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Neighborly Peace, I'm looking for you.
March 30, 2012 2:18 PM   Subscribe

How do I make peace with neighbors?

I just moved into my new place 3-4 weeks ago. I live on the top floor of a triplex. A 30-somethings single man lives in a studio behind us and we never hear him. A family of three lives downstairs. They are occasionally loud during the day, and mostly respond when we ask for noise to be turned down at 10 or 11 PM.

The head-of-the-household downstairs is sometimes nice and sometimes yells at us for how loud our footsteps are. We tried to sympathize since we used to live on a bottom unit, but he just raised his voice and threatened to "bang on [our] fucking door" if he hears our footsteps past 10:00 PM. So far, he hasn't. And I've recorded and reported this incident to the management company.

We've made cookies for all of our neighbors, including the ones who live in the houses on either side of our triplex. It seems like there is no sense of community anywhere on this block. I'd like to change that, but am fast realizing that I can't.

Recently, I've discovered that our single male neighbor and downstairs neighbors hate each other. I also discovered that the dryer downstairs doesn't work. It takes 3 hours to dry a small load, or up to 18 hours to dry a large load. Passive aggressive notes have been left on the dryer because of this, but no one has bothered reporting the bad dryer. I finally reported it, and after two attempts, there is now a repairman downstairs replacing parts of the dryer.

I've shared this good news with our downstairs neighbor, and he just looked at me blankly, said "okay," and then closed the door. The other neighbor just argues a lot and hashes out the I've-been-living-here-for-years line and talks about how things don't need to change.

I want to live in a place with community, but probably won't be getting that. How do I look at this situation? How should I better communicate to bring a little more peace to this triplex?
posted by mild deer to Human Relations (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Some people's homes are their caves, their safe spots, where they don't have to interact with other people, or put on their public face. It sounds like the downstairs family's h-o-h may be an asshole, but the others just seem like they are passing their time there. It's OK. And, chances are, if you knocked on my door to tell me the dryer is being serviced, I may look at you a bit askance as well.
posted by kellyblah at 2:22 PM on March 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


You can't make peace with people who don't want peace.

but he just raised his voice and threatened to "bang on [our] fucking door"

...and this guy definitely doesn't want peace. You should take common sense steps like area rugs, walking around in socks, and not jumping up and down... but at some point you just need to learn to say fuck'em, it's your apartment and you have the right to walk around in it. Try not to let their crazy drag you down too. Document and report and possibly call the police if aggressive guy gets too aggressive.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:25 PM on March 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


It sounds to me like your neighbors just want you to mind your own business. It may not be friendly, but it's their prerogative. To ignore their wishes will probably lead to an all-out war.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:26 PM on March 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


I want to live in a place with community,

Then move to a new place with community.

That said, in most buildings I've lived in, you can't really expect more than the occasional friendly chat with a neighbor and/or pleasant greetings in the hallways with other people in the building when you're both coming and going at the same time.

The fact that a dryer was broken for who-knows-how-long and no one ever thought to call the management company to have it fixed indicates to me that your neighbors might be a bit dysfunctional or lack some basic coping skills.
posted by deanc at 2:26 PM on March 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


If it were me, I would do two things (the latter being the most feasible option given any circumstance): a) move somewhere and hope for a better community there, and b) mind my own business and let go of trying to make friends with people who do not want to be friends with their neighbors. Knocking on someone's door to let them know a repair's been completed when you are not the landlord is awkward. I would be very weirded out if a neighbor did that to me.

Plus, you gotta realize that residents of a community are not obligated to be friends with one another. That doesn't mean they can't live peacefully with one another; just because your other neighbors hate each other does NOT mean they are actively booby trapping one another's homes or whatever to create discord. They probably just avoid each other. Big deal.

If your neighbors are anything like mine, they keep to themselves because that is what's best for them. The dryer issue? That's a management problem. The guy downstairs who threatened you? Fuck him. Seriously. Call the cops if he makes any more threats.

Move out, or move on.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:27 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, I realized I left out a key piece of information re: letting the neighbor know about the repair.

I went downstairs through the back to let the repairman in. The h-o-h neighbor opened his blinds real wide and I could see his entire face. After I let the repairman in, I gave his door a light knock and told him who that guy I just let in was. He looked curious.
posted by mild deer at 2:30 PM on March 30, 2012


Boundaries with the downstairs head of household.

honey-barbara gave some excellent advice on workplace bullying here which may be applicable in your situation, especially her responses to being spoken to like a child.

Seriously, though, you're not doing anything wrong by walking around in your apartment after 10 pm, especially if you're not wearing shoes, etc. The problem is with him, and I think you've got to stand your ground and stop looking to fix this by looking to appease this guy.

Be the adult, document, report, do not engage more than necessary, and don't respond from a defensive position.

