I live in a rent-controlled building and have a bad neighbor with violent tendencies, how can I best fix this?
tl;dr: Bad neighbor has to go. Difficulty: SF rent-control.
I've lived in an 8-unit rent-controlled building in San Francisco since 1995. It's in a nice part of town and aside from some building issues, I couldn't ask for anything more. However, there is a family directly below me who has caused much drama for the building, both within and without, and as the person who lives above them I have reached the end of my rope.
Up front disclosure: I am not completely innocent. I am a DJ and music lover who likes all kinds of music. However, the building is certainly below code as far as sound transmission through the walls go. For the past year or two I have kept the volume in my studio/office below the legal limit (55dB) of what it should be on the other
side of the wall. I am also exploring sound mitigation solutions on my part, but that would be the case even if these neighbors didn't live there. However, the acts I describe below have occurred both with and without any music playing, and as someone who works at home being on edge is affecting my ability to earn a living for myself. As low as you think my rent might be, I've had trouble paying from time to time due to my mental state that is exacerbated by this situation. To put a finer point on it: I have extremely marketable skills that are very freelance-friendly, and I'm still
having trouble. Yes, I'm seeing a therapist, though we haven't done much on this particular topic.
Currently living there are two parents and their son, who we estimate to be in his late 20s. They have raised three other children, another boy and two girls, in this apartment. My cousin lived here before I did and describes the parenting of the daughters as worse than what I've experienced with the sons (the daughters were married off before I moved in). They get into fights. Loud, aggressive, screaming fights (I have evidence, and witnesses). In years past there were things thrown against walls, but whether they were objects or people I could never tell. To this day I regret not calling the cops when this happened, since I chalked it up to cultural differences in child-rearing or whatever rationalization worked for me. This has been going on for at least 20 years (word is that they've lived here since the 70s).
The son has issues. About 10 years ago he started getting more and more aggressive, getting bullyish and calling people nasty names on more than one occasion, apropos of nothing, including family members and friends visiting, as well as walking toward the building outside. In 2004 he attacked two tenants, told the police I was stealing his mail, and had some kind of breakdown while being arrested for this. His father was there, and slapped his face while in handcuffs, telling him to "be a man" (cf. "Julien Donkey Boy"). We almost got the family evicted over the attack, but somehow they struck a deal and the son was banished for two years. When he moved back in he had as much attitude as ever, however, and while he hasn't physically attacked any of us, it never feels out of the question either.
This was not his last instance of bringing the police to the building, not to mention having people out on the streets follow him back to the house to settle things. The last time he brought the police here was a little over a year ago, when the police came to check on something (guessing probation, or for having seen his gaudy car in an inopportune location). He ran from them for some reason and, as we've all read is normal for police to do these days, he got his face ground into the sidewalk.
He ("M") seems to have something against my presence here, and will occasionally throw something at the ceiling when he knows I am home. Something like...a basketball? Not sure, but it's startling. He has a car, a behemoth
, that he loves to spend extended periods warming up/parking, shaking the building, and roaring up and down the street. He's that guy
, too, and his brother was a putative hot-rodder before him, both using their parking spots in the garage as transmission-repair-type zones, though not so much lately. Point being: the family is also good at owning loud cars. We share a light-shaft that provides windows to the bedrooms, and they live their lives with the windows open at all times, including going to the bathroom and enduring the father's smoking related afflictions, but particularly while on the phone, next to the open window, yacking about whatever. One time I was sitting here at the computer, quietly minding my own business while M was loudly on the phone when he said, "well, I better go, my neighbor likes to listen to my calls." WTF. They also slam windows and doors at every opportunity, which shakes the building. To make it perfect, he affects a nice-guy Eddie Haskell persona with the outside neighbors, though I think they're a bit wise to it balanced against his behavior when he's in his car.
After his running-from-the-cops episode, things have dialed down a bit. He bought another car that has mufflers on it. It's not the constant fighting and yelling from the moment he gets home to when he goes to bed anymore. However, he now harasses me outside the building. A few months back I was driving around town with a friend, when we pulled up to a stop sign while M was driving through the intersection crosswise. He slowed to a crawl and stared at me until he finished crossing, so I could then continue driving. I was backing out of the garage (single-car-width garage door) in reverse, just past the curb, getting reading to go forward when he sped right in front of me to the garage, which he had apparently reversed to open while I was putting on my seatbelt. Think about a parking spot that you're vacating, when someone zips into it just as you leave enough room backing out before you start forward. This shit is unnerving.
I used to try to set a good neighborly example. I would say hi to them in the hallways (they never say hi back) and pay attention to how heavily I take the stairs, quietly closing my door and windows, cleaning out the window tracks so that they didn't grind and howl when opening and closing, etc., all to no avail. A couple of years ago I gave up. Though I do pay more attention to the volume of my music, I have given up considering their presence at all when it does no good. Yet it continues, and I'm ready to bring out the big guns. The Rent Board tells me to note things to the landlord, which if I do will be a transcription of my "event log," but it's time for me to cast about for the possibilities and techniques for dealing with this once and for all. A bonus (and possible compromise) would be much-needed upgrades to the building that would alleviate inter-unit sound problems, as even walking down my hallway and cooking food in my kitchen has appeared to be a source of aggravation to them.
I am exploring any and all social and legal means to deal with this. The management company is ineffectual, though I don't really know how I can approach them effectively when the nowadays incidents are somewhat infrequent and momentary. I have been keeping a log of everything since April. The problem is that each incident is a reminder that he is a violent person, and that he is using violence to communicate with neighbors, which is unacceptable. I also hate bullies. I am considering hiring a lawyer who has either/both of: experience extracting rent-controlled tenants for cause, and/or going after landlords for not doing anything about a harassing tenant. I am also trying to make enough money to move, even though I shouldn't have to. Since we've both been here for a long time (we have the only two 2BRs in the building), the landlord would most certainly like to see us both gone, so I'm not counting on a lot of help from them. Couple that with what is apparently a social connection between the family and the landlord (there is a small, close-knit Palestinian immigrant community in SF), the parents barely speaking a word of English, and I despair.