Neighbors burning despite being asked not to
July 12, 2013 8:37 AM   Subscribe

I'm having a problem with my neighbors and I need your advice. They keep having fires even though the smoke is harmful to my mom's health.

Last Friday night, July 5th, my neighbors (and I thought friends) of 20 years were setting off fireworks. My dad, who was in Vietnam, had a flashback and later said "all he knew was that he wanted the sound to stop." Without talking to me or my mom, he went over and told the neighbors that "this immature bullshit has to stop" and also, to move the cars their company had parked on our lawn without asking permission. The first I found out about it was when our doorbell rang apparently seconds after my dad got back, and the father of the family next door lit into my dad about how he doesn't give us crap about the weeds in our yard.

There is a previous issue with this family that has come to a head and since last Friday, has become another fighting point with heated exchanges. My mom lost her lung to cancer two years ago (she never smoked) and is extremely sensitive to the air quality. The neighbors like to have small fires in their firepit several times a week. Last summer I told them how their fires were affecting my mom, and I reiterated it a couple of weeks ago since it's gotten worse - causing her to need nebulizer treatments every hour instead of every 6 hours, the low oxygen making her sleep more, etc. I have also brought it up several times this year. They do not seem to care and have kept having fires.

Open burning of garbage and debris in our county is illegal and I did point that out. They point out there is an exception in the law for small ceremonial bonfires under 2 feet across, using clean wood, which their firepit probably does fall into, but the law also seems to state that exception isn't valid if the fire is a threat to public health. (They are also not burning for any kind of ceremony.) You can read the law here (warning: PDF) from the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management. (Also, although they mostly burn clean wood, I have seen them repeatedly throw pieces of trash into the fire pit... small cardboard boxes, paper plates, etc.)

Wednesday night they had a fire and my mom became severely short of breath. I wasn't sure it was them who was burning because I can't see into their backyard from mine. I tweeted about calling the Indiana Dept of Environmental Management. I also tweeted and asked for nontoxic weedkiller recommendations per their comments about our weeds. Yesterday morning at 8am I got a voicemail from the mother of the family saying that her son had seen my tweets and that any and all tweets about their family needed to stop immediately. I don't want to take my Twitter private because it breaks certain Twitter features. So despite being blocked, they are apparently logging out to read my feed. (And yes, given that my feed is public, I'm not surprised and I know I can't stop them. I don't really care.) The thing is, what are they going to report me for? There's no identifying information and I don't think these tweets constituted harassment. I never used any names - the most identifying piece of info I used was "neighbors" and except for them, ALL of my twitter friends are internet-only friends.

So. How do I rationally get them to stop the burning? I would like to not resort to the police. I could, but I don't want to seem like the mean person here... though I am hurt that 20 years of goodwill has been thrown away over all this. I had a long letter written explaining in detail exactly how their smoke affects my mom and asking them to please reconsider having fires. Another Mefite said I sounded too apologetic, suggested I should just simply state the facts, what I will do and what they could be charged with for harming my mom, and suggested I ask Mefi. What should I say to minimize hostility?

Also, do I really need to worry about what I tweeted? I don't want them making counter-accusations of harassment.
posted by IndigoRain to Human Relations (54 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would like to not resort to the police.

You've just discounted your only option.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:41 AM on July 12, 2013 [21 favorites]

Best answer: I wouldn't worry about the tweets at all, there's no Twitter police and you didn't mention names. I do think you should call the police- there is no reason to handle this escalating issue all by yourself, it's time to bring in the professionals. That is what they're there for. Who cares about being "mean"? Being able to breathe properly is a lot more important.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:41 AM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You definitely need to move immediately to formal avenues - police and lawyers. You tried to handle this informally and in a neighborly fashion - that's good! But it failed. So now you go on to formal paths.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:42 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would like to not resort to the police. I could, but I don't want to seem like the mean person here...

You have asked them not to do something and given them particular reasons why you don't want them to do it. By disregarding your reasonable request, they are being the mean people here. Call the police. If the police tell you that the exceptions to the law allow your neighbors to keep having fires, then your options become "Move" and "Suffer."
posted by Etrigan at 8:49 AM on July 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

I don't get why you're tweeting about this. Your weeds have nothing to do with health issues exacerbated by their firepit. By tweeting about weed killer you're telling them that they are affecting you, that you also buy into the tit-for-tat neighbor complaints being equal. They're not. So there seem to be two issues at play here - the legal question about the firepit and the crummy neighbor question.

I'd talk to a lawyer and/or the police (non-emergency) about it to find out if what they're doing is legal. They're crummy neighbors but you may find that their particular crummy neighbor behaviors aren't illegal. (Their firepit as you describe it sounds legal to me but IANAL.)

You will have to abide by whatever the legal outcome is, but you don't have to play crummy neighbor games. You can move, or close your windows, or at the very least not engage in negative back-and-forth with them in person or online.
posted by headnsouth at 8:56 AM on July 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

This is a very unfortunate situation but I don't see where police and/or lawyers will help. You're both being bad neighbours, and now there's a bad situation. But nobody is doing anything illegal.

Your parents' health problems are not your neighbours' problems. Ideally, yes, everybody would have a little more consideration, but from the sounds of it things between you are so bad that that is unlikely to happen.

Much of this is ridiculous to an outside observer. You told them that burning garbage is illegal, because: they are using a small fire pit? You took to Twitter to air your grievances about them?

