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The quandry of a nosy neighbour.
September 17, 2011 1:21 PM   Subscribe

We live in a large apartment building mainly occupied by retirees and young professionals. It's pretty quiet and there's not usually a lot of drama around here. A month or two ago, new young couple moved in on our floor. Coincidentally, also a month or two ago, we started hearing loud, angry arguments coming from one of the nearby apartments. The yelling makes me awfully uncomfortable and I feel like I should help somehow. Do I have any responsibilities as a neighbour apartment dweller to make sure everyone is all right down the hall?

In general, the noisy arguments are pretty infrequent, maybe once a week or so, and don't really last long enough to merit a "Disturbing the peace" call to landlord/police. This morning's argument, for example, flared up with lots of yelling (from both the guy and the girl, I think) and lots of loud crying. There was plenty of "Leave, just get the &*$ out." and "I hate you" and frustrated yells. I didn't hear anything physical. Being the coward, I didn't open my door, so I couldn't really tell if they were in their apartment or in the hallway. Then 15 or 20 minutes later, things quieted down and now we're back to business as usual.

Generally, people in our building aren't to chatty with each other so I can't pair up with another neighbour and see what they make of this couple. But I would feel just terrible if someone is living in an unsafe environment and I didn't do anything about it. Should I do anything about it? If so, what can I do?
posted by unlapsing to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
No; just be attentive if it sounds like anyone may be being hurt. People go through stressful and sometimes loud periods, and it doesn't always require intervention.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 1:27 PM on September 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


I agree with Clyde Mnestra. When someone is being beaten/needs help up they will yell things like 'help' or 'call the police'. Not to sound cold, but there isn't much you can do for them.
posted by marimeko at 1:30 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't believe there's anything illegal about knocking on a neighbor's door when you hear yelling and saying, "I heard loud yelling and was concerned with the safety of the inhabitants. Is everyone alright in here?" You'll probably be told to fuck off, but they'll know they're on notice. Embarrassment is a powerful tool.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:33 PM on September 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


I used to hear this in a building I lived in. I didn't call the police until the day I heard what sounded like someone taking their forearm and wiping all the dinner dishes off the counter and into the kitchen floor. Other than that I'd just stop for a moment to listen for anything beyond simply raised voices. After a while they split and moved out.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:34 PM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


When someone is being beaten/needs help up they will yell things like 'help' or 'call the police'.

While I agree with the sentiment that there is nothing that should/could be done in the current circumstance, unless they are aware that the neighbours can hear every word (not likely if everyone else is quiet), why would they shout for help? Also, many abused spouses wouldn't take help if it were offered let alone cry out for it through their apartment wall.
posted by missmagenta at 1:46 PM on September 17, 2011 [19 favorites]


Should I do anything about it?

Yes. You're bothered by it. Sure, your right to peaceful afternoons is not quite protected by the constitution, but if it bothers you, of course you should do something about it. It'd be such a better world if all the dreamers actually do something about the things that bother us.

I've been in that situation a couple of times. Knock on the door, when someone answers, ask them politely to be quieter and explain that you're trying to sleep/read/whatever. Sneak in an "is everything all right" if you feel like it. Both times I've done that (different neighbors) the couple answered the door, politely apologized, looking at each other as if they just realized something was not quite right, and the audible fighting ceased.

Knocking on their door would give you a pretty good opportunity for checking out if any violence is going on, and if there's none, you have no responsibility beyond that.
posted by halogen at 1:51 PM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


You really have no idea whether someone is being hurt during these arguments. You are seeing a history of domestic disturbances with these people. From now on, call the police when they happen. This will have several salutary effects: (1) they will know that people are paying attention and will watch their behavior going forward; (2) the aggressor will think twice about any abusive behavior he's engaging in; (3) it will bring a trained professional in to determine whether the situation merits intervention (such as arresting/prosecuting or referring to social services); (4) and it will obviate the need for you to get involved. The police are not just there to be called in life-or-death emergencies, they are there to check out minor disturbances and suspicious situations and generally keep the peace. Call them.
posted by jayder at 2:12 PM on September 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


