Unwelcomed wake-up call.
August 13, 2012 5:14 AM   Subscribe

Out of town neighbor with a burglar alarm that activates periodically. Solutions?

Once every month or so, for no apparent reason, a neighbor's burglar alarm activates in the middle of the night. The neighbor, who lives across the street, is a second homer who only occupies the house on long weekends. Apart from these, it's vacant, with occasional visits from a lawn service. The mail box is empty, unused and ignored, suggesting a different mailing address, and I've never met the neighbor nor heard anything about his personality or habits.

I called the police department the first few times, guessing that the alarm was tripped by a prowler. But now, it's obvious that it's either being tripped by a deer or other wild animal, or--is this possible?--running a monthly diagnostic on its own.

I'd prefer to handle this anonymously through local authorities, because I don't have access to the neighbor's mailing address, and, even if I did, I'd prefer to avoid a standoff. We don't have any neighborhood associations or committees where I live. How should I proceed with this, and what civil or local authority or agency should I contact?
posted by Gordion Knott to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
I would talk directly to the neighbour. I don't see why this would involve a stand off.
posted by devnull at 5:29 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Just keep calling the police when he isn't there. This is basically a noise complaint. You can also go down to your local police station the day after the next time you call them, give them some background and ask them what to do.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:34 AM on August 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

First, check up on your local noise ordinances at City Hall. That will give you an idea of what your locality considers "noise." If there aren't any (unlikely) or they aren't applicable to this situation (possible, but also unlikely), contact your council member or equivalent representative at the lowest legislative level to get some on the books or strengthen the ones that are there. If there are, keep calling the police when it goes off, but instead of making it a "Burglar alarm! OMG! Prowler!" sort of call, make it a "Burglar alarm woke me up; I would like to register a noise complaint pursuant to municipal ordinance 1497.34a" sort of call.

Go over there and talk to him on a long weekend when he's in residence -- it's entirely possible that he's not aware of the issue either.

If it continues, keep track of when it goes off, and once you have a pattern (three times), you can go to the police station during the day and ask essentially this question, but with exact dates and times to pursue a noise complaint more formally. This is what laws and police are for -- enforcing standards that the people and their representatives have decided upon, so individuals don't have to take matters into their own hands.
posted by Etrigan at 5:35 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Seconding that you need to talk to the neighbor (as should any other neighbors who are in earshot). If he doesn't hear from anybody, even if he knows about the frequent false alarms, he is going to assume it is not bothering anybody and is unlikely do anything about it. Talk to him, and ask him, "What could you do to prevent this from happening again?" (Then shut up and listen — a frequent negotiating mistake is to yammer on after posing the problem. Pose a very specific, response-requiring question, and then wait for the answer.) This will not lead to a "standoff", whatever you mean by that. If it does not result in action, visit again the next time he's up and make the same request. Etc.

By the way, if you want the owner's home mailing address just call up your town hall and ask for it. It's on the tax rolls and it's public information.
posted by beagle at 5:48 AM on August 13, 2012

I don't have access to the neighbor's mailing address

How can that be, if he lives across the street? Write him a note that just says, Hi, my name's Gordion Knott, I live across the street. I wanted to let you know that your alarm goes off a few times a month when you're not around, and it makes a hell of a racket. It's probably just a racoon or a deer, but I was hoping you could turn the sirens down while you're not around.

If you'd like to talk about it, please come knock on my door, I'm across the street at house number whatever.

Thanks, Gordion.

And tape it to his door. Reasonable people can settle things like this reasonably.
posted by mhoye at 6:07 AM on August 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'd prefer to handle this anonymously through local authorities, because I don't have access to the neighbor's mailing address, and, even if I did, I'd prefer to avoid a standoff.

Call the police (on their business line) and let them deal with it.

By installing an alarm that doesn't summon authorities or even phone their weekday residence, your neighbor has already enlisted your services to protect their property without your consent. It's a crummy situation to be in because you're left with two options:

1) Call the police.
2) Ignore the alarm and shoulder the guilt of not calling the police that one time something serious happens and/or the wrath-of-neighbor for allowing something to happen.

It was up to your neighbor to talk with you when they installed the alarm, and they didn't do it.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:12 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I really think you should just talk to the neighbour. He/she probably has no idea that it's happening! Even if they're just weekenders, they may retire there someday (that's usually the dream, isn't it?), and wouldn't if be nice to have them remember you as the polite and helpful neighbour?
posted by AmandaA at 6:36 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, talk to him. If you're really afraid of some sort of standoff situation, don't frame it as "Your alarm is annoying and loud!" Frame it as "If I expect to hear the alarm all the time, I'm not going to notice if someone does break in."
posted by Weeping_angel at 6:49 AM on August 13, 2012

*If you don't already, start keeping a log of the alarms: list every time it goes off, as well as duration.
*Call the cops each and every time it DOES go off. (Don't speculate on the cause; you don't really know if it's deer and raccoons or heavy wind or whatever.)
*If you decide you DO want to contact the neighbor himself, try snail-mailing a letter to that across-the-street address: I'd bet the Post Office forwards everything to their weekday address.
posted by easily confused at 7:14 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you see no mail in the box, there might be a permanent forward order in place, so you can still write to the neighboring address and perhaps it will get forwarded to your neighbors where ever they spend the rest of their year.
posted by kuppajava at 8:06 AM on August 13, 2012

Why should discussing a noise issue with a neighbor be fraught with hassle? I'd go over there and simply say, "Hiya, thought you'd want to know, that alarm you have goes off every now and then in the dead of night. I don't think it's a prowler, but the local wildlife have been pretty active. Is there a way you can prevent it from going off as loudly as it is?"

He should be mortified. I know I was when I discovered that the alarm system we had in our house in Nashville, was going off and the alarm company called my Mother-in-Law at all hours of the night. Now mind you this was going on YEARS after we had sold the house and deactivated monitoring for the alarm. Mortified.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:18 AM on August 13, 2012

Don't borrow trouble. Assume that the owner will behave responsibility. Write a letter, copy it to the address across the street, and maybe look up the mailing list - the town will have it for tax bills.
Dear neighbor,
You probably don't realize that your home alarm goes off fairly frequently. It went off: 6/17, 12:45 a.m., 6/30, 10:15 p.m., 7/6, 2 a.m., 8/10, 3 a.m. As I'm sure you'll understand, it's disruptive to other neighbors. I hope you can work with the security company to find a resolution. Feel free to contact me at xxx-xxxx for more information. Best, Gordian. etc.

If neighbor is gonna be a jerk, it's not going to matter if he knows your name. Because the alternative is to call the police every. single. time. In my town, the police give you 1 false alarm/year, then you get billed for every false alarm for which they have to visit. It's a common problem, and it's up to the neighbor and the security company to resolve it.
posted by theora55 at 8:20 AM on August 13, 2012

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