Put him on the defensive if you have to deal with a confrontation by refusing to acknowledge that you're doing anything wrong, and sticking with the position that he's the one who's being obtrusive.
posted by alphanerd at 2:32 PM on March 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also, I would like to move out. Unfortunately, we just moved in on a one-year lease. And since we may only be in this city for another 18 months, we may stay here for the whole 18 months. I want to make the best of it.

For those of you suggesting that I mind my own business, I am listening.
posted by mild deer at 2:32 PM on March 30, 2012


Oh, and if something like the repairman thing happens again, I'd avoid following up with the h-o-h. He's not the boss of you, and your best bet is to avoid establishing a dynamic with him that looks anything like that.
posted by alphanerd at 2:34 PM on March 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


You could try making it a place with community. Is there a communal grill? Do a flyer for a neighbors get-together early one evening or late Saturday afternoon. Stick one on everyone's door. "Hot dogs and beer - RSVP mild deer - sides or dessert appreciated". Buy a load of hot dogs and a couple of cases of cheap beer. Maybe only a few folks will show up, but it's a start. Someone does this at least 3 times a year on my street, except people bring their own beer now. Works pretty well, everyone brings cookies and no-one brings sides, so don't expect to be full, but kids full of sugar gives everyone something to laugh and talk about.
posted by IanMorr at 2:52 PM on March 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, and if something like the repairman thing happens again, I'd avoid following up with the h-o-h. He's not the boss of you, and your best bet is to avoid establishing a dynamic with him that looks anything like that.

I agree with this. Some people use being an asshole as a way of gaining perceived authority, and you should never play into that nonsense. Treat him like the crazy nonentity that he is.
posted by jayder at 2:52 PM on March 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


yeah, i'd continue to be nice to everyone but maybe start taking a few walks around the neighborhood to find friendlier neighbors in local businesses or restaurants.

in l.a. everyone really does keep to themselves until an earthquake or fire alarm--then we're all really helpful and chatty for the hour[s] of the emergency.
Next day--we might smile more but that's about it.
posted by calgirl at 2:57 PM on March 30, 2012


I just want to say that I sympathize with your desire to build community. I don't think there is anything wrong with your desire and if others shared your desire so much of the world would be a better place. It sounds like your neighbors have different values and trying to change them will likely cause you grief.

If anything, I wonder if there might be a spiritual practice that you might use to make the best of it. Some sort of mindfulness practice comes to mind: being mindful of your own reactions to your neighbors' behaviors and so forth. It might give a crappy situation some value to find a way to get something from it. There are also practices where you cultivate compassion for difficult people, such as Tonglen. I think most traditions would offer something. Being centered in yourself and radically kind without intruding on your neighbors' boundaries might even have some effect on them.

On the other hand, you might also organize a block party, community cookout, or rig up an outdoor movie. I would invite other friends in case your neighbors don't participate. You will have made an offer in the least and can know you have been true to your values in a way that others should not read as intrusive.
posted by Original 1928 Flavor at 3:00 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


If your neighbor looked at me like that I would tell him to stop staring at me and mind his own business.
posted by brujita at 3:07 PM on March 30, 2012


Please don't organize a party, a cook-out or anything else. I live in a loft complex and every time someone new moves in, they think we all need to get together, roast weenies and sing. No one participates (most of us have been here for over 5 years and some over 10) and then the newbie feels all miffed. If we wanted to have a community, one would exist. I like my neighbors well enough, but I'm not remotely interested in doing group activities with them. Let your landlord handle group communications, and keep yourself to yourself. Live and let live.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:17 PM on March 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


So you have given everyone cookies. You are the nice person who got the dryer fixed.

The people under you yell and make threats. They also do not get along with the single guy behind you, and the guy behind you "argues a lot", too.

This makes it sound like you are surrounded by jerks, but I'm wondering if maybe you are not really describing this fully.

What did those "passive-aggressive notes" on the dryer say? You say it took up to 18 hours to dry a large load. Did you continually leave your load in the dryer for hours on end and then get a note telling you to take your clothes out so others could use it?

Are you sure the dryer was broken and not over-loaded? Was that argument with the single neighbor where he "kept yelling" and said he didn't think "anything needed changing" because he, being single, never dried a large load and then left it in the dryer for hours, like you did?

You asked the people below you not to make noise, and they listened. You say the guy underneath you did the same, but he used threatening language, and you both recorded and reported him doing this. How did it get to the point where you felt the need to record him? Is it possible it all escalated because he had asked you repeatedly before to be quiet and you didn't listen?

How have you "discovered" your other neighbors don't like each other? Are you listening to gossip?

Now, you could be right here, and they are just horrible neighbors. They probably are.

But I feel like your desire for "community" might just be your desire to have others on your side in these petty disputes about laundry and noise, too.