I realise it must be painful and unpleasant to see your parents' health issues exacerbated, but the neighbours have a right to reasonable enjoyment of their own property, and that includes parties and regular use of a fire pit.

(Other answerers should read the linked page; it is not ambiguous. "Indiana allows burning of clean wood products and charcoal for the following types of fires. Recreational or ceremonial fires: These include campfires and bonfires")

The options are to move or to do your best to suck up and make nice and try to repair the relationship with the neighbours. Which may not work as it sounds as though things have gone pretty far, but maybe a city councillor could suggest a mediation service? I really cannot stress enough that any objective observer is going to see both of you as having behaved badly. Harassing somebody for their fire pit is not a reasonable way to engage to improve the situation for all concerned.
posted by kmennie at 8:58 AM on July 12, 2013 [71 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with the other posters here with the following, admittedly pedantic, nitpick.

then your options become "Move" and "Suffer."

or petition to the local city council/whathaveyou for a change to the law. That or get media invovled... both of those are moonshot responses though. Not realistic in my opinion.

Consult the police (use their non-emergency number) and/or a lawyer and look into household solutions to tighten up your building's envelope and improve the air quality inside are all you can do.

I'd say the Tweets are a red herring. That said, I'd stop tweeting about this and instead keep a log book of the days where you have issues. One helps your case should it come to a court of law, the other could possibly be used against you.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:58 AM on July 12, 2013

Best answer: Consult an attorney regarding the law of nuisance in your jurisdiction.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:59 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've had a neighbor freak out about minor bullshit after I asked them (politely) to stop doing something really irritating. I think it's a natural reaction to being asked to stop something (fireworks, parking on your lawn, constant fires) -- "But your weeds are JUST AS BAD!!!!!" However, escalating things (by Tweeting, etc.) will likely make it worse.

As far as "rubbish burning" goes, this doesn't sound like the kind of thing IDEM would generally get involved in -- when they say they enforce burning rubbish, they mean things like tire fires, not a couple paper plates. HOWEVER, this may be the kind of thing your local fire department cares about -- maybe call their non-emergency line and ask to talk to someone about it? It may in fact be totally legal in your county (or officially illegal but basically impossible to enforce), but you need to call to talk to someone to find out.

Also, have you already gotten your mother a sturdy (and doctor-approved, there are different types and some may be better than others) air purifier? If not, add that to the mix. That can be a huge help in this kind of situation. It sounds like the issue is most likely the particulate matter from the fires, and keeping her in one room with an air purifier would be a HUGE help on that. (Yes, it's unfair that you have to do this, but.)
posted by pie ninja at 9:00 AM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Right. What you want to do is talk to the police (or whoever) and find out what ground you stand on. After you know what's legal and what's not legal (which right now you don't), you can decide what to do. A standoff with your neighbors in which you believe what they're doing is illegal and they believe what they're doing is legal helps nobody. The first step to deciding between your options is to research your options. It's not written in absolutes -- there's language that prohibits otherwise legal open burning in certain circumstances; looks like maybe nuisance as well as public health.

Finding out what your rights are isn't mean. Find out what's legal and what's not, and then decide.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:01 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It really sucks for your mom, but unless they are breaking the law with the size or fuel content of their backyard bonfires, I don't think the police are going to be able to do anything either. You might get some insight by searching for previous questions about how to handle noisy neighbors. There's a certain level of reasonable accommodations a person can expect from their neighbors (no loud music out the windows at 3am, no huge trash fires), but asking them to entirely stop using part of their home/yard doesn't seem very reasonable.

Do you guys keep the windows closed at your house? Have you tried getting the extra-filtery filters for your furnace/air system? Do you have HEPA filters running in your mom's bedroom? I can't help wondering if there might be ways to keep their campfire smoke out of your house, and I would imagine that they expect you to make those changes rather than asking them to change their behavior for your mom's benefit.
posted by vytae at 9:01 AM on July 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I agree that since the (semi-)amicable approach seems to have failed you need to bring in the authorities. You and I can read the laws all day long, but the only thing that matters is how the local authorities interpret the law and whether they enforce it. The long PDF from the statewide site you linked to doesn't seem to outright prohibit small recreational fires such as those in a firepit at all, and it is probably much more important to know what your local jurisdiction's laws are, how they interpret "threat to public health", and so on.

That said, you are free to tweet whatever the hell you want, but I'd argue are, so to speak, adding fuel to the fire by tweeting about your neighbor's burning practices. I doubt there's anything illegal about you tweeting that your neighbors are burning in their firepit and it's making your mom sick--so when they say you must cease and desist, they're probably blowing smoke out their asses :-).

But it's always a good idea to ask yourself: what do I hope to accomplish by this action? Why would you tweet about calling the Environmental Dept. instead of just calling them? To me this falls into the same category as what your neighbors are doing: I am within my rights, and therefore I am going to do what I want regardless of whether it is the polite, neighborly, high-road response to the situation. I can see why you might feel like you were pushed into taking that approach, but as they say, when you roll around in the mud with a pig, you both get dirty and only the pig is having any fun.
posted by drlith at 9:05 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I can't say what your approach to the neighbors should be -- I don't know the ins and outs of how this has been handled so far, and how people's feeling got hurt, moments of escalation, etc. (I often find it helpful, when a family member has had a confrontation with a neighbor, to go to the neighbor and ask "What happened?!" Rather than approaching the neighbor with a reiteration of the family member's anger/agenda/hurt feelings/etc. because that approach has already not worked and is more of the same.)

