How can I effectively get my neighbor to stop harrassing me about the reasonable amount of noise I make?
November 15, 2010 8:18 AM   Subscribe

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.
posted by juniperesque to Human Relations (44 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
  • 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.

  • Why not? I read the whole post and didn't see anything suggesting this wouldn't be a good idea.
    posted by Perplexity at 8:23 AM on November 15, 2010

    Best answer: I've dealt with people like this; if you weren't in Chicago, I would think you were talking about someone I know. It's very important not to be afraid of them, because when you get right down to it, they really don't have any leg to stand on. The thing they're really after is attention, and as long as you continue to engage them like they're reasonable people, the longer the madness will go on. Use this meeting as a chance to reiterate your rights as a tenant, refuse to make any further concessions, and let him go from there. George wants to call the cops? Let him. He won't get anywhere, because he's not a reasonable person and the cops will be able to tell.
    posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:33 AM on November 15, 2010 [16 favorites]

    Perhaps you could get him to agree to a set of stipulations that are basically what you've already been doing, but not presented as such. Things like "only plush dog toys in the house" or "videogames stopped by 10pm." Tell him that if you break one of these mutually-agreed-upon rules he is welcome to remind you, otherwise he should mind his own business. Perhaps he needs more soft things in his apartment to help dampen any echoing sounds? Could you suggest that he purchase a white-noise machine?
    posted by vytae at 8:33 AM on November 15, 2010

    Well, you can tell someone to stop harassing you or else, as Perplexity suggests, but you have better have a good idea of what "or else" consists of. If "or else" means that you will resort to violence, then it is not a good idea. You could wind up going to jail. Maybe "or else" means that you will resort to litigation, which is safer than violence, although it tends to be very expensive. What are the other options indicated by "or else"? Or else you will move out? That is doubtless what your troublesome neighbor would prefer anyway. Or else you will buy another, even noisier dog? That weakens your position in the event that this winds up in the courts.

    I am going to assume that your description of events is accurate and that your supposedly noisy dog is not nearly as noisy as your deranged neighbor things he is. You have, therefore, done nothing wrong and you are within your rights. Nonetheless, the easiest solution is to get rid of the dog. I hope that you will not think me a heartless monster to say so, and I know that people can love their dogs as much (or more) than they love their own children. But realistically, you can survive without the dog, and it would be an act of generosity to make your downstairs neighbor happy, even though he is being very neurotic about this. There is something admirable about standing on principle and defending your rights, but it can be a terrible struggle to do so. If I were you, I would just find somewhere else for my dog to live - perhaps a friend or relative whom you can visit, to keep in touch with him.
    posted by grizzled at 8:34 AM on November 15, 2010

    Can you bring in a mediator from the association?
    posted by availablelight at 8:35 AM on November 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    1) Consider this attitude: "I am doing this guy one last favour before getting really nasty to him. Nothing will probably come of it, because the guy does not live in the same reality I do, but I owe it to myself to give it one try. If he acts out / makes me angry / says something insane, I will stand up calmly and walk away, telling him there is no point in continuing. This is something I am doing for my own peace of mind, giving him one last chance. But I will leave whenever I want to." YOU are doing HIM a favour. He has no hold over you, according to your lawyer. Get angry if he's stupid enough not to recognise this, but don't get panicky!

    2) Document EVERYTHING. Possibly tape it (with his knowledge, of course).

    3) Write down, for yourself, the points you want to get across. Make it no more than three main points or it gets too complicated. This is so you won't lose track of the conversation and can steer it back. Set yourself a clear goal, what you want from him, and what will happen if you don't get it. You need to know yourself that well. Everything else will follow. If you have not worked it out yet, do not have the conversation!

    4) Tell him what you expect from him - otherwise he won't know. Tell him what will happen if he refuses.

    5) Practice the conversation by having your boyfriend say crazy-neighbour-things and replying to him.
    posted by Omnomnom at 8:41 AM on November 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

    Response by poster: @grizzled: Yeah, I won't be getting rid of the dog. I'm allowed to have it, and there is no reason I shouldn't. That wouldn't be an act of generosity, it would be an act of acquiescence to being bullied. Not interested.
    posted by juniperesque at 8:42 AM on November 15, 2010 [50 favorites]

    But realistically, you can survive without the dog, and it would be an act of generosity to make your downstairs neighbor happy, even though he is being very neurotic about this.

