Landscaping away the annoying neighbors

garden_gnome2010March 31, 2010

Hi everyone,

Long time lurker, first time poster :)

I'm just going to cut to the chase. I have the most annoying neighbors ever. This will be the fourth summer we've lived here and I've reached my wits end. We live on a corner lot and deal with a lot of stuff--but I have to draw the line somewhere.

Our neighbors across the avenue, in addition to constantly fighting and screaming at each other outside for the whole world to see and hear, play the radio in their garage (which faces our house) so loudly we can hear it in our house with the windows shut. There is no such thing as a relaxing evening in our backyard, because we have to scream at each other over their radio in order to have a conversation. Over the winter, I tend to forget how annoying they are come summer, but we just tried to enjoy a beautiful day outside as a family and it smacked us right in the face.

Over the years, I have spoken with them about their radio, their children beating their dog with golf clubs, I've explained to them I am not their babysitter simply because they feel like leaving and their kids are in my yard (this year the kids are 5 and I said, this will be the 4th summer we've dealt with this, feel free to do the math) and I get nothing but attitude and feigned apologies. I had it tonight and called the police and explained to them the situation and how I don't want them to be ticketed, I just want them to stop. They did nothing, of course.

So here's my question: What can I put between them and us as a noise/sight buffer (I can't stop them from beating their dog, obviously, so I just don't want to see it anymore). Is a fence or hedge better for absorbing sound? What would look nicer? How tall should it be? Any ideas?

I'm not a "get off my lawn" person, I swear. I work really hard and pay good money to have a nice yard, but I can't enjoy it, and it stinks!

Thanks :)

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I guess it depends on how much front yard you have, and the building codes. A 4' picket fence might look nice, but won't block any noise. A 6' panel fence would block the noise, but might not be legal, and not very pretty to look at. If money was no object, a nice brick 8 foot wall would be awesome!! You could plant a fast growing hedge, and prune it at any height you want. It would block a lot of the noise, and could look nice. Any way you go, you will need a fairly large front yard to make it look decent.
I had a similar problem years ago. I moved and everything was better!!

Good Luck!!

    Bookmark   March 31, 2010 at 9:23PM
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linda_schreiber(z5/6 MI)

You have my honest and sincere sympathy. Been there, in different ways, but been right there.

A six foot wood fence, with mixed shrubs and a couple of vines planted on both sides, can really help baffle sound. Works well for road noise on a main drag, or dozens of kids at the playground across the street.

This should help with the overall noise. But when the sounds are of fighting, or of distress, even if they are muffled well, they tend to cut right through. This will help with the radio, but won't entirely fix the others.

The police are limited in what they can do. Take a deep breath, and think tactics.

If they leave the children again and just go way, call the police and the local version of child protective services. Every time it happens. Calmly. There probably will need to be a 'pattern of neglect' before attention is really paid.

Ditto, the beating of the dog. Every time you can see it, call the local version of the humane society, and any county agency that might apply. Calmly.

Are there other neighbors that you might be able to get to know in a pleasant and friendly way that are also impacted by these people? That might be a useful project for this spring....

Good luck. Work smart.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2010 at 9:35PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

In addition to Linda's excellent advice, you may also find some benefits in white noise. For example, a fountain that runs steadily with water dropping from some height into a pool (not a burbler) - you know, the little boy peeing kind, or the one linked below.

With that running, and maybe a well-placed stereo of your own playing the music you prefer (and apologies to the other neighbours), you could have a bearable hour or two.


Here is a link that might be useful: Noisy fountain (trust me on this)

    Bookmark   March 31, 2010 at 11:01PM
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Thanks for the suggestions everyone! I know a 6 foot fence would look awful (we have one separating us from the neighbors on the other side), but it might have to be the way to go. Maybe I could do some plantings on the outside of the fence like Linda suggested to make it look nicer. I'm also loving the white noise idea. We were planning on putting in a new patio this spring, so that would be the perfect place for a fountain.

Trust me, if we could move, we would! Unfortunately, we bought our house right before the real estate market tanked, so we now owe more on our house than it's worth. And we definitely couldn't sell anytime but winter lest the buyers meet their new neighbors! We planned on this being our five-year house, but I think we're stuck for a while.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2010 at 11:50PM
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You have my sincere empathy as we once had a neighbor who tried to stab our dog with a pitchfork over the fence when he was in our back yard! I told her that was unacceptable and she never did it again but I was glad we only lived there a year.

First, I'd take videos of the dog abuse as well as the children being left while parents drive off. Also get support from other neighbors. You are not alone in this, I'm sure many are as affected as you but most of your neighbors don't want to be the 'whistle-blower' for fear of retaliation. Child Protection and the SPCA will be interested altho they are underfunded and understaffed so you may have to document more than once.