But I think it's worth mentioning the issue to your mother's doctor, and calling the county health department. You never know what kind of creative solutions they might come up with.

In terms of the health department, you're looking for their assistance and brainstorming (it's less effective to just start asking if there is some regulation that can be a mighty mediator of justice -- there probably isnt.)

You could also ask your neighbors "can you give us a heads up when you're planning to shoot off fireworks?" If there is a way your dad can anticipate it and leave the house, that could help your dad.

Same thing for fires. "Could you let us know ahead of time? My mom's living out her final years, recovering from lung problems, and I'd like her to breathe as easily as possible." She may not be able to leave easily -- but that's only the obvious reason you're asking. The other side of it is that if they agree to notify you, it might create a bit of self- reflection. They might think "gee, we DO have a lot of fires."

At this point, there probably needs to be some show of humility on both sides. Not sure that's possible...
posted by vitabellosi at 9:07 AM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

I sympathize with your family here, and the requests your making are reasonable. However, I'm just going to take a minute to look at it from their side. I don't know if fireworks are legal in your state, but if so, they were observing a perfectly normal holiday tradition, and your dad came over and reamed them out in the middle of their party. You've been neighbors with them for many years. Is this the first time they've set off fireworks? Is it the first time your dad has snapped this way? You don't mention any history, so I'm assuming they didn't see it coming, and likely they were shocked and embarrassed. That doesn't excuse all their behavior, but it does set a tone.

Now, I understand why you're asking them not to use their firepit. Clean air is really important to your mom's health (and likely her health situation explains some of your dad's stress right now). But your request does involve a sacrifice from your neighbors. It's really nice to spend an evening around an outdoor fire. It's summer now, so it's prime season. They may be reluctant to agree to never use their fire pit again. As long as they're burning clean wood, they're within their legal rights.

Are there any compromises possible? Can you get better seals on your windows? A more powerful air filter? Your mom's needs go above and beyond the norm, so if you can go partway to meeting her needs, then maybe they'd be willing to cut back and just have first X times/week.

Can you reach out to them and say something like, "Look, we've been friends and neighbors a long time. I've always liked your family. I know things have been really tense lately. My father was out of line on the 4th of July, and I apologize for that. As you know, my mother's very sick right now, and I'm trying to do whatever I can to help her feel well. We've done X, Y, ans Z in our house to filter the air and make it easier for her to breathe. Would you consider doing A, B, or C on your end to help out?" In other words, try to mend the fence. Maybe a plate of muffins of cookies could help here.

You're well within your rights to call the police, but honestly, they're not going to race out there every single time your neighbors build a fire, so it may not end up being the most effective way to handle the situation.
posted by pompelmo at 9:10 AM on July 12, 2013 [32 favorites]

Have you tried to get them to do anything other than totally stop the fires? Why don't you go over and say, "Listen, sorry about all the drama the past week or two. July 4th just isn't a fun holiday for my family for a variety of reasons. Now that fireworks season is over and guests are gone everything is back to normal but, man, that fire pit is really causing problems for my mom. Is there anyway we can convince you to use it 2 times a week until things get back to usual. Like Thursday and Saturday? Or give us a heads up so we can get mom into a better room to deal with the smoke? It'd be a huge help. If you have other ideas, we'll take 'em. We've tried X, Y, and Z but the smoke is really doing a number on her. Oh, we're trying to deal with some of the weeds by mowing more often and looking at other non-toxic options. Have any tips? Your lawn has always looked nice." My attempt would be to just do my best to forget about what's happened in the past with them and just pretend you're back to normal.

And I feel awful saying this but I really enjoy spending evenings out by my small fire pit and use it regularly. I occasionally use paper/cardboard to get the fire started. I would be reluctant to totally stop even if one of my neighbors came over and said that my smoke was exacerbating a relative's existing health issues. I would, however, be willing to agree to doing it only once or twice a week. Maybe a weekend evening and a weeknight. Or I'd be willing to give the neighbor a head's up earlier in the day so they'd have time to close their windows. (I live in an area where no one has AC so closing windows would suck for them.)
posted by adorap0621 at 9:12 AM on July 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

It's worth noting that according to the OP, the fireworks happened on the FIFTH of July, not the Fourth. I have a kid with noise issues, and we grin and bear it on the 4th, but before / after? Hell no, that's not OK.

OP, I agree with everyone above. Stop tweeting about it; keep a log book, and call the police and ask for help. If there is an exemption in the law for "public health" then you are definitely not out of line, regardless of how attached the neighbors might be to their fires.
posted by KathrynT at 9:14 AM on July 12, 2013

Best answer: You might call your police department's non-emergency number to talk to an officer (if you have Community Policing, try them first) about the problem and get their sense of how they'd handle it and what they'd suggest. A ticket, or a visit from a soft-spoken officer may be more effective than a 911 call, for example.
posted by Riverine at 9:21 AM on July 12, 2013

the law also seems to state that exception isn't valid if the fire is a threat to public health.

One's person's health is not one person's health. If I come to work with a cold and infect some coworkers, that is not a public health issue. If I dump pathogens into the municipal water supply, that is a public health issue.