    Give up the dog to appease the unreasonable downstairs neighbor? Terrible, TERRIBLE advice. Once the dog is gone, he'll just find something else to be mad about- he's already mad about more than just the dog. This is sort of thing you absolutely shouldn't even consider in his presence, because even a sniff that you're weak enough to do something like this will push him to the next level.

    On preview: glad to see the OP understands giving up the dog is giving in to a bully.
    posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:43 AM on November 15, 2010 [28 favorites]

    Best answer: I cannot disagree with grizzled more. You have an absolute right to keep your dog. If you got rid of your dog, that would NOT placate the kind of person your neighbor is. He would find something else to bitch about, since he was already bitching before the dog came into the picture.

    Honestly, I would have not even agreed to meet with this guy. I would tell him contact with you from the meeting forward is unwelcome since your attempts to mitigate his concerns haven't placated him at all despite bending over backwards for him, and to call the police if he believes he has a valid noise ordinance violation complaint. Maybe talk to your lawyer about how you could get a restraining order if he goes batcrap and calls the police on you a bunch of times?
    posted by kpht at 8:43 AM on November 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

    Oh, I forgot -
    6) Make sure your boyfriend knows what you expect from him! Want him to echo your points? Sit by looking silent but menacing? Tell him!
    posted by Omnomnom at 8:43 AM on November 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    Never negotiate with terrorists. Simply tell him you will do your best to keep the noise down, but you are well within both condo regs and city laws.
    posted by AugustWest at 8:44 AM on November 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

    Don't meet face to face with George without the landlord there.

    Also, make it perfectly clear that you are willing to have him call the police/landlord if he has noise complaints. As long as you're not breaking any actual laws/rules you'll be fine.
    posted by theichibun at 8:48 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: I agree w/ThePinkSuperhero. It sounds as if your well-intended efforts to engage your neighbor are only making your problem worse. It sounds as if George likes attention, and likes intimidating you, and you've shown him that he can get both by harassing you. You need to turn off that gratification faucet. This isn't going to end until you start standing your ground instead of appeasing him (and even that will take some time).
    posted by jon1270 at 8:50 AM on November 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

    I've had that crazy downstairs neighbor before. I even had someone report me for owning a loud, obnoxious dog bigger than allowed by my lease when I didn't own a dog at all. I could've gotten in major trouble for that. Thanks, Neighbor Guy.

    So, based on my limited experience, I'd say George definitely sounds unbalanced, but I have a feeling he won't be nearly as aggressive in a face-to-face meeting as he is in his emails. He sounds like a coward, and I have a feeling he'll actually be somewhat pleasant and seemingly understanding during your meeting only to go back to firing off ridiculous emails again later. I would be surprised if his previous neighbor didn't get all these threats, too. He wants total silence up there. He probably knows this is unreasonable, so he inflates what noise he does hear to make his complaints seem more justified.

    I would suggest that you and your boyfriend stick to your guns and explain very clearly what you're willing and unwilling to do. And try not to go into this meeting angry. Your gut reaction may be to tell George to shove it, but you already know that's only going to make your situation worse. So, take a deep breath and be friendly but assertive. Come with a list of your points on paper so that he can see you're prepared and not someone he can just push over. You are doing everything you can to appease George. There's nothing more you can or SHOULD do, and you should be clear about this with him.

    You may also want to suggest that the emails stop entirely. If he has a complaint, he should talk to you (or your boyfriend) in person, and no other form of communication will be accepted. Based on the fact that he won't even answer his own door, something tells me he won't want to do this. I only hesitate to suggest this on the off-chance he actually would come up and talk to you every time. Maybe the happy medium here is that you simply start filtering his emails into a folder you don't have to see so that you still have a record of everything. He hasn't made good on his threats so far, has he?
    posted by katillathehun at 8:52 AM on November 15, 2010

    Last year when I joined Metafilter, there were a LOT of these upstairs-noise questions. It got to the point where I hated reading them, because they were all the same: He says I'm inconsiderate for doing this activity, but I am really only doing some lesser thing and he's an intolerant grouch. So, if you think he will be reasonable about it, I really recommend spending an hour with you + boyfriend and George + a friend of George to do an actual experiment.

