A twist on the neighbor-conflict theme
May 9, 2013 2:33 PM   Subscribe

The problems are pretty standard: our next-door neighbors are a mom with four teen-age daughters who seem to thrive on conflict. Their screaming fights and door-slammings keep us awake; their response to polite requests that they not do this have been retaliation (full details inside!). The twist is that we live in a conservative suburb and we are both trans gender, so their social credibility is way higher than ours (in part because of rumors they spread), so it's hard to figure out what action we might take.

When our current neighbors first moved in, I did the friendly thing and brought them a potted plant and welcomed them. The mom in the family thanked me, and (in what now seems a portent) told me that she was glad to be moving into a neighborhood where people were nice to her, instead of her old one where her neighbors were all against her.

I immediately found our new neighbors noisy, but I tried to be sympathetic toward a mother with four tween- and teen-aged girls.

Relations soon deteriorated as I began my gender transition, my partner (now wife), also trans*, moved in, and our neighbors disapproved. They didn't say anything directly, they just gave us the stink-eye, and started spreading rumors about us. We found out about these mostly through our daughter, then 16. She had stopped going to the local school to attend an urban school more accommodating of her disability. When she'd run into old friends from the local school, they were full of concern--all of them had heard from the neighbor girls that she'd stopped attending school because we were keeping her locked in the basement, while were doing unspeakable transsexual kinky things.

Perhaps I should have confronted the mom about this at the time, but I was worried about having CPS called on us, and in a legally and socially insecure place in my gender transition. Instead, we just tried to avoid them. But noise issues kept escalating. All five of them do a lot of screaming and yelling, often while going in or out of the door and slamming it. Their side door is directly under our bedroom window, and has a 1950s heavy metal outer storm door in a heavy metal frame that not only lets out a resounding noise, but a seismic thump of vibration that is virtually guaranteed to wake anyone in our bedroom. It also has a hyperactive automatic door-closing mechanism. From 5 AM when the mom gets up until midnight or later when the eldest daughter comes in, that outer storm door is constantly booming, even when they are not purposefully slamming the main door. We get woken by it all the time.

I thought I could politely and neutrally raise the issue of that storm door, so I left a friendly greeting card mentioning the noise, along with a request that they manually close it gently in the late or wee hours, and/or have the closing mechanism fixed. I attached a package of felt adhesive pads that could serve as a temporary door muffler. The next day, I spoke with the mother when I saw her out in her yard, and she let me stick a couple of the pads onto the door frame, which did dull the boom for a couple of weeks, until someone in her house removed them.

Soon after I sent the card, the mother and eldest daughter both took to standing right under our bedroom window to have loud cellphone conversations. One day my spouse leaned out the window and called down to the girl you was having a loud phone argument to please be quiet, she was trying to sleep, and the girl just narrowed her eyes and yelled up, "Who's gonna make me?" (Like I said, this family seems to thrive on conflict.) My wife wanted to go out and confront her about being rude, but we are both afraid that any direct conflict could lead to the cops being called on us. As my wife gets curb-crawled by our local, not-at-all-trans-friendly police, if she so much as goes out for a walk at night, there's a fair risk that in a direct conflict, my spouse would wind up charged with assault and having to fight not to be held in a men's holding cell.

And the neighbor-mom has already proved that she is willing to use the authorities to cause us trouble. She made a complaint to the local housing inspectors that our fence was leaning precariously into her property. Now, in fact, that fence is one for which I granted an easement to the former owners of her house to build on our side of the property line just a few years ago, and it was leaning a bit in just one corner--no more than the other sides of the fence around her backyard, also built by the prior owner at that time. But she walked around with the inspectors pointing and complaining, and we had to have the fence on that side rebuilt, which cost us over a thousand dollars--difficult for us, as our finances aren't good.

So--our neighbors can use the authorities to cause us trouble, and we can't trust that the authorities will act in our interest. We have in fact called the police a couple of times when the mother was away, and the teens were having loud drinking parties after midnight, and throwing bottles over the fence into our backyard. But we did that anonymously.

The door-slamming and yelling has woken my wife every day now for a long stretch, and it's driving her crazy. So what can we do? Moving is not an option in the short-term, though obviously we'd like to live somewhere less transphobic. Polite requests seem to lead to escalating conflicts. Are there other approaches we might take?
posted by DrMew to Human Relations (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
OK my answer is less grounded in standing up for your rights than it is in keeping you safe and your family intact. I apologise for that in advance.

I would go back over and re-pad the door frame. And I would invest in a whitenoise machine and possibly some good earplugs for the bedroom.

And long term, yeah: move.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:42 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've lived with neighbors like this! Isn't it fun.

Since talking with them is basically out, and calling the cops can only be done when the situation is such that you're not the only one who could have called, then....White noise machine. Earplugs. And squeeze every penny till it screams until you've got enough to get out.

On preview: DarlingBri types faster than I do.