A lot of this is going to depend on your local laws, which you have diligently researched. However, if the fires themselves are lawful, it is hard for me to see how the smoke is somehow unlawful. I think the complaint about the fireworks noise is a non-starter.

I think the incident where you were in the right was the trespass of other cars on your property. But, those cars are gone now.

What you hoped to accomplish with Twitter is beyond me.

For your remedy, if you see them engaged in an unlawful fire that is burning trash or something beyond legal clean wood, report that when it happens. After a few visits from the authorities, the city might start imposing more severe penalties.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:25 AM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

No point in calling the police, since what they're doing isn't illegal. Everyone saying that you should apologize for your behaviour and for your dad's behaviour and ask for help in managing your mother's condition is correct.
posted by AmandaA at 9:27 AM on July 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: This sounds unfortunate, and I'm sorry to hear it is causing your family difficulty.

However, 1- It is unlikely that calling the police or a lawyer will have any impact on the situation other than further pissing them off, 2- There is 0 probability that tweeting/publicly complaining about your neighbors will have any impact other than further pissing them off, and so therefore 3- The best course is to de-escalate. This is not worth the stress and aggravation on you or your family to fight a losing battle.

I'd even go so far as to suggest trying to reconcile with your neighbors, perhaps bringing them a small gift as an olive branch. At the worst, you'll have more pleasant interactions with them when you run into them, and since we know that being mean to them doesn't work in achieving your desired outcome, it's worth a shot to see if being nice does.
posted by deadweightloss at 9:37 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I wouldn't get involved. Let your parents handle this. If your mom is bothered by the smoke, let her or your father call somebody.

If you had 20 years of goodwill I wouldn't tweet about them. If you're good neighbors you understand that there will be the occasional party with parking on your property.
posted by Fairchild at 9:43 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Since the 4th of July was on a workday and the 5th was a Friday, it makes perfect sense to me that they'd have a party on the 5th. A lot of people did here, too.

I agree with everyone that you're making your family's problems their problems. It isn't their problem that your dad has PTSD or your mom has health issues. Sure, they could be super accommodating and give in to your demands, but they don't have to. It is their home and they're allowed to have a good life there.

To them, you all seem like this weird family who is harassing them and then cyber bullying them. Don't do that anymore.

I will argue that you shouldn't extend the olive branch just yet. Work on making your parent's lives more comfortable & able to cope and becoming less "victims of our terrible neighbors!!!"
posted by haplesschild at 9:43 AM on July 12, 2013 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Frankly, you should not only call the police but the EPA, which handles stationary fire sources. If their fires are closer to your house than the federal guidelines permit, heavy fines will be levied unless they convince the agent they'll never do it again, and he/she is in a good mood.

Since you can call the EPA again, they'd better obey.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:52 AM on July 12, 2013

You are both being ridiculous about this. Telling your neighbors that "this immature bullshit has to stop" is not a good way to open up a dialogue about being reasonably good neighbors. When you approach a problem with insults, of course they are going to respond in kind. And going to Twitter? What? Look, this just isn't a good way of pragmatically getting the results you want. You've got to just be nicer about the whole thing. When both parties just get all emotional and start playing the "here's everything wrong about you as a neighbor" game, very little practical good is going to be accomplished.

They aren't doing anything illegal. They have a right to have a fire. That said, they probably aren't completely awful people that want your mother to suffer. You've got to go over there, apologize, and try to have a good faith discussion about how you can both reach a sort of solution.

Ideally, they will understand that your mom suffers lung issues, so maybe they can reduce the number of fires they have and let you know when they are going to have them so maybe your mom can go catch a movie or something on those nights. You can also do things to prevent the smoke from entering your home or filter the air and such. You can ask them to make sure to burn clean woods and be considerate about the size and length of their fires.

Living next to people is all about balancing your freedom to do things and your freedom from being subjected to things. So it ever was. The police or lawyers are probably going to just make the situation worse - make everyone angrier and more resentful with very little practical outcomes at the end of it. Metafilter tends to be a litigious bunch, but I have found that jumping to lawyer when it comes to neighbor issues very rarely accomplishes what you want and makes both of your lives rather hellish. You've got to work it out somehow, or you've got to move.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:58 AM on July 12, 2013 [12 favorites]

It sounds like what you're talking about is wanting (perhaps needing) a favor from your neighbors. Of course they should, from a moral standpoint, not endanger your mom's health if they can help it, but from a legal standpoint, I think you're looking at asking them for a favor. And people generally don't do favors for neighbors who antagonize them.

From your neighbors' perspective: the family next door doesn't bother to take care of their yard, but the dad storms over in a huff when they set off some fireworks on a Friday evening, the day after July 4th--and he doesn't just complain about the noise of the fireworks, he hassles them about letting their guests park their cars. And then this same neighbor family has the gall to expect them not to use their own backyard fire pit in the summer (which is likely something they really enjoy doing). And then, one of the neighbors goes on Twitter to make passive aggressive complaints about them.

It doesn't sound like they know about your dad's PTSD, so as far as they're concerned, he's just a cranky guy who's rude to them. And as ungracious as their comment about the weeds was, your Tweet(s) certainly didn't help anything (exactly who complained about your lawn has nothing to do with what kind of weed killer you need, but I think you knew that).