Just like people in cars sometimes think no one can see them, people in apartments sometimes think no one can hear them. It would be kind to let them know, as Civil_Disobedient suggests, that they are unwittingly sharing their relationship issues with everyone in the building. They'll stop.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 2:20 PM on September 17, 2011


While I agree with the sentiment that there is nothing that should/could be done in the current circumstance, unless they are aware that the neighbours can hear every word (not likely if everyone else is quiet), why would they shout for help? Also, many abused spouses wouldn't take help if it were offered let alone cry out for it through their apartment wall.

Yes, but it is instinct to cry for help when truly threatened. It's been my experience that a person will know without a doubt by the way it sounds whether they need to intervene--I'm not suggesting the OP shouldn't bother intervening right now--if that's what they want to do. The thing is, it will probably change nothing.
posted by marimeko at 2:43 PM on September 17, 2011


It's been my experience that a person will know without a doubt by the way it sounds whether they need to intervene

I wish this were the case. I'm inclined to mind my own business in life, but I've made this call twice, and each time I felt so guilty and angsty that I didn't realize I should have made the call much earlier. Once, the repeated shouts of WHORE! WHORE! were what put it over the top for me. Another time, it was a series of thumps in the middle of the argument, which could have been the sound of anything hitting anything.

If and when you do make the call (and it's probably "when"), don't second-guess yourself. The police aren't our friends, and I don't advocate throwing them at people, but the call will be something that they need to realize they brought on themselves.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:01 PM on September 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


You might also consider mentioning to the landlord or super that this is going on. Then they can talk to the couple. This will do two things - it will let the couple know that others can other hear them argue, and it will keep you anonymous.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 3:03 PM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've been in the "noisy fighting couple" side of this situation. We'd actually been broken up for quite a while but we were still friends and living in the same building -- when our post-breakup friendship hit a rough patch we did a lot of very loud, embarrassing fighting that could be heard by other tenants.

I only know we could be heard by other tenants because one day I was talking to one of our landlords about an unrelated issue, and he said, "Oh, hey, I've been meaning to talk to you. A few days ago somebody down the hall from you told me that they'd heard angry fighting coming from your apartment, and there was a loud scream and then silence, and they went toward your door to see if you needed help but it was quiet and they weren't sure what to do or if they should call the police or not. Is everything okay?"

That embarrassed the shit out of me. We kept it quiet after that, and quit hanging out for a while not long after, which was better for everyone.

I'd seriously recommend telling your landlord that you've been hearing some pretty bad fighting and you're concerned but you're not sure what to do. If there's a serious problem, this might spur them to get the help they need, and if it's just a case of boisterous fighters hopefully they'll get the hint that they're being disruptive and tone it down. Either way, please say something.

(It's been years since then and we've both made apologies and done some growing up, and we're on better terms now. He's on MetaFilter sometimes -- hey dude, hi! give the cat an ear-skritch from me.)
posted by palomar at 3:08 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, but it is instinct to cry for help when truly threatened.

I have never heard anyone cry for help when being physically beaten in an apartment. I heard this several times growing up in an apartment complex, and my mom never yelled for help when being beaten either. Generally they don't want anyone to know it's happening, either from shame, or fear of provoking the attacker further, or not wanting kids to hear, and yes, not realizing anyone can hear them. I would not at all assume people would know to cry for help. Now that I think of it, I wouldn't cry for help in my own apartment either; it just wouldn't occur to me, since I associate it with being isolated from other people.
posted by Nattie at 3:11 PM on September 17, 2011 [17 favorites]


In general, the noisy arguments are pretty infrequent, maybe once a week or so, and don't really last long enough to merit a "Disturbing the peace" call to landlord/police.

