Rotten Neighbors? Call Them Out

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

As the village president of Pingree Grove, Ill., a small town about an hour northwest of Chicago, Clint Carey has come to expect anonymous Internet criticism of the way he does his job.

He wasn't prepared to be labeled a lousy neighbor.

"Oh my God. I'm on RottenNeighbor.com?" Carey said after hearing that his address was marked as that of someone who "got himself elected mayor and sold out to the developer's interests within minutes."

Carey's not the only one. Since the site launched in late July, hundreds have mapped their own neighborhoods like minesweepers at RottenNeighbor to pinpoint problem properties: yipping Chihuahuas, wannabe DJs and, at the extreme end, drug dealers and abusive parents.

The site is a high-tech tool for those who want to scout out a neighborhood before moving in, providing a voyeuristic look at the people who live next door.

San Diego programmer Brant Walker, 27, said he got the idea for RottenNeighbor.com from his own experience with bad neighbors.

"They weren't the worst neighbors," he said, "but they did a lot of bad cooking."

So Walker, a Google maps fanatic, got to work on finding a way to introduce house hunters to the neighbors in a way real estate agents never would:

From Detroit: "Tried to talk to him once until he told me he lit the fire so we won't have to worry about the aliens anymore."

Pittsburgh: "This man lives to beat his wife and kids."

Phoenix: "The dog lets out single loud woof every two seconds ... it will go for hours and hours straight."

Also from Phoenix: "In a double-dose of awesome & pickup truck with an alarm set to its highest level of sensitivity ... directly under the flight path of the airport."

Seattle: "Will play accordion (sic) starting at 6AM. ... Will not shut window if asked and won't stop playing. He does respond to being sprayed with a hose."

Not every marker is a putdown. One user compliments a household of Madison, Ohio, residents on their new siding and friendly demeanors. Good or bad, it's all potentially valuable information for anyone considering a move.

The site is still in its beta version, and Walker is set on fixing the problems that plague it now -- slow load times and overcrowding in cities like New York and Los Angeles -- and implementing newer features of Google maps, like Street View, which shows houses from the sidewalk level.

Though entries aren't moderated or filtered, Walker said he considers requests to delete the especially offensive on a case-by-case basis.

He may be able to take the edge off of RottenNeighbor with a Craigslist-like flagging feature to remove posts that use profanity or racial slurs, but the site may have more than curse words to overcome.

Jane Kirtley, a professor of media law and ethics at the University of Minnesota, said Walker's site may stir up some controversy. Even if some of the information posted by users is false and damaging, she said, it's not illegal and most people expect some inaccuracy on the Internet.

"I think if you're talking about [a Web site like] RottenNeighbor.com, where you're really vulnerable is not false fact statements," but rather invasion of privacy, Kirtley said. "If I were a lawyer advising them, I would say, 'You should be equally worried about that.' "

If that happens, it wouldn't be the first time lawyers sniffed the scent of a Walker Web site. In 2006, it was FakeYourSpace.com, which sold bogus Facebook and MySpace friends to "make you look more popular." That site folded, he said, to avoid a legal battle with MySpace.

"My investors panicked and decided to take the site down," Walker said. "If it would have been me by myself, I would have attempted to go through with it, but it was more complicated than that."

Denver City Councilman Michael Hancock has his reservations about the site.

"I think it could unfairly target neighbors," the two-year council president said, but he also identified with new residents who might not know what terrors lie in store for them before they move in.

"All that takes away and detracts from your property value," Hancock said. "I think you have a right to know."

For Carey, the village president who was called out on RottenNeighbor, the posting is evidence of communication breaking down in his city of about 1,700 residents.

"I've always been a good neighbor. I leave people alone, but I'll be frank about people," Carey said. "That's how this town used to be. For a sleepy little town like ours, that's a sign of the times."

On the web: www.rottenneighbor.com


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