    Have boyfriend and George go downstairs while you and George's friend (and Bobby) stay upstairs. You walk around your house (with/without shoes), play with Bobby's toys, run Bobby through the house, play some video games, do whatever George is complaining about. Send text messages to boyfriend during this activity to tell what you are about to do.

    During this time, boyfriend should be able to say "wow, that really sounds like elephants" or George's friend can say "they really are just walking quietly up here - no roller skating going on*" or whatever. Switch places and do it again, so boyfriend is walking around upstairs. If you can arrange it, ask the neighbor downstairs from George if you can listen in their place to see what it sounds like when George moves around.

    Once you have the facts about the noises, you can figure out whether you really are moving around unreasonably, or George is a heartless terrorist, or there is a structural problem which the condo board needs to address.
    posted by CathyG at 9:03 AM on November 15, 2010 [29 favorites]

    Have lawyer take over correspondence with George. Enlighten him about the fact that HE is harassing YOU.
    posted by galadriel at 9:08 AM on November 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

    Is George a danger to you in any way? Sounds like he's not. He's just a thorn in your side. Stop catering to this guy. You've taken reasonable care to be quiet; continue to do so. Other than that, don't give the guy the attention he craves.

    Here is what I'd do. I'd ask the lawyer to draft a letter to your condo association informing them that you are being harassed. The board may not do "neighbor to neighbor" disputes, but harassment is a different story. Then I'd ignore every damn thing George sends me, by having your email program sort George's emails into folder on your laptop. Boyfriend or someone can go through them and monitor activity.

    If George calls the police, welcome the officers and invite them in for coffee (assumes you aren't doing anything illegal in your home). Keep a printed folder of the "Worst of George" including his most nasty emails and your lawyer's letter. If you've got the receipts for the carpet, toss that in there too. Cops have had crackpot neighbors too. And police love getting noise complaint calls at midday, because cops have nothing better to do in a city the size of Chicago.

    Treat George like the non-issue his is.
    posted by 26.2 at 9:08 AM on November 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

    I was going to write what CathyG wrote. You *do not know* what you sound like to your below neighbour. The ceramic story is suspicious, but the rest of it is not necessarily wrong, and sound can travel oddly. You need a neutral person on the condo board too.
    posted by jeather at 9:12 AM on November 15, 2010

    Response by poster: @jeather: The thing is, while I don't know what I sound like to George, I do know that short of levitating through my unit, there is nothing more I can do to mitigate noise. He has seriously asked me to limit my movements through my home to hours when he is at work. We've moved to the realm of the irrational here.
    posted by juniperesque at 9:18 AM on November 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

    Speaking of the objective-noise question, one way to determine whether George is simply getting his kicks by harrassing and bullying you would be to call his bluff.

    "Gee, it's so terrible that you are experiencing this noise despite [many very reasonable actions by you.] Why don't we contact the condo board to get an assessment of the problem with your ceiling/my floor."
    posted by heyforfour at 9:25 AM on November 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

    AugustWest: "Never negotiate with terrorists. Simply tell him you will do your best to keep the noise down, but you are well within both condo regs and city laws."

    This, assuming you're accurately describing the situation. Your neighbor is a bully and your stress about this is exactly the response he wants.

    Absolutely do not engage him in any kind of specific "I agree not to do X" stuff, as it only gives him leverage to invent new ways you're "harassing" him. Firmly tell him that if he feels you're breaking the noise laws of the condo, he can bring it to the Board.
    posted by mkultra at 9:31 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: I agree that you are being bullied, and I don't see why "this meeting is going to have to happen." Your activities are well within what is reasonable for a city condo-dweller, and if George has a problem with them, then he has a problem with living in multi-family housing, period. He should move to a detached house if he cannot tolerate the normal noise of other people going about their daily lives. You do not owe him this meeting or any more of your attention to his unreasonable complaints. Cancel the meeting (you do not owe him an explanation why) and tell him that he should direct all future noise complaints to your lawyer or the police, and that you will ignore any direct contact by phone or email. I bet he will back down.