I would call the landlord if it was regular enough you could know they were once a week.
posted by winna at 3:52 PM on September 17, 2011


Examine your own motivations here.
- If you have any specific reasons to think someone is being hurt, call the police the next time it happens.
- If you're annoyed by the noise, treat it like any other noise disturbance -- inform them that they're too loud, then the landlord, then the police.
- If you're titilated by the fact that the situation sounds potentially juicy and you want to make yourself more a part of it, butt out and find a hobby.

Not having been there, we can't easily sift between these three possibilities.
posted by foursentences at 3:53 PM on September 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


We had a couple who lived upstairs and had regular all-out screaming matches that were never during the day, often at 2 am or 4 am (or lasting several hours between those times!). Then there would be the loud make-up sex, then more scream fests. We told our landlords because, damn, not only did it make us extremely uncomfortable (and sleepless) but they would sometimes carry these bouts above our kid's room where the swearing and screaming was totally audible.

You might luck out... our landlord told them they could break their lease and they took him up on it. Sweet relief!

(also seconding the people who say that people who are getting beaten up by a significant other don't often shout for help. Learned this from doing volunteer training for a domestic violence hotline)
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:58 PM on September 17, 2011


The yelling makes me awfully uncomfortable and I feel like I should help somehow.

Based on this, I would add a fourth possible motivation to foursentences' post:
- That you're just uncomfortable with loud arguments and the conflict contained therein and therefore feel like you need 'to fix this'.

Unless you can hear the sound of impact (something hitting something) I would not call the police. If the noise is bothering you, tell the landlord.

Some people have toxic relationships - it doesn't necessarily mean that one of them needs 'saving', and even if it does, unless there is physical violence and the police can intervene, there is nothing you can do to save them.

It is your job to act if you feel there is physical violence. It is not your job to fix their relationship.
posted by scrute at 5:30 PM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I finally called a domestic violence hotline to ask their opinion if I should call 911 about our neighbor's raging, the hotline worker said, "If you are trying to decide whether to call 911 - call 911. It's their job to assess the situation." So the next time I heard the yelling, and I wondered whether to call 911, I called 911. In that situation, I knew there were little kids in the house.

In another situation, where it was two people whom we would sometimes hear yelling, we decided that maybe they didn't realize they could be heard, since other than them, people were pretty quiet. So occasionally we would call out to each other from opposite parts of our apartment, just friendly stuff. We figured they would realize if they could hear us, we could probably hear them. That seemed to work, we couldn't hear them anymore after a while of our loud-but-friendly yelling..
posted by Ellemeno at 5:39 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've lived in three apartments, and all of them have had arguing couples. I only called the cops once, when the woman ran out of her flat screaming for help.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:16 PM on September 17, 2011


This commercial tends to put me in the "knock on their door and ask if everyone's OK" camp the next time you hear the yelling.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:49 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


1. I didn't read the OP to be saying that the noise was annoying/disruptive save for the fact that it raised concerns about whether the OP should intervene -- for the sake of those in the apartment. And we are talking once-weekly arguments over the past month or two. I doubt intervention with the LL is necessary simply for peace and quiet. And that just adds an element of distress to these people's lives, when it sounds like they're going through something already.

2. This might unleash objections of passive/aggressiveness, but I would consider a note under the door simply saying that they should be aware that in the building, loud voices really carry to a surprising degree. Done after an argument, they should get the point.

Clearly this assumes that you have no warrant for calling 911 at this or some future point.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:51 AM on September 18, 2011


Just a few things that do not transmit an obvious sound of impact through walls:

* Suspending a person by the mouth/nose or throat against a wall
* Whipping a person with a hanger
* Grabbing a person hard enough to leave bruises
* Hitting a person

The person being assaulted will not be randomly calling out for help.

I'm not saying your neighbors are engaging in physical violence, just saying you won't necessarily hear it. Do you know the difference in tone between a couple of people arguing loudly, and a person or people losing control?
posted by moira at 6:00 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


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