Can I claim the parking spot in front of my house?

Dear Tom and Ray:

My question regards parking etiquette. Recently, a neighbor has been parking his car in front of our house on a daily/nightly basis. From what I can gather, this neighbor lives in a “group house” of about four individuals. Their driveway fits only two cars, and there’s room for only one at the curb in front of the house. So, this neighbor has adopted my curb as his car’s new home. While I am aware that it’s technically a “public” street, this is, in my opinion, very rude—but more importantly, it’s inconvenient. I have a single-lane driveway for both my car and my wife’s car. I often travel to the airport and come home late at night, or have a need to travel to an early-morning meeting. So I have need to use my curb to park my car, on occasion. My car is a manual transmission, and my wife cannot drive a stick, so any movement of my car requires me to do it. As it stands, I often am forced to park down the street or around the corner from my own house. And I recently held a dinner party where my guests could not park in front of my house. We live in suburbia, not the city—everyone here has a driveway and plenty of room to park. At a minimum, it’s unsightly and annoying, and very un-neighborly. I’ve left polite notes to this neighbor letting him know these facts, and in a recent note, I mentioned,“I don’t park my car in front of your house, so why do you park your car in front of mine?” Do you have any advice?

—Duane

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RAY: Yeah: Start by apologizing. It’s not “technically”a public street, Duane. It IS a public street. So you have no right to claim it as private property.

TOM: Can you ask your neighbor, as a favor, to leave that spot open for you when possible? Sure. And if you have a neighborly relationship, and he has other reasonable options, he’ll probably accommodate you. But you’ve started off the negotiations on the wrong foot by accusing him of behaving badly.

RAY: When someone starts a conversation with you by saying,“Hey, jerk!” how open are you to helping the guy?

TOM: Now, we know, you say you started off politely. But you may think you’re being more polite than you are. Saying “I don’t do this rude thing to you, yet you do it to me” puts the other guy on the defensive. And since he has the law on his side, you’ve given up your most potent weapon: an appeal to his good nature and benevolence.

RAY: So here’s what I’d do: Start over. Start by getting to know your neighbors. Nothing helps resolve a situation like seeing each other as actual human beings rather than “some jerk in a group house” or “some grouchy old guy who thinks he owns the street.” Learn your neighbors’ names, and find out what they do. Be neighborly first. You even might invite them over for a meal.

TOM: And poison them.

RAY: Don’t listen to my brother. He’s been hated in every neighborhood he’s ever lived in. Once you have some kind of basic relationship established, then you’ll be in a position to ask for a favor. That is, in fact, what you’re asking for.

TOM: And here’s the secret: Most people LIKE doing favors for other people. It feels good to help another person. They just don’t like being forced to accommodate other people. So ask really nicely. Explain that you know he has every right to park anywhere on the street. But say that because of your work and family situation, it really helps you a lot if you can park in front of your house, and you’re wondering if he might do you a favor and leave that space open whenever it’s not inconvenient for him.

RAY: And ask him if there’s anything you can do for HIM in return. It’s possible that this relationship has already been poisoned, and you’re just going to have to live with the life-shortening effects of having a bad neighbor. But maybe you still can turn it around.

TOM: Understanding your position (that you need a favor from him) is an important starting point in any negotiation. Good luck, Duane