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My neighbors expect me to pay for half of the garden between our homes. How do I get them to stop asking?

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Two men with hostile expressions stand on either side of a fence.The reader is not pictured.

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  • For Love & Money is a weekly Business Insider column answering relationship and money questions.
  • This week, a reader’s neighbor expects them to help pay for a garden between their homes.
  • Our columnist says they need to be firm in giving a definitive no.
  • Got a question for our columnist? Write to For Love & Money using this Google form.

Dear For Love & Money,

When we first moved into our house, the neighbors introduced themselves, showed us around the yard between our houses (that’s half theirs and half ours), and told us how the previous owners of our house had shared a flower garden with them there, splitting the costs and the labor, etc.

We were nice about it but made it clear that we weren’t big gardeners and wouldn’t be up for this arrangement ourselves. They never mentioned it again outside of calling us over so they could update us on the garden’s progress as the season went on.

Then, this winter, we got an invoice from them in our mailbox outlining our half of the costs. So I went over and thanked them for all their hard work but let them know we didn’t have the money (or interest) to keep a garden on our half of the yard, so while we wouldn’t charge them for using our space if they wanted to, we wouldn’t be paying for it either. The conversation was awkward, but everything seemed fine.

But this spring, they have already been texting us pictures of the flowers they’re buying, using our trashcans for yard waste, and even letting us know they used our hose to make the water bill fair.

My husband is on the verge of going off on them, but I don’t want bad blood with our neighbors. I feel like we’ve done everything, though, and at this point, they’re being intentionally ignorant. What should I do?

Sincerely,

Not-A-Gardener

Dear Not-A-Gardener,

Life has plenty of crossed wires and honest misunderstandings, but some things are simple. For instance, “no” is pretty straightforward. So if you tell someone “no,” and they ignore it, they can’t excuse themselves with an “Oh, I didn’t realize!” Because “no” simply doesn’t leave room for confusion.

Maybe your previous nos were so polite they didn’t catch it. Perhaps you smiled, congratulated them on their gardening skills, hemmed and hawed over your tight budget and busy schedule, and your “no” was lost in the shuffle. You still said it, but you left enough wiggle room for them to pretend you didn’t. You posited that “they’re being intentionally ignorant,” and that’s the question, isn’t it? Is their ignorance intentional, or is it real?

Some people can’t read between the lines, or they’re so caught up in their own thoughts that they don’t hear much of anything other people have to say. For many people, however, it is intentional. They heard your no, and they proceeded with their garden plan anyway.

Not to say your neighbors are scheming over their morning coffee for ways to force you to share a garden with them. Instead, they just want their way and refuse to take no for an answer. In these cases, there is only one move — you have to be ruthlessly clear with your no and threaten them with consequences should they continue to ignore it.

Between a mortgage, homeowners insurance, and all the other costs of moving, you’re stuck with the neighbors you have — for better or worse. Drawing such a harsh boundary with neighbors can be terrifying because they have the power to make your life a nightmare by the sheer privilege of proximity. But is allowing them to continue manipulating you into a shared garden any better than dealing with the leaves they might vindictively blow into your yard every fall?

I would write them a note. Yes, this is the height of passive-aggressive behavior. Still, you’ll want to have it in writing in case of future litigation so you can refer them back to the letter should they continue to violate your boundaries.

Here’s what I would write:

Dear Neighbors,

We’ve noticed you are using our trash cans for yard waste and our hose for water. Combined with your repeated texts full of landscaping options, this has us worried that, in the past, when we told you we wouldn’t participate in a shared garden, you didn’t understand us. We want to be clear: By using our water and trash cans, you are involving us financially against our wishes.

Now, this is where you’ll need to decide if your neighbors are actually ignorant or only pretending to be. If you think they genuinely mistook earlier “no’s” for tacit agreement, then you can give them another chance by ending your letter with a soft reminder like:

We don’t mind if you use our property for your garden, but our involvement will need to end there. If that’s too much work and money for you alone, you will need to keep a smaller garden on your side of the boundary line. I know sharing this garden with the previous owners was special to you, and I am sorry to disappoint, but our position is firm. You cannot use our utilities, tools, or trashcans; we will not be splitting costs on plants or helping you in the garden.

However, if you know these people are perfectly capable of grasping your previous rejections and they are pretending not to as a means of manipulation, then you need to be a bit harsher. End your letter with a firm boundary and a clear outline of the consequences should they ignore it. Something like:

Unfortunately, since you consistently ignored our clear no’s in the past, we no longer feel comfortable allowing you to use our yard for your garden. Going forward, we will consider any gardening activity on our side of the property line trespassing and will involve the authorities.

I know this script is brutal and unlikely to protect your relationship with your neighbors. However, when someone repeatedly violates your boundaries, remember they have chosen to destroy your relationship, not you. You’re simply standing up for yourself, and for that, I applaud you.

Rooting for you,

For Love & Money

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