Neighbourhoods are different places than they were 20 years ago.
Who remembers spending hours after school and on weekends, playing with other kids from your street? When having neighbours over for dinner was the norm, rather than a rarity?
Nowadays, however, many people have barely a passing word for the people they share a fence or a wall with, despite the fact that they live and sleep mere metres away.
And nowhere is that indifference more prevalent than in rental properties, with tenants and their neighbours less likely to get to know each other, as both parties know the bond could be short-term.
But here’s why making the effort to befriend your neighbours while you’re renting could be a very good idea.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a new renter, or a homeowner who’s been in the same house for 30 years – no one likes having their TV and jewellery pinched.
And those break-ins are far less likely to happen if your neighbours know you, and are prepared to do something if they see anything suspicious, according to Neighbourhood Watch Victoria CEO Bambi Gordon.
“Certainly renting can bring its own challenges, in that we presume there’s a higher turnover of neighbours, and you can also find much of that is in vertical communities (apartments), where there’s very little happening visually to be able to tell, ‘Is that person who’s walking down the corridor actually someone who lives here or not?’”
“We do know that if we recognise our neighbours we tend to feel a greater level of safety and less of a fear of crime, because we look outside and recognise the people around us.”
Having a neighbour to look out for you is particulary important when you live alone.
We get it: you’re young, you’re renting and you want to have a few people round on a Friday or Saturday night.
That’s all well and good, and many neighbours will have no issue with a bit of music and a few loud voices as bedtime approaches.
But some undoubtedly will, so taking the time to introduce yourself and get to know them when you move in could be the difference between being able to enjoy your party to its conclusion, having a stand-up row at the front door, or worse – someone calling the police.
Why not kill two birds with one stone? Go around, meet the neighbours and do the courteous thing by informing them that yes, you’re going to be having a small party, but that you’ll try to keep the noise down.
They might not still be so relaxed if you’re still going at 3am, but Gordon says it might earn you a bit of slack.
“Hopefully (as a neighbour) I’m going to be a lot more willing to accept that I’m a lot older, you’re having a young party, and that’s OK, I used to do that when I was a kid, too,” she says.
It’s the oldest trick in the book: you go on holidays for a fortnight and your neighbours keep up appearances by collecting your mail and putting the bins out on bin night.
Gordon says making a bit of extra effort when you move in can go a long way if you decide to pack your bags for a week or two.
“Reaching out to form a relationship – and it doesn’t have to be really heavy, it doesn’t have to be a great friendship – just to know that the neighbour is going on holidays and I can put their bin out for them, just to make it look like they’re still at home,” she says.
“It’s basic stuff, it’s simple stuff, but it’s the stuff that works.”
Gordon says social disconnection is a real issue for many people, and particularly for young families that move away from the city and into housing estates when they need to rent a more affordable larger home.
The easiest way to start to build that sense of belonging is to get to know the people who live closest to you.
“You’ve got lots of young families moving into new estates who recognise that, ‘OK, major life change, no longer living in the inner city, no longer going out to restaurants every night, family on the way, I’m in an area where I know nobody, I have to make a point of reaching out to form a community’,” she says.
“If you meet people face to face and get to know them, you are going to be safer, you’re going to prevent crime and you’re going to build relationships.”
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