So, unless there's some legal way to force them to comply (or, frankly, even if there is), I think you need to approach this very differently. Go over and apologize. Bring a peace offering of some kind, like cookies or flowers. Say that your family hasn't been acting its best lately, and you want to find a way to make a fresh start. Find a way to address your dad's inappropriate behavior (either by explaining the background or having him talk to them). Apologize for being passive aggressive. Explain that the big stress on your family these days is your mom's health, and exactly what she needs. Offer to negotiate with them--is your mom traveling at all this summer? Maybe they could hold off on having fires until then. Or, perhaps your mom has a weekly activity/outing that they could time their fires to coincide with. You need to understand that your request, as reasonable as it is in terms of your mom's health, is going to impose on them pretty significantly. Proceed with humility.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:00 AM on July 12, 2013 [14 favorites]

Look up [Your Town] and Indiana plus "burn permit." Often they have further regulations, and for instance, if you read Auburn's regulations, they say don't be a nuisance and if someone calls the police or fire dept they will ask them to extinguish it. As well as requiring a burn permit and inspection, must be 50 feet away from a dwelling, etc.

So maybe call your fire dept. and explain the situation and ask if there's anything to be done.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 10:10 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would leave them a note apologizing for the tweets and saying that you would like to resolve it because you feel scared for your mom's safety. I would offer to fix the weeds and do anything else that would make them more comfortable, including buying them a backyard gas girl or something that they could enjoy instead of the fire pit. I would acknowledge that they are totally free to use the fire pit legally. I would say "Regardless of how whether you like my parents or not, I hope you will consider not using the fire pit anymore, as it really genuinely endangers her health and I know you are good people who do not want to hurt anyone."

Jerks always win the Biggest Jerk Competition. If you want to Win, call a lawyer. If you want peace and your mom to be safe, give up.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:16 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

...the requests your making are reasonable.

The only request mentioned in the question was embedded in a letter that hasn't been sent. What the OP has apparently done so far is to tell the neighbors that the fires were causing his mom problems, and then repeatedly threaten them and engage in public shaming. Nowhere does he indicate that he's ever said, "Could you possibly," let alone "Please."

OP, your dad acted like a jerk, albeit for understandable reasons. Since then you've been acting like a jerk. Stop being a jerk. Make nice. Take your neighbors a tray of cookies or a case of their favorite fireside beer. After you've made nice, discuss your mom's problem like a grown-up and ASK for their help.
posted by jon1270 at 10:42 AM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your requests are completely unreasonable. Your neighbors have the right to use the fire pit - unless you're leaving out information that they're, for example, burning tires - and a lot of people had fireworks on July 5th because it was a Friday after a holiday.

I have several family members with breathing issues, some severe. They take great pains to filter the air in their living space and manage their own health conditions. Asking your neighbors to modify their behavior should be a last resort.

And you're weirded out that they're reading your tweets? Jeeze, man.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:03 AM on July 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

You are pissing into the wind thinking you will ever get your neighbor to change their behavior. The only decision you really have now is how much of a pissing contest do you want to get into before you ultimately lose. Otherwise, close your windows, get an air conditioner and air purifier or move on.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:12 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your parents' neighbors sound very irritating - loud parties and creating fires that emit noxious fumes. To me, it's rude to set off loud fireworks outside of the actual July 4th holiday, park cars on your neighbors' lawn, or create fires where the fumes can get into someone else's house.

I'm not a lawyer nor do I know the laws in your state, but there's a decent chance they aren't breaking any laws. This leaves the onus on your parents to move somewhere more pleasant. It's not your neighbors' fault your father has PTSD. If he is stressed out about fireworks, he should probably go somewhere quieter during the holiday or listen to music with headphones. Likewise, your mom should take steps to protect her lungs - keeping the windows closed, using appropriate furnace filters, etc.

Given your parents' health issues, moving seems like the best option. Perhaps they could move to a retirement or other planned community where these types of disruptions aren't allowed.
posted by parakeetdog at 11:14 AM on July 12, 2013

Response by poster: Some clarification:

I don't defend what my dad did AT ALL. I agree he was completely antagonistic. The fireworks aren't really the issue here... he's heard plenty of fireworks before and not reacted. It was just a bad night. The fireworks were not bothering my mom and I at all.

The fires have been going on since last summer. The issue is that since my dad went over there, they've been bringing up other things, screaming and fussing about how dare we ask them not to have fires.

We have, in fact, several, several times politely asked could they please consider not having fires and explaining what it does to my mom. The issue is that the effects of the smoke on her are getting WORSE. And yes, this is with the house completely sealed up. We keep the doors and windows closed at all times unless we're leaving the house and have to open the door. Wednesday night my mom was having trouble breathing to the point I was near calling an ambulance. It was my impression that knowingly inflicting bodily harm on another person through your actions is assault and/or battery.

My parents can't afford to move.