I'd put a fence around my entire yard and a hedge as well. Kids can walk thru or over a hedge when it is young but a fence keeps out most. Hedge buffers sound but not until it has grown awhile. I might also plan to quickly drive away from my home with my kids when I saw the parents preparing to leave. While it's sad those kids do not have parents who care for them, they are not your responsibility. You might have Child Protective Services on speed dial and call if they are left. These people need a severe wake-up call, they are missing a cog or two.

By any chance are they doing anything illegal that you know about? That often brings the authorities faster. Unless you are prepared to continue living in this nightmare you need to be pro-active and the law is on your side.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2010 at 1:59PM
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bboy(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Wood fences and hedges are not going to have any significant effect on radios, screaming voices etc. Ever been walking in the woods and noticed how a road or highway some distance away sounds like it is right there? All those trunks and leaves between you and it, yet...

Where noise buffers have been installed along freeways here they have been made out of concrete.

And they are tall.

You can still hear the cars, but the sound is sort of lifted up above your head.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2010 at 9:58PM
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I feel bad for you...if it's any consolation, we also have a nuisance / nasty neighbor. There's only so much you can do, but it is frustrating when you can't enjoy your own property.

I agree about the fountain, it won't cut out the noise completely, but it may distract you from what's going on over there, at least it's soothing.

Ditto about the dog. I'd start taking pics, and not to be a nasty neighbor, I believe talking to neighbors should always be a first resort, but you've done that and now you should start documenting how often you see it, taking photos or video of it happening, and report it accordingly to animal control or animal rights organization, chances are you could remain anonymous. Animals DO NOT not deserve to be treated that way.

I disagree about the 6 foot fence looking terrible, but you'll have to check with city hall regarding local municipal codes. Don't assume if a neighbor has a 6 footer that you can too, it may have been grandfathered in. I'd LOVE a 6 foot fence! I think tall fences look quite attractive, and dressing them up with vines and landscaping to create height draws attention away from the fence, and it ends up being more a backdrop than anything. A long bare fence is boring, I have mine lined with clematis and plants in varying heights.

You could use a screen of Arborvitae - Emerald Green for example. Tree forum is helpful. We planted a row of Cheyenne Privets to grow into a hedge form for (visual) privacy next to our patio, but you could plant a mix of trees with varying heights for visual interest.

Good luck with the neighbor stuff.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2010 at 12:38AM
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leahcate(So. Ca.)

Yes,what kimcoco advised: Video the abuse of children and dog!!! I am sorry for you, big time sorry, but sorrier for the kids and poor dog! Are there other neighbors? Sorry not to read all replies, but am so horrified by these people. Surely others would be as well, and be willing to help. Show them the videos.Please. This seems to be bigger than a mere case of a nuisance neighbor.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 12:12AM
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bboy(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

I threatened to put in security cameras also. Since then I have not noticed additional damage.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 1:58PM
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Garden gone I've had issues with my neighbos now for th epast 2 years, the most recent the tried putting in a fence on my side of my property line, last summer was hell because of them I am a peacfule person and love nature and beign outdoors. they make it so I dont even wnat to go work in my garden, they mowed myl;awn picked up my leaves and threw them in fron mof my driveway. they use dmy hose. i called the cops twice on them. cops said if they come trespass one more time they wil get a $2500 fine. they put up a fence and yet went around and went into my yard. my mom caught them when she was over... they gave her a hard time, she called me at work and i went home and calld the cops. so i know how you feel. i am putting up a fence in the area they got in and just going to fence in the whole yard. i would seel but like you my house is worth less than what i paid for it right now... thank you wall street. or whoever we can blame for this. I would suggest putting up a fence and planting some nice bushes.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2010 at 9:44AM
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bboy(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

I have a fence, but it is not tall enough to keep them from reaching over it and spoiling my plants. If it were just up to me I'd put in a taller fence and be done with it, but I am not the only one who lives here.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2010 at 5:47PM
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Wow...I could have written that post, gnome. Here is what I did. I installed a 6 foot high cedar fence, with 6 to 4 foot panels dropping the fence height down as it got farther from the "back" yard. The 4 foot fence extends the ENTIRE property line, but is open picket and is a great gardening palette. On MY side of the 6 foot fence, I also planted Emerald Arborvitae (they will grow tall, but not so wide that you will feel as if you're losing your whole backyard). I have a pool, and last summer I added a fountain (super cheap, it connects to one of the jets in the pool) and I agree with the other posters...this noise is wonderful. I also mounted speakers to the outside of the house, and when we are in the backyard, the music is on. At first they were ridiculous about the fence-the woman told me it would make the place look like a trailer park!-(yeah, my $5000 fence and lovely plantings make it look like a trailer park, but the truck you park on your front lawn which is nothing but dirt and your half-naked kid toting a pellet gun is the way to raise property values!) Once she realized that it wasn't going away, it got better. I never see them. I do sometimes hear them, but I know where the volume control is on my own stereo! :-) Good Luck!