    If for some reason you do end up in a face-to-face meeting or confrontation with him, try to think of him as having a problem with himself that he is mis-identifying as a problem with you. Every time he snarls at you, attempts to steamroll you, or attempts to assert the preeminence of his right to silence over your right to live your life, remind yourself that the problem is not REALLY you—it's like the misdirected aggression of an animal under stress. If possible, try to put yourself in a frame of mind where you pity him for the internal misery he must feel to make him such a nasty person towards others. I don't mean that he really deserves pity for being such a jerk, but if you can talk yourself into it, the feeling of pity will put you above him, in a way, which may be an effective counter to his attempts to grind you under his heel.
    posted by Orinda at 9:33 AM on November 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

    Well, there are two possibilities. The likelier one is that you are not excessively noisy, which you will prove (to yourself and a neutral observer) by going to his place and listening. The less likely one is that sound travels badly (and/or it is someone else's noise, which is much the same problem), and then you can work from there. Is it a problem with the condo? Do you have hardwood floors? Does the sound travel to other people -- if there's someone else on the same floor George is on, do they hear things?
    posted by jeather at 9:34 AM on November 15, 2010

    I'm with CathyG, 26.2 and then galadriel on this.

    It's your last meeting? Do the experiment. It would be interesting and very helpful for you to experience what George experiences. Maybe there is a structural problem with the building - who knows?

    Plus, you've done the one last nice neighbor routine. After this, your conscious regarding George will be completely clear.

    If it isn't a structural issue, your lawyer should do whatever is necessary. If it is a structural issue with the building, your lawyer should do whatever is necessary.

    Bottom line: You can not live like a prisoner in your own home, and the building design or George is acting to create that in your life. Take the appropriate steps. Good luck.

    PS - you sound so much more reasonable than I might be in the same situation - good for you!
    posted by jbenben at 9:38 AM on November 15, 2010

    Actually, what I like about Cathy's suggestion is that with your boyfriend down there with George, is that you really will find out what he's hearing, and what he thinks he's hearing. If your boyfriend is down there while you're running around with the dog upstairs and hears hardly anything, you know George is making stuff up out of thin air, and he will know you know it. Which actually makes me think that George will not go for this scheme even if you offer.

    It has nothing to do with whether or not you have to limit your life to suit him, because you don't. I think from now on you should be very careful to avoid saying things like you'd be willing to pay for things that broke- that is just giving him another "in". Don't make any promises about anything (even if you are a good and honest person and would pay for something you broke) that might happen in the future. Just say you have done X reasonable things in response to his complaints, that you will not speak to him any more- he must go through the manager if he is going to be unreasonable.

    I say all this as someone who lives in a downstairs apartment and has been tormented by the people upstairs slamming wooden dresser drawers for hours starting at 3:30 am on a weekday: you are being more than accommodating, and he is probably enjoying the drama. I think offering to listen to the noise you make with him will either call his bluff, or there may be some small, fixable noise that can be discovered, like a hideously creaking board or his rattling windows. Other than that, don't make promises, don't make threats, just outline everything that you have already done, and the things you absolutely will not do, and then tell him to take it up with the manager in the future.
    posted by oneirodynia at 9:42 AM on November 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    I hate noise passionately. I've been the complaining neighbor and can certainly believe that he would be able to hear, and be annoyed by, you guys and the dog. However, that doesn't mean his annoyance is all that reasonable. He also doesn't really seem to be acting in good faith (in his case I would have at least asked you guys over to listen to the noise and would have understood that you were making a conscious effort for me).

    It doesn't make sense for all the demands to be made upon you. Are there ways he can soundproof his own apartment, or work on the condo board to try to get better insulation for the ceilings? Is he aware that local noise ordinances probably limit excessive noise only at night and that during the day one has to suck it up and deal with it? Has he considered earplugs or in-ear headphones or noise-cancelling machines?

    Again, I say all this as someone who can't concentrate at all during bouts of neighbor noise. I kind of hate wearing earplugs, but I do it anyway sometimes because that's one of the tradeoffs in living near other people. If this were a subwoofer issue I would have little sympathy for you. But for a dog (I'll avoid the pun) your neighbor's got to make concessions or move.
    posted by mail at 9:43 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Actually, heyfourfor's suggestion to bring in a neutral party to listen to noise is an even better one.
    posted by oneirodynia at 9:44 AM on November 15, 2010

    on a personal note, you know what really pisses me off about this? that george decided the problem was you and your dog before he considered the problem could be structural. that's unneighborly. it looks bad for him (especially as a member of the condo board) because it really seems like he is taking this opportunity to control your life, whatever the root cause may be.

    we had a neighbor above us who lived overseas for 10 months of the year. when his replacement moved in, there was a window in our apt that shook when someone above walked over a certain spot. turns out the window had been broken and improperly replaced with the wrong size glass or whatever years earlier. a little caulk on the outside of the window stopped the vibration entirely. or, you know, I guess we could have blamed the new neighbor upstairs for the change in our environment and started a big fat feud with the guy.