How this all started on Twitter: Immediately after my dad went over there, the adult children (21 and 18) started tweeting "that was bullshit!" and "you're fucking kidding me right?" Just in general, not in an at-reply to me. I said to them that that was uncalled for. They took their accounts private so I blocked them so they were no longer following me. Again, when I tweeted I had no idea who was having the fire, and was also asking for weedkiller recommendations.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:29 AM on July 12, 2013

Response by poster: On re-reading the thread, several of you suggest taking my mom out of the house on nights when they have fires. This is impractical. In the house, her oxygen is made by a concentrator, and she's on 3 liters continuous flow. When we go out, we have to take portable tanks that, instead of offering continuous flow at 3 liters, offers puffs each time she inhales, and she doesn't do as well on these. Her body thinks she isn't going to get the air and makes her hyperventilate. We did recently get her a portable nebulizer so she can stay out more than the 6 hours between her doses, but we are still rarely out even that long. My mom almost never leaves the house except for doctors' appointments. It's a rare day she even feels well enough to go out for a ride in the car or a walk around a very small store.

Again, I just want to reiterate that the fireworks and parking are not the issue here, they just brought everything to a head when my dad overreacted to them.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:42 AM on July 12, 2013

OK, well, you can be right, or you can take care of this problem and get what you need done, done. If the legal avenues work out, then fine. If they don't, then basically you need to ask the neighbors for a favor. A nice person would probably be willing to change their habits a little to help a neighbor with a health condition. But to ask for a favor, I think you need to apologize-- an unqualified apology-- for your part in all of this. Going on about who started shit on Twitter is extremely counter-productive.
posted by BibiRose at 11:45 AM on July 12, 2013

It was my impression that knowingly inflicting bodily harm on another person through your actions is assault and/or battery.

As much as we all sympathize because this does not extend into infinity however. Take the hypothetical that if someone, in this case your mom, was so sensitive to the air quality that the exhaust from a passing car made them violently ill. Would it be fair to ask that the street be closed? Or, since a street is [usually] a public rather than a private variable, what if the hypothetical medically sensitive person was deathly allergic to dogs? To the point where a dog within 100 yards of him/her was likely to cause them to need medical care. Would it be fair to ask/require neighbors to give up dogs? I guess to some it would make sense, but it doesn't seem as open and shut as your attempting to portray it as.

I mean, comparing a fire pit in a backyard to assault and/or battery is a bit much. This isn't to say that they may not be violating some ordinance somehow, though the opinion, based on what we know, seems to be that's unlikely because, as Tanziki said, just because it's harming someone doesn't mean it's a public safety risk worthy of restriction/punishment.

This really sucks for you and your mom and dad, maybe look into writing up what you've posted here concerning the seriousness of her medical condition in a letter to your neighbors. Goodwill is going to be the currency of the realm in this situation.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:46 AM on July 12, 2013 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Start with an extremely genuine and remorseful, hat in hand apology for the fireworks situation. Not in the context of asking them for anything regarding the fires, just a real, in-person apology, full stop.

Delete any previous tweets you made about the situation and make no more in the future, ever.

Try to undo the harm that your family did, and see if that de-escalates the situation.

Then maybe in a few weeks you'll have more room to courteously talk to them about how they could keep having the fires but possibly minimize the impact on your mom -- is there somewhere else on the property the fire pit could be, could they watch the prevailing winds and aim to have fires on nights when they're blowing away from your house, etc.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:58 AM on July 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

Other than calling police or some other authority figure/ask to find out the legality of their fire pit or moving, your only other option is to hire someone to come in and seal up the house even better than you think you have it sealed - a professional. And I have no idea what type of professional that is or how much it will cost. Invest in those improvements unless it turns out it's cheaper to move (and maybe rent out the place until mom passes?). In the meantime, apologize sincerely. Look for realistic options like those that jacquilynne mentioned (location change, wind awareness, decrease in frequency or providing warnings).

You know you cannot force them to stop enjoying their outdoor space in a perfectly legal manner. You can ask them to stop or reduce it as a favor (in return for what? - you need to figure that out) but it's unrealistic that they'll stop. And not because they are total jerks but because it's their house and a way for them to relax on glorious summer nights. Your mom is incredibly unwell - even without the fires she's struggling - and that sucks greatly and must be tough on your entire family.
posted by adorap0621 at 12:12 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sucks that your mom suffers but you have to stop seeing it as everyone's problem. You said that you asked nicely but it's obvious you expected them to stop the fires immediately which implies that you weren't really asking them to stop - you were demanding it.

People hate being told what to do, and even more when it has to do with their own belongings. You are essentially telling them what they are allowed and not allowed to do in their own backyard. I think you need to compromise here by asking if they could reduce the frequency as a favour to you and you could do something for them in return.

And if they say no or no changes occur, stop harassing them. They made their decision, they suck but going over there to antagonize them won't help.

Definitely look into the actual legality of their fire pit in greater detail, but if it's legal, your family has to stop bothering them.
posted by cyml at 12:27 PM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think you are too close to, too upset by, your mother's health issues to be able to make objective sense of what is going on.

"That was bullshit!" from somebody in their late teens/early 20s is a predictable, not wholly unreasonable, reaction to "this immature bullshit has to stop" over a party with fireworks on a holiday weekend. Choosing to escalate at that point was an inexplicable call.

Apparently your mom is pretty ill. It must be horribly stressful. But it is never going to be your neighbours' problem.

Given the added detail about the severity of her condition and 'can't afford to move,' perhaps you want to be talking to whomever coordinates her health care. One would hope the physician managing the breathing problems would have a referral to social service agencies that could deal with looking into the fire pit issue (though how it works in your area seems extremely unambiguous; you have completely misread the "ceremonial" part, and small recreational fires are allowed, full stop) for you and also hopefully deal with looking into financial aid so your mother at least has moving as an option available to her.

