Help me help her deal with an unnecessarily angry neighbor
November 8, 2010 2:20 PM   Subscribe

How should my brother's fiancee deal with a neighbor who's lying to the landlord in order to get her (and/or her dog) evicted?

My brother's fiancee moved to London a couple of months ago for grad school, and took her dog with her. She rented a really nice place in the country, and when they get married in about a year, my brother is going to move out there and they will live in this place for another three years, while she finishes school.

Her dog is generally very quiet and well behaved. However, a couple of weeks ago, my brother went to visit her, and she had to go pick him up at the airport in the middle of the night. Unused to having her gone during this time, her dog apparently howled quite a bit, according to a neighbor in her building who was very upset. She apologized profusely and explained the situation, and that it wouldn't be a recurring thing. And it hasn't been.

However, yesterday the landlord called my brother's fiancee, and told her that her neighbor had reported the dog being noisy and howling all the time during the night. Of course, the fiancee is home during the night, and knows that other than that one night, he's not ever been noisy in the evenings. The fiancee explained the situation to the landlord, who seemed to believe her, and then asked the landlord if it would make sense for her to reach out to the neighbor and try to open the lines of communication a little more. The landlord agreed this would be a good idea.

Additional oddness: the neighbor was apparently very friendly to the fiancee during her first couple of weeks in London. Also, the neighbor has a small dog (the fiancee's dog is big)...I just find it strange that one dog person would lie to get another dog person in trouble, over one relatively unimportant incident.

The fiancee had a hard time finding a place that would accept her dog and was close to school, and moving would be incredibly difficult. And while she's willing to reach out to the neighbor, I'm concerned that someone who would lie like this would not respond rationally.

So, should she talk to the neighbor? If so, what should she say? If talking to her would be a bad idea, what other strategies might put her mind at ease, supposing this neighbor continues to lie to the landlord about her dog's behavior?

Thanks, all!
posted by mingodingo to Human Relations (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't matter if she was friendly in the past, it doesn't matter if she has a dog. She's made this a non-personal matter by involving the landlord, and no matte what her reasons, there is no "personal" way that will fix it better. She needs to be told some version of the following -- if not in person, then in print:

"I'm sorry that my dog bothered you the other night. I was told that it seemed to you that this has been happening more than that one time, which seems impossible to me since I'm always home, and I've never noticed it. Could it maybe be another dog? If not that, then I have no idea. Please call me at this number ###-###-#### whenever it happens so I can be sure to muzzle my dog or let you know that it isn't my dog you are hearing."
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:27 PM on November 8, 2010 [14 favorites]

I'd include a plate of cookies with that note!
posted by bq at 2:43 PM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Given that this is in the UK and,
She apologized profusely and explained the situation, and that it wouldn't be a recurring thing. And it hasn't been.
and especially given that
The fiancee explained the situation to the landlord, who seemed to believe her
I would do nothing. If you do something, the very strong likelihood is that you will make things worse.

Either the landlord has their wires crossed and misreported what the other tenant said, but now believes your brothers fiancee, in which case it's problem solved (and confronting the tenant would be bad). Or the other tenant is lying, in which case there is absolutely no point in speculating on their psychology re: dogs, and talking to an unreasonable or crazy person further about the incident is far more likely to do harm than good.

There are also some cultural differences here too that your brother's fiancee should handle with care before they do whatever they'd do back home (which is the US, I presume): British people have a somewhat lower threshold for considering the mere act of contact from strangers presumptuous, aggressive or intrusive. Whatever you say, even if it's something very mild like MCMikeMcNamara's suggestion, stands a non-zero chance of resulting in a permanently antagonistic relationship.

For similar reasons, unless the situation is completely resolved, do not take them cookies! If the neighbour is still angry after receiving a profuse apology, cookies from the American next door will not fix this (especially if they're delivered alongside a note that they read as implying they are a liar).
posted by caek at 2:55 PM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

I favorited MCMikeNamara, but when I read caek's answer, it mirrored part of my own response which I deleted before posting. FWIW, it went something like this...

My gut says to ignore because the neighbor sounds nutty and these kinds of folks usually only escalate in relation to how much attention and validation they are given. It's not fun living next door to someone who's continual bogus complaints to the landlord come to define how you live in your own home!

posted by jbenben at 3:03 PM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

She cannot ignore it; a complaint has already been made to the landlord. She needs to address that.

Minidingo, does the dog sleep indoors at night?
posted by DarlingBri at 3:15 PM on November 8, 2010

She cannot ignore it; a complaint has already been made to the landlord. She needs to address that.
She done all the addressing she needs to. The landlord believes her (or seems to), not the complainer. Do not feed the drama-seeking neighbour.
posted by caek at 3:20 PM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes, talk to the neighbour. Definitely! Londoners don't tend to talk to their neighbours. I have friends who have lived in their houses for years and don't know their neighbours. But that doesn't mean they're not receptive to a new neighbour talking to them - in my experience, they appreciate it!

A simple "I'm really sorry my dog was noisy the other night, it was because I changed my schedule to pick my boyfriend up from the airport, it's not a regular thing. We're planning on staying here for a few years - here's my number if you are ever disturbed again - please call me if you ever have any problems" should do the trick. No need to be confrontational - just make sure that the neighbour knows that they can call her, rather than the landlord, if any problems arise in future.

If the neighbour knows the landlord well enough to call them (i.e. has their number), then that sounds like the landlord used to live there, and maybe the neighbour is feeling a bit unsettled at having a new person next door.

