The New Rules of Neighborly Etiquette
Neighborhoods just aren’t the same as they used to be.
Gone are the days when everyone on your street knows you and waves when you pass one another by. One recent study by the City Observatory found that only about one-third of homeowners know their neighbors by name! That’s a huge change from generations past, and it’s altered the unspoken rules of neighborly etiquette.
Whether you’re the new kid on the block or you’ve been at the same address for 20 years, there are certain etiquette rules you’re expected to follow to keep the peace in your hood, and those rules are evolving just as quickly as the world we live in. We spoke to experts to find out exactly what those rules are today, so we can strive to be the perfect neighbors we wish we had.
Old rule: Just pop by and knock!
New rule: Try texting first
Many of the changes in the way that we interact with our neighbors are due to advancements in technology.
“The technology that was created to connect us has left many ever more [physically] disconnected,” says Sophie Kaemmerle, a neighborhood expert from NeighborWho. “There is a tendency for many of us to turn inward and live in a digital neighborhood, instead of interacting with the people around us.”
The upshot? People just don’t show up unexpectedly at your door anymore—if you do, there’s a good chance you’ll catch your neighbors off guard.
Instead, “Sending people a message to say that you would like to swing by, rather than just showing up unannounced, is appropriate,” says Kaemmerle. “A text saying you have something to drop off and ‘Is now a good time?’ allows the other person to make sure they have pants on before you ring the doorbell!”
Old rule: Kids can still drop by to ask if your tykes can play
New rule: Kids have busy schedules, so texting applies here, too
So maybe we adults should consider texting before dropping by, but surely it’s OK for phone-less kids to drop by unannounced and ask for the children of the house to come out and play, right? Not so fast, says Kaemmerle.
“It’s best to use technology to plan play dates for your kids, by emailing or texting other parents rather than letting your kids simply show up and knock,” she explains. “Kids these days have a lot of extracurricular activities, and unless you know the other family really well, you probably don’t have an inkling about their schedule. It’s courteous to be mindful of those busy schedules by planning play dates in advance.”
Old rule: Neighborhood watch keeps us all safe
New rule: Limit your video surveillance to your own property
As crime rates go up and the cost of video equipment goes down, it’s not uncommon to see video cameras pop up on houses on your street. In fact, around 20% of all Americans aged 18 to 49 use video surveillance in their homes.
If you decide to take the plunge and install your own, where exactly should those cameras be pointing? Is it a big deal if your front porch camera also happens to be recording your neighbor’s front yard?
Experts agree that is a very, very big deal.
“For reasons of privacy, I would encourage property owners to limit the scope of all videotaping to the boundary of their own property,” explains etiquette and manners expert Sharon Schweitzer, who is also an attorney.
She adds that you should double-check by watching your video to make sure you’re not accidentally recording beyond your own property lines.
It’s not always possible to keep the camera on your own property, especially if you have a small lot, or are recording something close to the edge of your property.
“If you are recording anything beyond your property line, it is best to communicate with your neighbors and check with an attorney,” advises etiquette consultant Jodi RR Smith. “Different states have different right-to-privacy and recording laws.”
Old rule: Face-to-face interactions are best
New rule: Being Facebook friends is fine, too
While every etiquette expert we spoke with confirmed that you are under no obligation to befriend your neighbors on Facebook or other social media sites, Kaemmerle says there are good ways to connect with your neighbors online—especially if you’re not apt to do it face to face. In fact, doing so may be the key to forging the connections that have been lost over the years—and to keeping up with what’s happening in your area.
“While technology might have started the trend toward fewer interactions with your neighbors, it can also be the key to changing that trend,” she says. “There are digital platforms now that are designed specifically to create neighborliness.”
Kaemmerle suggests searching Facebook for groups specific to your city, town, or neighborhood. She also advises trying the app Nextdoor, which uses your address to automatically connect you to private message boards used only by those living in your area. By using these sites, you can pitch in when there’s a lost cat, stay in the loop if there’s suspicious activity in the area, and even keep up to date on things like yard waste collection.
Old rule: Swap keys with a neighbor you trust in case of emergencies
New rule: Swap alarm codes and other electronic passwords, too
You can’t be home 100% of the time, so it’s always good to have one neighbor you trust have access to your house in case of emergencies. In the past, that boiled down to a key swap. Today, it could include everything from security alarm codes to garage door passwords—whatever they’d need to keep your place safe.
“If you trust your neighbor and vice versa, share alarm codes, garage codes, and home electronics instructions, in case you ever need to assist while they’re away,” explains Schweitzer. “For example, if your neighbor’s garage door is open or they are away during a freeze and the heat needs to be turned on, you’ll be prepared to be a helpful neighbor.”
Old rule: Construction on your property is your business alone
New rule: Alert neighbors to any construction plans that might make noise
Construction projects aren’t just hard on you—they’re also hard on your whole neighborhood. The noise, the dirt, and the added traffic are enough to drive anyone nuts, so be considerate of your neighbors when you have a project going on.
“If you’re doing construction, send an email or written note to all neighbors with your contact info, in case there are any issues with the contractors if you’re not around,” advises etiquette expert Lisa Grotts.
After the project is over, invite everyone over for libations as a thank-you for putting up with the ruckus—and forging stronger neighborhood bonds. (The old-fashioned custom of sharing a drink face to face works just as well now as ever!)