I'm really sorry this is happening. I send you good thoughts. My memail is always open to any rants that need to be written but not actually sent to their intended recipients.
posted by rtha at 2:44 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you their only neighbor? Can you talk with some of the other neighbors and see if you can put up a united front? Other than that, it appears you have four options:

1. Talk to the problem neighbors
2. Talk to the police
3. Move
4. Use earplugs

If 1 doesn't work and 3 isn't possible then it appears you have to do 2 or 4. Anonymous calls are an option (you said you've tried that, but didn't say how well it worked).

On preview: Yup.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:45 PM on May 9, 2013

I'm sure this would constitute trespassing, but I'll suggest in anyhow. The closer on the screen door probably just needs to be adjusted. The adjustment is done by turning a big screw in the end of the cylinder. The process is dead simple and takes a minute or two at most. I'd wait until they were all out somewhere, go over with a screwdriver, and adjust it so it doesn't slam.
posted by jon1270 at 2:50 PM on May 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Their behavior is totally unacceptable, and anyone should be able to complain to the police and get things fixed. But you feel that you can't, so you don't. What if you swap houses for a while with a straight, vanilla couple, someone who could do the complaining for you? Hopefully (a) this would make some changes in their behavior, and (b) it would get their behavior on record with the police. After a few months, move back in, and if their behavior deteriorates, at least the police would have it on record that they had behaved badly in the past, so they'd know that your complaints were legitimate.

It's possible (and awful to imagine) that they're intentionally trying to drive you out. People, as you well know, can be truly hateful, and I am so sorry if this is what you're up against. But if this is the case, you should know, and house swapping would let you find out. The new residents wouldn't see this awful behavior, and the neighbors might even confide in them that that had been their plan all along. If this is their intent, and you're feeling in some danger (emotional danger counts, obviously) then knowing this is important for determining how quickly you move.

Moving might be more feasible if you rent out the house and rent another place at the same time, so you can physically move before having to sell the house.

I am really sorry you're going through this.
posted by Capri at 3:19 PM on May 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Sympathies. No further ideas come to me but there are good ones above, especially the ones to block noise. Then render them invisible in your minds... I think they are getting their jollies by screwing with you and your family. I would give them no satisfaction. You wouldn't engage with vermin, would you? (For what it's worth, I like to think people like this should be moved to a fenced- in area in the middle of no where. They could then torment each other to their stony hearts' content.)
posted by Lornalulu at 3:45 PM on May 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am so sorry about these horrible people. Others have covered your (sadly limited) options about the noise, but I came to suggest that you reach out to trans advocacy organizations, particularly with respect to what you can do about folks using the authorities to harass you and your wife. Here is a map with a list of some organizations. If your state doesn't have one listed, surely one in your region would be able to point you in the right direction.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 4:46 PM on May 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

I once had a horrid neighbor who made life miserable for the entire household . I went through public records online and found out that he was not the owner of the house - that he was renting. I contacted the renter and informed him of the troubles as well as some things that the neighbor was doing that significantly harmed his property. In six weeks that neighbor was gone.

Find out if they are renting. Put pressure on the owner if so.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 4:53 PM on May 9, 2013 [15 favorites]

Lots of good advice above.

Is there any neighborhood institution or community organization that the mother belongs to that you may be able to make use of? Is there a church that you could join or a volunteer organization you could participate in? Maybe if you or your wife could have some interactions with the parent that are in a different context the relationship would improve. Or if you can build relationships with people who are important to her, she may not want to embarrass herself with openly hostile behavior.
posted by bq at 5:12 PM on May 9, 2013

This is a matter for the police, and you need to have your rights protected. Your profile says you're located in Milwaukee. Is there an LGBT rights group that you could contact to either lead you to some resources or could advocate for you with your local precinct?
posted by greta simone at 6:47 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry!

You mention the area is transphobic, so this may not work, but once when I had a crazy neighbor, I remember that my first instinct was to do a lot of yard work and gardening. It was partially not wanting to be cowed, and to be visible doing positive things that made me happy, but it also became an excuse to see other neighbors. That reassured me that I hadn't become a pariah. And after we were on "is Doggy feeling better today?" terms, I started in with a little "hey, what do you know about the women who live here?" and "maybe you have a little advice for me..." I heard THEIR stories about that house and felt less alone with the problem.

Your situation may not make this possible, but good luck however you decide to handle this.
posted by salvia at 8:15 PM on May 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Are there any other neighbors who are sympathetic and who would have more luck with the police? If so, maybe make friends with them and make a deal where you call the neighbor-friends and they call the cops on the neighbor-enemies for you.

One thing I have had luck with in deadening noise from below is padding the spot where the bed legs meet the floor-- say, put some cardboard squares and a folded towel under each leg of the bed frame. Rugs might also help. This may depend on your setup for how well it works, though. A nice tightly-paned/storm sealed window might deaden conversation from below, too, if you can replace that window.