    I bet there are so many solutions to george's issues that do not include preventing you from enjoying your home. I hope your lawyer helps george find them.

    posted by jbenben at 9:50 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    To answer your actual question, it might help to go in with the attitude that at this point you're in the clear and don't actually owe him anything. That doesn't mean you can't make concessions, but it's time for the behavior modification to be on him. Be sympathetic and polite, but internally try to be a little amused. And be very firm about your needing him to soundproof his own head.

    Does he know your lawyer has been following his correspondence?
    posted by mail at 9:53 AM on November 15, 2010

    I really would just say that "All future correspondence should be sent to my lawyer at XXXXX." If the dude really is crazy then all the testing in the world will not make him happy.

    Be polite, say hello in the hallways, and never let him call, text, email, threaten you again. When the police show up have a copy of the more wacky emails printed and ready to go.
    posted by Felex at 9:59 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Response by poster: @mail: No, he does not know that my lawyer has been following his correspondence. Since he has threatened legal action ("I will look into my legal options," "I do not want to have to go to small claims court to resolve this but I will," etc.) I figured just keeping my lawyer appraised was the way to go. I consider my lawyer my ace in the hole, and lawyer is ready to call his bluff if necessary.
    posted by juniperesque at 10:04 AM on November 15, 2010

    I'm with galadriel.

    Bring a police officer if you can, and bring your lawyer.

    Print a copy of the local statutes regarding harassment, highlighting the passages that declare his actions illegal. Hand it to him first thing.

    Have your lawyer inform him that if his harassment does not cease immediately, that you will be asking for an Order of Protection which will prevent him from communicating with you, or being anywhere near you. (Bonus points if said order can prevent him from legally entering his own apartment in your state.)

    Bigger bonus would be if a police officer is there to inform him that if the police are called out over nothing, he'll be fined for wasting their time.

    If anything, I think that you've been especially accommodating, and now that being nice has failed, it's time for gunbarrel diplomacy.
    posted by Citrus at 10:09 AM on November 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    While testing will give you an idea of what he hears (and its unlikely that its entirely in his imagination - sounds loves to travel through floors for some reason!) its irrelevant. You are not making unreasonable amounts of noise and you have taken care to reduce the unavoidable noises (eg walking about in your own home). If he has a problem with the level of noise he should report it to his landlord/condo board or move into a house/top floor apartment.
    posted by missmagenta at 10:32 AM on November 15, 2010

    Perhaps you could get him to agree to a set of stipulations that are basically what you've already been doing, but not presented as such.

    I would not do this. Frankly, I think what you've already been doing is a bit much. Your condo should have policies in place about noise, and they are most likely FAR more lenient than this. You are being way too accommodating here.

    In the past, when I rented in a co-op building, I had a crazy downstairs neighbor who got worked up about noise. My roommate and I tried to respect the fact that she was like that, but at the end of the day, when she would freak out about things that couldn't have happened or that we couldn't do anything about, we would just listen to her rant and then ignore it. I think she just needed to feel like she was in control of things, so the compromise that she could bitch and we would listen but ignore worked very well.

    Of course, that situation didn't escalate to anything like what's going on here. I don't even know what to tell you to do, honestly.

    I say all this as someone who has also had to be the complaining neighbor in the same building, when we got new neighbors who had two rowdy dogs and threw a loud party every weekend. Unfortunately, there is a certain amount of noise you have to put up with if you want to live in an urban area. We talked to them about dog barking problems, because it's against the building's rules. The rest I consider karma for all the times I was a bad neighbor. What can you do, eh?
    posted by Sara C. at 10:34 AM on November 15, 2010

    Best answer: I would cancel the meeting. You already know George in a situation other than the noise circumstances - he has interacted with you as part of the board and you don't need to meet him and be friendly/show you are a real person.

