I am having a conflict about noise with my downstairs neighbor, and he has agreed to meet. What talking points should I bring up, how should I start this conversation, and what kinds of body language can I practice to make it effective?
Unfortunately, this post
could describe me to a T. I have a diagnosis of PTSD, I am in therapy, and I am working on it.
Around when I moved into my condo last year, downstairs neighbor (let's call him George) started making requests about noise. Suggestions seemed reasonable, and though I have lived both above and below people before, I said yes in the name of harmony. For example, he suggested that I try to walk more softly. Sure. I can do that. In fact, I proactively started taking my shoes off in my home, and put down some rugs. My boyfriend, who lives with me, abides by the same rules.
Then last summer (2010) I got a small dog, Bobby. He's ten pounds. My condo association rules specifically allow for dogs, but I knew I'd need to be conscientious of my downstairs neighbor, so when I got Bobby home, I enrolled him in training right away. Happily, he doesn't bark except for a short quick "arf" when someone is at the door. Aside from being a bit food-focused, he is a very well behaved dog. I have taken a lot of steps, partly from the advice here on ask.mefi and from the shelter where I adopted him, to make him a condo-appropriate little guy: He goes to doggy daycare when I am at work, and whenever he's not at daycare and I'm not at home, he is crated. He is only active inside my condo from about 7:15-8:00am when I get up and walk him before I head to work, and from 6:00-10:00pm when I am home from work. He is crated overnight. His activity generally involves a combination of flinging around stuffed toys, bounding about, chewing on rawhides, etc. The pitterpatter of his little feet is somewhat abated by my getting his nails clipped regularly and having rugs down, but yes, he is a small dog and he does move from room to room faster than human footfalls.
Since I brought Bobby home, George has slowly but surely become unhinged. At first, he started sending me emails asking me to please not play fetch with my dog inside the house. I don't actually do this. Then he emailed and said that he can hear thumping of the dog playing with his toys and balls inside the house. I replied that we didn't use balls in the house, but that I'd take away his non-plush toys during non-daylight hours, which pretty much means they're not used anymore since he's at daycare during those hours.
Once a week or so now, George has emailed telling me that he can hear me playing fetch inside with Bobby at "all hours of the day and night," and that I am a very inconsiderate person. (Note: we don't play fetch, and I work full-time.) Since his emails have started to include veiled legal threats, I've been forwarding them to my lawyer, who thinks he is crazy, and has told me to pay him no mind. Saturday night was the final straw.
I had a group of friends over - a total of six people counting me. We had dinner and played some video games from 6pm to 10pm on the nose, and then they stayed and chatted until about 11:30pm. One friend is disabled and walks with a cane. At 8:00pm, George called my phone - this is a first - and I didn't pick it up, because I (rightfully) assumed that he was going to complain about the completely reasonable amount of noise in my home at 8pm on a Saturday night. I had my boyfriend listen to the message, and he threatened to call the police. Boyfriend headed down to his unit and knocked on the door at 9pm, after we finished eating, to talk to George face-to-face, but George did not answer his door.
The next morning, I had an email from George. It explained our jumping up and down last night was so loud that it knocked a ceramic item of sentimental value from his shelf onto his floor, where it broke, and also that if he ever hears that level of noise again, "even if it is 12:00 noon," he is calling the police.
I wrote him back and told him that Boyfriend went down to talk to him at 9:00 but he did not answer his door, that 8pm is a completely reasonable time to have people over, that he did not mention an item in his home breaking on the phone message, and that if he had come up and knocked on my door when the item broke so we could address it immediately, I would have considered contacting and paying for a licensed ceramic restorer. I also told him that he is welcome to call the police if he feels that that will resolve the issue at hand. While I do not honestly believe that my friend walking around in my home with her cane at 8pm caused his ceramic item to crash to the floor, if he could have knocked on the door - since we were both home - and shown it to me at the time instead of calling and leaving threatening messages on my voice mail, we could have worked something out.
He wrote back and basically said that the amount of noise I make is tantamount to harassment and a few other choice words. He suggested that since he is at work from 7:15am to 6:00pm, I could "limit Bobby's movement inside to those hours." Those are the hours I work, so no, that is not something I am going to do. He suggested that we meet face-to-face to come to some sort of understanding.
My lawyer thinks that he needs to accept the fact that he lives in a dog-friendly condo and that while he may have hit the lottery and lived dog-free for five years, those times are over, and my dog does not make an unreasonable or unusual amount of noise. In fact, he makes less noise, most would agree, than 90% of other dogs. George is lucky I didn't adopt a Mastiff. Frankly, George is lucky I don't have a toddler, or a disability that requires the use of an assistive device. He lives below two computer nerds and a ten-pound dog. Lawyer did say that agreeing to meet with him was okay and would not be considered an admission of guilt if he did decide to get litigious later.
So, here I am. Boyfriend has agreed to come with me to this meeting, in the interest of my safety. But what can I do to make this meeting effective? How can I best get across what needs to be said? How can I try and work on my body language so I don't dissolve into tears, shake uncontrollably, or have a panic attack? What are the points I specifically need to bring up to achieve the result of him not contacting me again about noise, when I am doing everything possible to abate it?
Other info which might affect your answers:
- I am female, late 20's. George is male, late 30's I think, lives alone.
- George has been in his condo for five years, I moved in last fall.
- We are both on the condo board. Up until last month, George was the board president.
- The condo board does not step in when there are neighbor-to-neighbor conflicts.
- We are in Chicago. The building has 19 units. I am on the top floor.
- The association bylaws specifically welcome pets including dogs, but the only language that mentions behavior is that the association can sanction owners who have "nuisance" pets. It does not define the term nuisance, but I doubt Bobby is it.
- My lawyer is aware of all that has transpired and believes that the law is on my side.
- My boyfriend would much rather knock on George's door, tell him firmly to stop harassing me or else, and leave, but we both know that is not an option.
I wish George would just leave me alone, but this meeting is going to have to happen.