Use the situation to start building a relationship. Who knows, they may end up sharing dog walking responsibilities and finding someone to water her plants when she's away...
posted by finding.perdita at 3:56 PM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

It does seem like there is nothing to be done with the neighbor, but perhaps a follow-up with the landlord would make Brother's Fiancee feel more secure about the future. If the neighbor is indeed up to no good and ready to lie about howling every night, I'd want to know at what point I may be looking at eviction. I'd ask the landlord what the exact terms are, how much complaining the neighbor would have to do to set anything in motion (maybe the answer is 'she's crazy and we know it, don't worry we will never take her word as truth'), and figure out what I could do to PROVE the dog wasn't howling (a time-stamped video recording of a sleeping dog at a time the neighbor swears she hear howling might be good proof she's lying or hearing another dog).
posted by coupdefoudre at 4:08 PM on November 8, 2010

It is always a good idea to make nice with the neighbors until such a time as nice is no longer called for. In this case, sounds like a miscommunication. As a good neighbor, the fiancee should try to clear the air here. After all, a simple miscommunication like this can make for bad neighbors. But this isn't the case. Clearly a mistake, right? I like the note and the cookies.
posted by amanda at 4:32 PM on November 8, 2010

Another thought...

I dealt with some interesting attitudes directed at me when I lived overseas. Locals made assumptions about me based on my nationality, and I didn't help myself in the beginning by putting my foot in it once or twice based on my background - the norms of social niceties really can be that different from region to region!

I also suggest the fiancee should follow-up with the landlord and then take her cues from him about further gestures toward the neighbor. It's possible the note and cookies are a great idea, or it could stir the pot unnecessarily. It's his building, he knows the personalities involved. He'll have the best advice on this specific situation.
posted by jbenben at 5:20 PM on November 8, 2010

Just curious... age of the neighbor? Male or female? Any other specific info about the neighbor? How do the two dogs interact, are they cool, or is one more aggressive or fearful?

I'm just wondering if it's not really something else that's bugging the neighbor. If it's a guy, could he have perhaps had a small crush on her and then was upset when your brother showed up? Or someone older who found it unseemly or even somehow frightening that a "strange" man would staying there? Did the neighbor meet your brother, and if so, how did that go? Or might the person feel that the larger dog is a threat to his/her dog, or possibly just affecting it's behavior somehow? (Like maybe the neighbor's dog might have started urinating inside or something, due to nervousness about another dog...)

The reason I ask is that it may make a difference in how she "reaches out" to the neighbor, because there may be an underlying issue. I mean I'm thinking, why lie about the dog? Especially as a dog person. The neighbor seems to have hit upon something that based in a tiny modicum of truth to manufacture a complaint (since apparently there's no real behavior on the part of fiancee or dog to actually complain about), and yeah, maybe they're just kind of nutso, or maybe they're upset about something else. If your fiancee can make an educated guess about what the something else might be, it can help with her approach. (If there's any question at all that the neighbor might have had a wee crush, for example, fiancee would want to be careful about how friendly she acts. If there's a possibility that the neighbor is worried about this new floozy moving in and men traipsing in and out, she might want to make it a point to casually bring up her wedding plans or something of that nature, if she hasn't.)

One other item to consider is that it's pretty common for people to become territorial and protective/possessive about their living spaces/buildings/neighborhoods, and view newcomers suspiciously as someone who might upset the comfortable balance, cause unknown trouble, etc. This usually subsides as the "new neighbor" just becomes "the neighbor," so it might be something that could just dissipate over time with normal friendly interaction.
posted by taz at 10:47 PM on November 8, 2010

With the neighbor, I'd recommend writing a note (so a copy can be retained in case the dispute continues) apologizing for the one-time incident; being clear this is not how the dog ordinarily behaves; and providing contact information and asking the neighbor to call immediately in the event the dog creates another disturbance. Maybe drop off the note and invite the neighbor out for a walk, with the dogs, so if there is another incident, it's not "the neighbor's dog barking again" but "Jane's cute dog Spot hoping mom will come home." Having lived in buildings with a lot of dogs, it was my experience that friendly people with friendly dogs get a lot more leeway than folks (and dogs) who don't socialize.

With the landlord, I'd do nothing for now. If the neighbor complains again, show a copy of the note and explain that the dog hasn't been barking and the neighbor hasn't complained.
posted by subgenius at 7:58 AM on November 9, 2010

I've been through hell with neighbors lying about our dog.

A couple, who have three dogs and were initially friendly and then turned out to be batshit crazy, made up crazy stories about our fearful and very occasionally barking rescue dog . They told everyone within blocks--and coop management--that she has bitten children and terrorized all and sundry. We're talking true insanity here; at one point, one of them was regularly following me around when I was outside, screaming obscenities.

During this period, we got a letter from the coop board requesting that we muzzle our dog. At that point, we met with the board, declined to muzzle our poor pupper, said the stories were 100% fiction, and that if the couple and the coop board continued to spread this slander, we would be forced to take legal action.

I have no idea how successful that would have been, but the lunatics then backed off. We and our dog do continue to be treated as neighborhood pariahs as a result of the deranged neighbors' PR campaign. But we never heard another peep from the board.

So that's another way to go if the situation escalates because the real problem is that the neighbor is nuts.
posted by Lizzle at 4:51 PM on November 11, 2010

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