    Best case - you are friendly yet quite firm, you lay out what you have done to mitigate the noise, and you say that's all you are going to do. What changes? George probably won't change his mind - and if you have any concerns that it's not a good situation for you to be in emotionally, then I'd skip it - if he sees any "weakness" then he may well step up the bullying.

    There are a bunch of good approaches listed above, and I'm not even sure which one I would choose. I'd lean towards those ideas that stop engaging him. While intellectually I like the idea of an experiment to see what he hears in his apartment, I would skip it - more downsides than upsides.
    posted by mrs. taters at 10:39 AM on November 15, 2010

    This is probably not a great suggestion but it worked with my downstairs neighbor. When I moved in, the previous tenants told me that she had been a problem with them and that they had finally just taken a hammer to the floor after she complained one too many times.

    After I moved in, I think it took her two weeks to start complaining. She began by coming up to tell me that my constant noise of dragging things and pounding was scaring her cat. I played sympathetic and honestly agreed to do what I could do to make things quieter. I knew that she wasn't likely to be reasonable, but as someone who likes quiet herself, I put felt things on the legs of my chairs and other furniture that moved and made sure I took off my shoes when I got home. I don't play loud music and I was away at work for at least ten hours a day at the time. I made sure that we weren't loud after 9/10pm.

    She continued to complain and now her complaints took the form of banging on the ceiling with a broom. This was objectively louder than any noise I was making. I finally lost it when the interval between a piece of small tupperware falling to the floor from waist height and her banging on the ceiling indicated that she was literally standing there with a broom waiting for something to irk her. So, like the previous tenants, I gave her some real noise by jumping up and down on the floor for a good minute. It was 9:06pm and no, she doesn't have a baby or small child. She continued to complain about my noise to the super and to anyone else who would listen. She finally lost all credulity when we went away for Thanksgiving and she complained about how loud we were over that weekend. Crazy = crazy.

    I've lived below small dogs before, and they can be loud, but it seems like the duration of the sound is short. You've already made concessions. I think that meeting with him is a mistake - you're letting him know that his complaint has a basis in reality. But if you're going to meet with him, do bring your boyfriend or your lawyer or just any large male person who can glower effectively. Also bring a tape recorder or assiduously take notes. He's trying to intimidate you, don't be shy about doing it right back at him.

    Let your neighbor call the police. If the police show up, ask if they would be willing to go downstairs and listen to your horrible loudness and make a note on the report. Be calm, reasonable and factual.
    posted by sciencegeek at 10:53 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    The suggestion to have neutral parties see what the noise is actually like is tempting, but I wouldn't do it without setting up the parameters in writing and running it by your lawyer first. You write to him, make the suggstion, and be clear about who is going to be present and what is going to happen. Ask him to accept or decline your offer in writing. Explain in your letter that you would like to work with him to address any structural defects that may be causing noise becuase you are not making excessive noise.

    If he declines or if you don't want to do this, then start ignoring him. Set up a filter for your emails, don't answer the phone when he calls, and above all, stop making concessions. You've taught him that you can be bullied. He won't stop until you stop him.

    How can I try and work on my body language so I don't dissolve into tears, shake uncontrollably, or have a panic attack?

    If you think this is likely to happen, don't have the meeting. I don't see how it benefits you in any way.

    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?

    I don't think this meeting will ever achieve this result. It's possible that nothing will achieve this result, and you need to find a way to cope with that. Ignoring him is more likely to achieve this result, in my opinion, than continuing to make concessions that feed his belief that you are wrong and he is right.
    posted by Mavri at 12:21 PM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Response by poster: I just sent the following email. You people really inspire and empower me. I'm glad I took my question here.


    We have done the following things to appease you in your quest for perfectly quiet upstairs neighbors:

    * Walk softly
    * Remove shoes in the house
    * Cover our floors with rugs and pads
    * Install bumpers on all doors, cabinets, and drawers
    * Remove non-plush dog toys
    * Cease actively playing with our dog inside our home after the sun has gone down
    * Crate the dog overnight
    * Put the dog in daycare during the work day
    * Teach the dog not to bark except when someone is at the door

    That is the list of things we have done and will continue to do as a courtesy to you, and yet you are still unplacated. This is a dog-friendly building, and while you have not had an upstairs neighbor with a dog for the past several years, you knowingly took a risk moving into this building and now you live beneath two people and a very small dog. Your requests to limit movement to times when you are at work are unreasonable; we have accommodated you enough.