It was my impression that knowingly inflicting bodily harm on another person through your actions is assault and/or battery.

My guess is that if you floated that line of thinking by your neighbours they would be appalled that you would continue to allow her to live there instead of moving her to a residence better equipped for her health issues. Your mother is sick -- your neighbours are not making your mother sick -- it will be a much easier problem to deal with if you don't contextualise that way.
posted by kmennie at 12:35 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Jacquilynne's advice is your best bet for avoiding the authorities. If that doesn't work, I used to live in a neighborhood where the HOA meeting always had people complaining about their neighbor's grilling and firepits blowing smoke into their houses. I think they eventually set pretty tight restrictions on it. Does your neighborhood have an HOA or town council you could appeal to (or at least see if anyone else has a similar problem - there's strength in numbers)?

Before doing anything, you should try to mitigate it on your end with special filters for your air conditioner, a room air purifier, calling your energy company to see if they can find leaks in the house, etc. If you have to involve the city, try calling your town's 311, health dept, or the fire dept to see if smoke entering your closed up house is a valid complaint (it's definitely a common one), and if they have any advice. There may not be anything you can do, legally, short of moving.
posted by bluefly at 12:36 PM on July 12, 2013

Response by poster: I have left out that I have apologized for my dad's actions, he has apologized, and then yesterday I apologized for my part in it. The day after it happened when they indicated to me that they thought I had some part in it, I repeatedly said I did not which they didn't believe, and apologized (for something I didn't have control over) and begged their forgiveness. I don't think they're ready to forgive just yet. I guess I will try calling the fire department or sheriff's department and asking for their advice.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:47 PM on July 12, 2013

As you can see from this thread, the winds of support have decreased since your follow up replies.

For whatever reason, your approach & replies are turning people off, and I fear the same thing is happening with your neighbors. Therefore, I recommend you nominate someone other than yourself to be the go-between (family member, friend, health care professional, etc).
posted by Kruger5 at 1:10 PM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

The issue is that the effects of the smoke on her are getting WORSE. And yes, this is with the house completely sealed up.

Are you guys walking around in smoky clothes? Change out of whatever you wore outside when she's home. Wash your curtains, rugs, etc. regularly.

If the smoke is affecting her that much with the house sealed up completely, then it's not sealed up completely or effectively. I'm not there, so I can't help you, but there are loads of things you can do to mitigate the effect of outside air quality other than closing the windows and doors. I have a relative with really severe asthma and other problems who lives in a part of the country with really shitty air quality. Her condo is a fucking fortress of air quality.

Your mother's doctor and social services groups can help you with this.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:34 PM on July 12, 2013

We have, in fact, several, several times politely asked could they please consider not having fires and explaining what it does to my mom. The issue is that the effects of the smoke on her are getting WORSE. And yes, this is with the house completely sealed up. We keep the doors and windows closed at all times unless we're leaving the house and have to open the door. Wednesday night my mom was having trouble breathing to the point I was near calling an ambulance. It was my impression that knowingly inflicting bodily harm on another person through your actions is assault and/or battery.

At this point, it sounds like the problem isn't your neighbors, the problem is your mom. It seems like maybe she is getting to the point where she shouldn't be living outside a sterile environment.

Please also keep in mind that if you take legal action to stop the fires, they may well be pissed enough about it to take up other annoying smoke habits that aren't illegal - like smoking heavy cigars or something similar.
posted by corb at 1:43 PM on July 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

It'd be amazingly difficult to smoke enough cigars to cause breathing problems from their property to the OP's. I know they smell bad, but fires produce 100s to 1000s of times more smoke.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:50 PM on July 12, 2013

If they are members of a church, could you call their minister and ask them to help mediate? I've been dealing with a similar situation, and you really need to call the fire dept/fire marshal and ask if this is something they can/will help with. Unfortunately, neighbors aren't always neighborly.
posted by rikschell at 1:53 PM on July 12, 2013

Best answer: Are there any other resolutions to the problem? Would a fan help, could they move the firepit, etc? No? Visit City Hall, and ask about the fire regulations. Get a nice card, maybe a plant or bottle of wine, and write a note. As you may know, my Mom, Jane, has had lung cancer, and has severely impaired lung function. The smoke from your firepit is seriously affecting her breathing and her health. *details* We may not be the best of neighbors, but I hope you can see past that and think of my Mom's health, and limit your fires. I appreciate your consideration.

You could also mention to them that hot fires burn cleaner, and smoldering fires produce a lot of smoke.

Next time there's a fire, go over and talk to them and ask them to reconsider. After that, call the police.

Would a couple of HEPA air filters help? Good luck. I hope your Mom's okay.
posted by theora55 at 2:31 PM on July 12, 2013

You could also mention to them that hot fires burn cleaner

Yep, but the main reason fires burn cool is that the wood is wet. If the wood is dry (which generally means it has been sitting around for a year or so, off the ground in a well-ventilated area), and is kept dry (top-covered somehow or in a woodshed) then it will tend to burn considerably cleaner. Sadly this takes more care and discipline than most casual backyard burners are willing to give it. Worth considering anyhow, as it's one way that the neighbors could make the situation better without sacrificing the fires altogether.
posted by jon1270 at 4:04 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Walk over to their house. Ring the doorbell. Ask to talk to the father and mother together. Assuming they'll talk to you at all, ask them if they'd like to sit down with you and talk through the issues you're all having with each other.

