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Should I Rat Out My Neighbors For Not Cleaning Up After Their Dog?

Welcome to Survey Says, FiveThirtyEight’s advice column. In each installment, our two advice-givers will take a reader question, debate what he or she should do, and then survey a panel of people about what the best course of action is. Need our advice? Send us your quandary!

I live in a small apartment building in which only four apartments are occupied. The building is dog friendly; my husband and I have two dogs, and there are two more: one below us and one in the apartment above. We and the residents in the apartment downstairs are mindful about cleaning up after our dogs in the common backyard. The neighbors upstairs, however, do not clean up after their dog, seemingly at all, and this has resulted in a mess outside and several frustrating shoe-cleaning incidents. Our landlord sent out an email a few months ago reminding all tenants to clean up after their dogs or risk being fined, so there is no reason that they should be unaware. Plus, cleaning up after your dog is just your undisputed responsibility as a dog owner. How should I handle this situation without feeling like I’m tattling to the landlord and potentially souring an otherwise cordial relationship with our neighbors? — Jess

Morgan Jerkins: Well, this is fun.

Walt Hickey: This person should rat out their neighbors immediately, and there is absolutely no shame in that.

Morgan: YUP. That’s exactly what I was thinking.

Walt: I’m usually anti-snitching, but this is 100 percent all right.

Morgan: Yes, because it’s poop. It’s disgusting.

Another suggestion would be to talk to the neighbors who are doing this, but that might lead to a big ol’ fight.

Walt: One issue, though: The neighbors they’re offending live upstairs. They have the capacity to make Jess’s life a noisy hell.

Morgan: Oh, yeah. Yikes. The passive aggressiveness.

Walt: So I think that if the landlord is prepared to bring down the hammer anyway, Jess doesn’t need to rat them out immediately? I think Jess should talk to the folks downstairs so that they know everyone is on the same page vis-a-vis the origin of the dog poop.

But perhaps Jess should tip off her landlord regarding the latest science in Dog CSI.

Morgan: LOL. I think if the neighbors aren’t nice people, she could just go directly to the landlord. But if they are and she knows them, it couldn’t hurt. But if she wants it resolved immediately, just go to the landlord.

FiveThirtyEight commissioned a SurveyMonkey Audience poll that ran April 12-13 and received 1,132 responses. We presented respondents with Jess’s question and asked them what the best advice is, given the situation. They were allowed to choose only one option.

  1. Rat out the neighbor immediately.


  2. Talk to the other good dog owner and agree to rat out the neighbor if the landlord gives out fines.


  3. Talk to the neighbor upstairs about the poop.


  4. None of the above is good advice.


Morgan: Yes. Pick up your dog’s crap!

Walt: We can never get enough of this.

So I think the game plan is to do what the survey says in order of preference. First, have a confrontation with the neighbor. Really confront them, face to face, fueled by the justifiable moral outrage of hundreds of other people who demand that you do it. Next, talk to the neighbor downstairs if nothing changes. And last, rat that monster out to the landlord without a second thought.

Rat out bad neighbor 10%
Join forces with good neighbor 11
Talk to bad neighbor 69
None of the above is good advice 11

Numbers have been rounded and may not add up to 100 percent.

Morgan: Ooh, women were more likely to want this person ratted out immediately. Interesting ….

Walt: And men were … less confrontational?

Perhaps we can all learn a little something from Jess’s actions in this mild dispute over dog feces about the societal struggle against destroying our common earth and confronting the tragedy of the commons through coalition building and peaceful confrontation. Or, she can just rat ’em out to the landlord. I like the second one!

More of our advice:

Morgan Jerkins is a writer living in New York City.

Walt Hickey was FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.