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 4:17PM
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We have a pie shaoed lot, no privacy. We did a kidney shaped bed on one side with 5 blue spruce and ornamental grass and butterfly bush and on the other side assorted pines and river birch with ornamental grasses and some small hydrangeas and such. Boulders throughout as well. We will have to thin it out here and there because out lot is not very big, but it is doing the job.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 9:50PM
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If you do install a privacy fence, a coat of stain applied when it's new makes a huge difference in appearance. By the time the stain fades hopefully the landscaping should have grown up.

Me, I'd be saving up for a tall masonry fence. They make pretty good noise barriers.

You may also want to consider improving the insulation in your house, especially if it's an older home -- it may not have any to speak of. Doing the walls is expensive and troublesome, but it'll do double duty for you and help with the utility bills, too. It won't help outside, but at least you'll have more peace and quiet indoors.

Your town may also have a noise ordinance, which is another bit of ammo in your arsenal. If your local PD has a community outreach delegate or something along those lines, it may be productive to sit down with him or her and see what can be done.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2010 at 6:21PM
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I think these are all excellent ideas. The only thing I would add is if they keep playing their music so loud, invest in a good, loud stereo/DVD and play MOZART for all the world to hear! Tell them, you'll turn down the music, when they do :)

I got this idea from my grandma, who did it years ago when the kids in the neighborhood played their "rock and roll" much too loud. She said it worked for her!

    Bookmark   May 2, 2010 at 8:28PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

lavender lass---when we had "stereo wars" in the dorm (back in the dark ages) my suitemate used to put on her copy of Die Walkie and crank it to 11. She always "won".

    Bookmark   May 3, 2010 at 1:19PM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

I have also suffered from noisy neighbors, one who plays an electric guitar and several others who allow their dogs to bark all day while they are at work (I work from home).

I fixed the electric guitar man by calling the city noise officer. He measured the sound with a sophisticated machine and told the guy he was double the legal volume. I had tried and tried to talk to him and he was always nice but never turned it down. Played at all hours and not very well, I might add. Not a kid playing Rock but a man in his mid to late 30's not even playing whole songs, lots of exercises and such and singing way off key into a microphone. When he didn't know the words he sang lah lah lah. It was ridiculous. Could hear it in my office with doors and windows closed, even my clients could hear it over the phone sometimes.

Anyway, no more from him since the noise officer visited him several times.

We also put new siding on our house and bought new windows. There was little insulation so that was all done too. The windows are double paned. The house needed this badly. New roof too. DH had to repair a bunch of broken rafters and all sheeting was replaced on roof and walls. The house is much, much quieter now. Wind, rain, dogs, booming bass in cars driving by, all much less bothersome. Whole house used to shake in the wind, no more. Got tax credits too.

Still have barking dog problems and also have to look at ugly yards and street full of cars.

IF DH would let me I would have built a masonry wall around the front yard to create a courtyard a long time ago. I grew up in the Southwest where many homes have such courtyards. You do plant on the outside of the walls and on the inside most have patios with fountains and it extends your private garden area. If done correctly it does not look like your house is a fortress. I believe a front courtyard could be adapted to almost any house/yard. You can use formal hedges or wood fencing or whatever goes with the style of your house.

I hate feeling like I am in a fishbowl when I garden in front but my front yard is bigger than my back. I have no choice if I want to collect plants and I do. DH refuses to let me remove the lawn and he refuses to let me plant tall shrubs to block all the bad views.

I went on a tour of private gardens recently and this man had blocked his house from view from the street using plants and a berm and it was absolutely gorgeous on both sides. You could not see neighboring houses much from his front or back yards. You might as well have been miles away from anyone else. He is about a block from a major freeway too but all I could hear was birds singing. He did have fountains front and back too.

This is view from his tiny front lawn towards the street:

Street side views:

I know this is more plants than many want to deal with, this guy is a professional landscape designer and plant geek but thought you could see that planting out your neighbors doesn't have to look like a stockade.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 2:13PM
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i would start with a hate fence and then work on covering that up with layers like in the pic above.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 2:31PM
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