Just another perspective for you to consider.
posted by misha at 3:39 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hi, you might be me in 15 years. My experience taught me that apartments such as ours are not good places to raise families. My downstairs family spanked and beat their children before they were old enough to spend the subsequent 10 years screaming at each other and slamming doors. With the windows open. At most hours. I could go on, and I could probably speculate somewhat accurately as to the friction between the family and the studio guy.

At the end of the day, this is a cheap-landlord problem where they don't want to install the kinds of floors and insulation and/or windows that would obviate a lot of these complaints. So, if the downstairs neighbor complains again, redirect them to the landlord. Maybe if they have a head on their shoulder's (or a hint from a little birdy), they could help agitate for upgrades.

Is your apartment the same floorplan as downstairs? If so, is it rent-controlled or something? Because if not, I would think that the family would have moved upstairs after having lived under the noise from the people before you, which furthermore means that everybody knows the sound-transmission of the building sucks ass.
posted by rhizome at 4:20 PM on March 30, 2012


Moving into a new neighbourhood is a lot like participating in an online forum. Lurk for a bit, and when you've figured out how things work, figure out how to interact with others in the group.

In this case, it sounds like a good idea to just not interact with anyone else in your complex. The guy next door is quiet. Great. The family next door will quiet down usually if you ask them.

Since everyone seems rather strung out and quite frankly weird, just look down, avoid eye contact, and murmur "hello" if you encounter them. No good can come from engagement, and doing things like striking up conversation and baking cookies can look like weakness.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:36 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


What exactly is the "situation" that you need to perspective on? You have relative peace - unless I misunderstood that the being yelled at by the neighbor thing is still on-going [if it is, alphanerd's advice is pretty good, but probably won't stop him yelling at you if he feels you're making too much noise - and I'm not sure what you were expecting the neighbor who you told about the dryer to do, either. I get the sense from your question that you see your neighbors' indifference towards you as a problem, but can only suggest that you stop taking it personally.
posted by sm1tten at 4:39 PM on March 30, 2012


What did those "passive-aggressive notes" on the dryer say?

They said that I shouldn't get upset if I leave my laundry in the dryer for hours without removing it, and that there were 3 units using the laundry. I don't know if it was directed at my or my downstairs neighbors. I haven't left any of my laundry in the dryer as of yet.

You say it took up to 18 hours to dry a large load. Did you continually leave your load in the dryer for hours on end and then get a note telling you to take your clothes out so others could use it?

I confronted the neighbor who wrote the note. He was the one who actually told me it takes 3 hours to dry a small load -- about 7 shirts, in other words. He says when he hears the dryer running, he doesn't take anything out. Also, up till this point, I assumed the dryer wouldn't dry clothes, even after 4 hours. I've left my clothes in the dryer for that long, and take them out to lay flat in my apartment. If he regularly dries his clothes for 3 hours at a time, I'm not sure my 4 hours is much of a difference.

Are you sure the dryer was broken and not over-loaded?

Yes, now I am sure of it. The repairman said there were a few parts that caught on fire. The dryer is 10 years old. He replaced the parts today.

Was that argument with the single neighbor where he "kept yelling" and said he didn't think "anything needed changing" because he, being single, never dried a large load and then left it in the dryer for hours, like you did?

I didn't say that the single neighbor kept yelling. That was the downstairs neighbor with the family. The next door single neighbor complained about the downstairs family neighbors leaving their laundry in the machines for too long.

You asked the people below you not to make noise, and they listened. You say the guy underneath you did the same, but he used threatening language, and you both recorded and reported him doing this. How did it get to the point where you felt the need to record him? Is it possible it all escalated because he had asked you repeatedly before to be quiet and you didn't listen?

The usually listened. Sometimes they responded by turning their music on louder. I don't complain during the day. But turning up the music after a request to turn it down has happened a few times already, between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM. I record a lot of things; a few of my friends are police dispatchers and have recommended it in the past. Actually, he has never asked us to be quiet -- he only brings it up only when we complain about his music.

How have you "discovered" your other neighbors don't like each other? Are you listening to gossip?

One said a few things about the other. The other said things about the first one. I don't share what each says about the other.

But I feel like your desire for "community" might just be your desire to have others on your side in these petty disputes about laundry and noise, too.

I'm not looking for anyone to be on my side.
posted by mild deer at 5:06 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seconding Ideefixe and KokuRyu. I imagine the older tenants rolling their eyes at such a thing as a cook out or something with the "new kid". I think it's better to be there for a few months, say hi to to friendly people in the complex, and THEN you might think of inviting those friendly people. They might put the word out about it and then see what happens.
posted by eq21 at 5:54 PM on March 30, 2012


Mild deer, thanks for clarifying.

Sounds like your downstairs neighbor HOH is just not interested in getting along at all, either with you or the single guy. I doubt you are going to be able to get everyone together and build a community.