If they will, then focus briefly on your father having PTSD and having had to deal with a full day's of fireworks setting him off, so he was on his last nerves when the fireworks continued for a second day. Also focus briefly on your mother's loss of a lung to lung cancer making it extremely difficult for her to breathe when there's smoke. State that you hope they'll forgive your father, because the 4th of July is an extremely difficult time for him mentally and emotionally, and that they'll take your mother's health into account when they consider building fires in the future.

Then ask them to share with you their concerns. Listen, genuinely listen, and answer their concerns. If they complain about the weeds, note that you're currently doing research on weed killers and will be taking care of that problem. If they demand you stop tweeting about them, let them know that you will take their desire for privacy into account going forward.

At the close of the meeting, note that "by the way", you'd appreciate it if they'd avoid storing their company vehicles on your parents' property -- that you understand your father was expressing himself in a very rude way, but that the request itself is a reasonable one.

If they're good people, this should resolve things. If they're determined to be assholes, the next step is to contact the police and see what your rights are regarding the fires, the vehicles on your property, and the fireworks. Then exercise those rights.
posted by davejay at 7:07 PM on July 12, 2013

It doesn't sound like your neighbors are doing anything illegal (except maybe the fireworks).

I think that, if they were considerate people, they would stop lighting fires and setting off fireworks and whatever else, because that's what good neighbors do.

But it sounds like they're not considerate people. So you have to decide whether you're a considerate person, yourself, or not.

The nice person options for you are to suffer through it, plan around it, or move.

The mean person option is for you to scorekeep and report them to the relevant authorities for any minor infraction. And by relevant authorities I mean RELEVANT. The police don't give a shit that your neighbors are setting off perfectly legal bonfires. Instead you should document what they're doing and submit it with all i's dotted and t's crossed to whoever deals with public health complaints of that nature. Documenting it will probably be helpful for your parents' medical needs anyway, and reporting every minor infraction to the authorities will make you feel like you're accomplishing something. And, hey, maybe they really will get a citation or something, and then you can feel slightly better about being that annoying busybody neighbor who goes out of their way to get the neighbors into trouble for arbitrary grudge-related reasons.

Anything fully above board that they are doing that you wish they wouldn't, well, there's nothing you can really do about that.
posted by Sara C. at 7:10 PM on July 12, 2013

The very first thing you should do is forget about the burning and the weeds and all and take your mother to the doctor for a thorough workup. She lost a lung to cancer two years ago and now she's having a terrible time dealing with what has to be a very small amount of smoke coming from another property - how many yards away? - only in the evening, and when she's almost certainly indoors with the windows and doors closed. This amounts to an exacerbation of her lung problems - not necessarily cancer again, but almost certainly a change in her available oxygen and pulmonary function. She may need to be on a small dose of oxygen in the evenings, she may be suffering from sleep apnea (which would cause her to be more sleepy than usual in the daytime), she may need an antihistamine or a new inhaler or a taper-dose of steroids, which are all things that happen to lung patients from time to time, whether cancer is involved or not - she may even be anemic, which is another thing which can cause an oxygen saturation drop.

I have problems with smoke of any kind now, cleaning products, perfumes, and a host of other things that I've always enjoyed, but I live in a beehive of a building full of old people, many of whom have sweet animals with dusty dander, many who wear perfume or after-shave lotion, some of whom smoke, etc. - and I can't make any of that go away so I have to do whatever I can to manage my own physical reaction to those things, with the awesome help of my pulmonologist.

I hope your Mom can be made more comfortable and I strongly urge you to get her a good physical exam witih that goal in mind.
posted by aryma at 10:56 PM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Jamaro, I asked but they refused to let me come over to apologize. The only way they will communicate with me currently is through text message or voicemails.

My mom is currently seeing three doctors, an oncologist, cardiologist, and pulmonologist.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:45 AM on July 13, 2013

It sounds like you may have to just give your neighbors some space. Everybody's hackles are up (including yours) and conversation is unlikely to be productive. I know putting this issue on hold is unappealing given the urgency of your mom's condition, but I doubt you can do better. Stop pursuing them, keep chance encounters decent and brief, say nothing uncharitable about them to anyone, and turn your attention to things you can actually make progress against.
posted by jon1270 at 3:45 AM on July 13, 2013

First, give it a week for everyone to calm down, no contact on either side, no passive aggressive twitter complaints. It's escalated beyond the point of goodwill for either of you right now and everyone on both sides needs a breather.

Then, here's the city government route: call your city or town hall to check on the fire statutes in your city or township. They may be different than the state. Do not escalate it into an neighbor v neighbor issue when you call; ask calmly and rationally about the outdoor fire codes in your municipality. Either your neighbors burning small fires are compliant with the code or they are not.

If they are compliant with city code, I don't think you have much of a leg to stand on authority-wise. You can ask them nicely, rationally again to tone down the fires, but that is part of their enjoyment of their own property. If asking them doesn't work, you'll need to petition your city to make outdoor bonfires illegal because they cause quality of life concerns for your family.

If they're not compliant, document the fires; code enforcement, the police, or another enforcement body will come over to check it out to see if their in compliance and issue citations. You will very likely lose these people as friends in this situation.
posted by paradeofblimps at 11:51 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

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