Do the Right Thing
(MONEY Magazine) – Q Is It Okay to Press the Slob Next Door to Clean Up His Yard?
We're about to put our large, well-maintained home on the market. Unfortunately, our neighbors' place is a pigsty (for example, there's a boat with a broken-down clothes dryer onboard in the middle of their yard). Ethically, are we within our rights to insist they clean up the mess? We're afraid the condition of their home will affect the price we get for ours.
ANSWER Private property is a wonderful thing. Barring restrictive community ordinances and rules set by homeowner associations, you have the freedom to put anything you like in your front yard--and so do your neighbors. As inconsiderate as beaching a boat there may be, they're under no moral obligation to modify the way they live in order to maximize the price you'll get when you sell your home.
Fortunately, you have three strategies at your disposal besides invoking a right you only wish you had. First, you can appeal to your neighbors' sense of civility: Ask them (nicely, of course) to clean up their place as a courtesy to you. Or you can appeal to their economic self-interest: The more your house sells for, after all, the more their house is likely to sell for when that day comes. And finally, you can offer to pay them to make their yard more presentable.
If you're successful (and we hope you are), don't forget you still have a moral, and possibly legal, obligation to disclose the usual condition of the house next door. It's okay, of course, to spruce up your house to sell it, but not to sweep price-affecting problems under the rug.
Questions about money and ethics? Our ethicists are consultants who advise attorneys on people's ethical beliefs. E-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.