But single guy sounds like he is reasonable, so maybe you will have one ally in the building. At least you have managed to get the catching-on-fire (!!!) dryer fixed.
posted by misha at 6:15 PM on March 30, 2012


Please don't organize a party, a cook-out or anything else. I live in a loft complex and every time someone new moves in, they think we all need to get together, roast weenies and sing...If we wanted to have a community, one would exist. I like my neighbors well enough, but I'm not remotely interested in doing group activities with them.

Not wanting to participate in group activities is something I've observed in some neighborhoods. But those who want a sense of community aren't wrong to desire it; neither are they wrong to do something about it when first moving in. Maybe it says something that "every time someone new moves in" and does something, it's a sign of something being wanted by more than just a handful of people. Some people have hope to change things. And some don't want change. Sometimes there is change. Sometimes there isn't.

Thanks IanMorr and Original 1928 Flavor for the suggestions. Those are things I would consider in a different situation. Right now, I'm looking for the best thing to do in my particular set of circumstances. I think I will take the middle road and simply do nothing. It makes me sad, but I will go on living here for the next year or so as if I don't have neighbors.
posted by mild deer at 12:44 PM on March 31, 2012


I record a lot of things; a few of my friends are police dispatchers and have recommended it in the past.

I definitely think the angry HOH sounds like an asshole, but this bit makes me wonder about YOU, honestly! Not saying you're an asshole, but maybe giving off vibes of some kind?

And seriously, I agree with the person who said it's not a great idea to move in and start pushing for get togethers. As they said, if the neighbors wanted to get together they'd already be doing it. It makes sense for a newcomer to hang back and "read" the neighborhood first.
posted by jayder at 4:46 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why people have been telling me not to push for get-togethers. In my original post, I said:

"It seems like there is no sense of community anywhere on this block. I'd like to change that, but am fast realizing that I can't." and "I want to live in a place with community, but probably won't be getting that. How do I look at this situation? How should I better communicate to bring a little more peace to this triplex?"

The emphasis above is on 1) realizing what this neighborhood/triplex is like and, 2) on better communication to maintain peace. I'm not asking for advice on whether I should do get-togethers or not. I'm asking something entirely different.
posted by mild deer at 7:47 PM on March 31, 2012


Regarding get-togethers, I was responding to your response in this comment.

Maybe this sounds bad, but I really think some neighbors and neighborhoods are not amenable to a greater community spirit. It's a tough economy, people are struggling, I'm getting the sense that your neighborhood is not an especially affluent one. In some ways, coming into a neighborhood (an apartment community) and baking cookies for everyone, a gesture done with the best of intentions, can seem an affront to a certain type of person, in that they are confronted with the lack of community, they feel obligated to do something in return (even though they don't), they no longer feel free to ignore you like they would like to, because hey you baked them cookies. That affronts them because they feel drawn into a reciprocal relationship they didn't ask for.

If new neighbors moved in near me, I wouldn't want cookies from them. For various reasons, I don't want to be on any more than nod and wave terms. I wouldn't be an asshole like your neighbors are, but I can see how neighbors can bristle at even nice self-consciously neighborly gestures you are making ... because they don't want to be neighborly. They don't want that obligation.
posted by jayder at 8:24 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, I see. Thanks for the clarification, jayder. I can see that some don't want a reciprocal relationship, which is fine. Different people want different things.

The thing is, I already said I would mind my own business in this post and this post. So I feel misunderstood and defending myself for things I'm not doing.
posted by mild deer at 9:34 PM on March 31, 2012


Maybe it says something that "every time someone new moves in" and does something, it's a sign of something being wanted by more than just a handful of people

It's a sign that the new person should have found a different place to live if that person wanted a built-in social life.

It seems to me that your place has the communication desired by most people. If you really want to spread more information, put up a community bulletin-board in the laundry room. Then you can post notes about items concerning the entire building.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:44 PM on April 1, 2012


mild deer --

I didn't read your earlier responses, so, sorry about that. I think your desire to have a better community spirit is laudable. I have some nice neighbors who look after the street and are always helpful and nice, so I definitely see the value in what you seek.

However, I am so disappointed by the common run of humanity that I think your angry Archie Bunker type neighbor is probably more typical and if I were to move somewhere else I'd just assume people are assholes and mind my own business until I learned otherwise.
posted by jayder at 6:15 PM on April 1, 2012


Jayder and others, thank you so much for your comments. I've learned quite a bit from this thread. Next time I move, I will definitely put feelers out there to guide my interactions. And I will also be on the lookout for a neighborhood that matches my preferences more.

In the meantime, I have spoken with property management and have learned that the downstairs neighbor has presented similar problems with other neighbors, past and present. The property owners are actually documenting these things to serve an eviction notice.

Again, thanks for all your help!
posted by mild deer at 12:22 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


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