer, podcaster, and comedian who's appeared in the AV Club, Bustle, and Marie Clare. Her writing is in VICE, Reductress, LAist, Los Angelino, LA WEEKLY, Art Etc. and on NatGeo, NBC + NBC Digital, Disney, Investigation Discovery, and CBS. Most recently, she worked as a writer/producer on National Geographics’ “Brain Games" reboot with Keegan Michael Key. Check out her comedy/history podcast, “Ghost Town,” and find her on Instagram and Twitter at @RebeccaLeib.