    You may not continue to send me passive-aggressive or threatening emails and phone calls. If there is an immediate problem before 8:00am or after 10:00pm, you may come up and knock on our door and speak with Boyfriend, or, as you have intimated, you may call the police. I will not answer my door to you without Boyfriend here. Between 8:00am and 10:00pm, your complaints are unfounded and unwelcome. After consideration of the full inventory of concessions we have already made for your benefit, there is no reason to meet. This will be my last email to you on this subject.

    posted by juniperesque at 12:55 PM on November 15, 2010 [45 favorites]

    That's a great letter!

    I am writing to add that I was following a case in the Toronto newspaper about noise complaints, and that it might be the dog's movement might be transmitting on a different frequency, in a way, than your footfalls. I want to bring up the point that there might be deficiencies which might account for the transmission of noise in your building, and you might need to contact building management for an independent acoustics report (or ask the board to). It's possible that the sound transmission material in the building doesn't comply with the Building Code standard - or it does, but barely.

    And also, that based on other posts about noise and crazy neighbours here, I'm wondering what the previous tenants put up with from him? Why did they leave? Did he drive them away? Perhaps you can find out from other tenants what the deal is, and what works and doesn't work with him - and if you learn you're just the latest in a series of his victims, you might feel better.

    And, a last suggestion - if you can find some common ground with him and position yourself not as his adversary but as someone with a beef too, such as "Isn't this building poorly insulated for sound? What can the board do about it?" maybe you can re-focus his energies for good instead of evil.
    posted by peagood at 2:23 PM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Have lawyer take over correspondence with George.

    I don't think you'll take this advice, given your statement about keeping your lawyer as an ace in the hole, but I'll take a second to discourage this anyway.

    I am a big supporter of engaging legal representation; I was very glad to have hired one for a recent house purchase - it was great for peace of mind. But lawyering is a business and as I am sure juniperesque knows, you pay for that time they spend reading and answering your email.

    Giving an attention-seeking pain in the ass like George a recipe to create bills for you? Not a good idea. I am sure he'll happily switch to emailing the lawyer - while still cc:ing you, no doubt - and running up your tab.

    I think you're in very comfortable territory to say "George, I have tried to accommodate you but you're now asking me to stop having a normal life in my own home. That's not going to happen. You can call the cops if you feel like you must but I am confident they're going to tell you the same thing I am : you're not being reasonable. Maybe you should get some earplugs."

    Then ignore him.
    posted by phearlez at 2:24 PM on November 15, 2010

    Your email is great, and I'd love to hear how he responds. Keep the thread updated if you can!
    posted by kpht at 2:33 PM on November 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

    my sister had a similar issue (she was the downstairs neighbor though) and she found out that the upstairs neighbor had not installed the proper type of flooring that was required by the condo association, in that it wasn't properly sound-proofed.

    maybe this is an issue that could be resolved that way
    posted by wurly at 5:25 PM on November 15, 2010

    You've attempted to be reasonable. Avoid further engagement. Let him call the cops. Pretty well all noise bylaws I've ever encountered are based on time of day, and sound-pressure levels.

    A $48 investment will solve this problem.
    posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:47 PM on November 15, 2010

    Response by poster: George emailed me back this evening. (Just me, despite the email being signed by Boyfriend and I and cc'd to Boyfriend) He had a somewhat incoherent response, which meandered around all sort of complaints he's had about me since I moved in, a complete misunderstanding of my bullet points and how they are a courtesy to him, and ended with a passive-aggressive jab about how ridiculous it was to call him passive-aggressive.

    He did agree that he didn't really want to talk to Boyfriend and I anyway, and that he'd "leave it to the police and the courts" to mediate any further disputes. I forwarded the email to my lawyer, who essentially LOLed.

    I am going to take the advice of an above poster who suggested I make a folder with printouts and evidence and label it "Best of Crazy George" in the event he does call the police and they actually come to visit instead of just laughing at him. I sent my lawyer, who has read every email and offered support and encouragement at no cost, some flowers.
    posted by juniperesque at 7:52 PM on November 15, 2010 [18 favorites]

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