Good luck.
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:36 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, man, I'm never the one to suggest the passive solutions in situations like this, but...maybe you could move your bed to another room on the other side of the house for the time being, so that you can at least get some sleep while you're figuring out what to do about your crazy aggro neighbors.
posted by desuetude at 11:02 PM on May 9, 2013

I'm sure this would constitute trespassing, but I'll suggest in anyhow.

It IS really simple to adjust a screen door, and probably wouldn't take much time at all, but I really would suggest NOT trespassing, even if it's for the purposes of making improvements. The last thing you want is for the neighbors to call the cops because you were lurking around their door with a screwdriver. You really need to make sure that you're legally impeccable in this situation, as it's a possibility these neighbors will use any resources to make things difficult for you.
posted by dubold at 1:15 AM on May 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Typically people who behave this badly have no stake in the neighborhood, so I'm guessing they are renters despite your "previous owner" statement. You absolutely need to inform the landlord if they are. It may, however, be circumspect for you to do this through an attorney.

I'm really surprised you let yourself be cowed into spending $1000 on a property-line fence, which (usually) technically is only half yours. These people may have found you to be an easy target given your reluctance to handle conflict judiciously (which you obviously feel is for good reason, but has left you in a difficult situation).

But I think it's really important that you assert your rights and build a record of responsibly reporting illegal behavior such as disturbing the peace. If you are in Milwaukee, there's an LGBT liaison [LI] at the police department.

Believe me, you're not unique just because you're trans. I've dealt with problem neighbors, including a set of noisy, nuisance-producing, gang-attracting and drug-dealing neighbors that the landlord refused to act on for 16 months. I called about many things worse than you've experienced ... the list goes on. Eventually the landlord had to respond to the police through a city nuisance ordinance. Find out what your mechanism is, and don't be afraid to contact elected officials and others to ask them how the problem should be handled. Yes, I feared being seen as a crank and even as a racist, and so I formulated my 911 calls to be as sober and factual as possible.

Sure, they're going to get mad at you. But the cat's out of the bag -- they know you hate them. I suppose it's easy for me, a white straight male, to say that you shouldn't be afraid of the cops, but the thing is, in a conflict, they really are not looking to arrest the people who are quietly asking for peace and quiet while someone else is pulling a reality-TV freakout next door. Also, people who tell lies about you become known as liars. I hope you can overcome your fears to handle this situation.
posted by dhartung at 2:32 AM on May 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

They called code compliance on you. Code compliance is waaaay different from cops who like busting underage drinking parties.

Keep doing what you're doing and keep calling the cops for noise violations.

I gather you own so picking up and moving at the end of a lease is probably not an option. Do you know if they neighbors rent or lease? If they lease, document, document, document to their landlord.
posted by mibo at 6:29 AM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Let's just get one thing straight. I'm an asshole.

For people having loud cell phone conversations under your window. An ewer of water poured out the window may have the desired effect. (Or a squirt from a high pressure hose hooked up to the bathroom taps.)

For loud noises at night, I'd retaliate by getting an airhorn and I'd blow it at random hours of the night.

Basically, I'd escallate the entanglement and I'd be better at it than they are. But I'm an evil genius and don't have anything to lose.

On the other side of the coin is a total de-escallation of hostilities. Ignore the neighbors as much as possible, figure out ways to abate the disruption as much as possible on your end, and move as soon as it's economically possible.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:49 AM on May 10, 2013

Seconding greta simone on reaching out to LGBT groups. I'm a fellow Milwaukeean and UW-Milwaukee (where I'm a student) is actually known for being an extremely LGBT-friendly campus. You could try reaching out to the LGBT Resource Center and seeing what they have to offer - at the very least they should be able to lead you to other community organizations that could offer support. You have a right to feel safe in your own home, full stop. Hope this gets better soon for you!
posted by augustimagination at 8:53 AM on May 10, 2013

Just wanted to chime in about the fact that you are most likely not the only neighbor who has had issues with them. Have you been able to talk to the people who live on the other side of them? I understand you might not feel like your family has a ton of credibility in the neighborhood because of your gender transition, but if you get to know people individually you might find that people are less closed-minded than they may seem when in a group setting. (I look and dress very conservatively, but my appearance doesn't really match my point of view and openness.) Anyway, these people may be starting rumors, but chances are people will see right through that and realize that they are liars and will eventually stop listening. (Don't worry about what the teens are saying, teens just like to gossip and it probably doesn't reflect the view of the adults you know.)
I know you are hesitant to call the police, but if they are actually making a lot of noise and you can prove it, there are probably other people who would be willing to back you up and given enough complaints, the police will have to listen. Document everything, and in the meantime, yes, earplugs. Don't bother talking or engage them at all, clearly they are not reasonable. Good luck :)
posted by photoexplorer at 11:36 AM on May 10, 2013

« Older How to fairly split revenue (if any) on sales of a...   |   "Activity" places for a bachelor party in NYC Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.