My neighbor just flipped out on me and it was scary; how to proceed?
February 15, 2015 6:48 PM   Subscribe

My downstairs neighbor just flipped out on me and tried to push her way into my apartment when I told her to leave me alone. What should I do?

My downstairs neighbor is a little old lady who speaks broken English. Just a little while ago, she knocked on my door and rang my doorbell and I ignored it because I was cleaning and didn't want to be bothered. She didn't let up and a couple minutes passed without her letting up so I finally opened my door a crack and said, "Hi, I'm sorry I'm really busy right now" and she said something about me being bad and about how she was going to come in and talk to me so we could "make peace." I didn't let her in, keeping the door to a crack, and I asked her what I did wrong and she lifted her lip and showed me her teeth and asked me if I saw them. I said "yeah?" and I didn't understand what she was saying, but I think it was something about a problem with her gums. I told her she was making me uncomfortable and to please leave, and she was pressing up against my door. I pushed it to close it and she pushed back and I finally just pushed the door harder to force her out of the doorway and locked it. I called through the door that I'd call the cops if she didn't leave and she said "Fine, call the cops" and she just stood out there. So I did call the cops and they said they'd send someone, but that was an hour ago and no one has come.

Since then, she went to my neighbor and complained about me and I could barely understand what she was saying, but I heard my neighbors ask if she takes anxiety medication. I also heard her say she has "a bad temper." I also heard her say she's complained to the property managers and they haven't helped her. One of my neighbors thankfully took her for a walk. While she was gone, I spoke to my other neighbor to see why she was so mad and it sounds like maybe she is mad about food smells or something and thinks she has allergies to them. The thing is, the smells aren't from me. I didn't cook anything today and the only food I ate today was cold. My neighbor confirmed they smell stuff too and it's not from them. So it's someone, but not me or my neighbors. I vacuumed today so I'm not sure if she's mad about that. But I am not the only neighbor that lives above her and she has other people next to her, but she has decided I am the problem.

To be honest, it really scared me and I don't know how to best handle it. Now I am scared next time I leave my apartment or go to my car (our parking spaces are next to each other) she will try to confront me. I guess I need to talk to my property manager tomorrow, but what resolution do I try to get? I don't want to speak with her directly, but should I consider it if someone else is present?

Also, should I call the cops back and get them to come so I can have a record of the incident, tell them nevermind, or just wait and see whether they ever show up?
posted by peachpie to Human Relations (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, document the incident. Please.

Do you have the owner's info. An onsite manager won't be helpful. You kinda need to escalate this to building management company or owner.

IDK. If you can request to be let out of your lease, and can afford to move, that is best. Next best is for the police to tell your neighbor to direct her complaints to management and not to go to your door.

Your neighbor's apt possibly requires maintenance, or.... ?

You must document this in writing to your owner or management company. I'm not sure what the next step is. It is hard to know what 'a going on with your neighbor.

You did the right thing. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 7:09 PM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Do you yourself have an issue with anxiety?

I think it will help you to work through specifically what you are afraid of. It seems likely that you have adrenaline pumping from a confrontation and it's stimulating a fight or flight response as a reaction to the stress. You may be interpreting this as fear, but it sounds like you have little to actually fear from this woman. She's old, she's mentally unwell, she poses little or no threat to you.

You can talk to the property management company and maybe chat with your neighbours tomorrow to find out more about what's going on, but you should probably try to view her as an irritant rather than as a threat, and maybe with some compassion.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:22 PM on February 15, 2015 [17 favorites]

You were scared so you called the police: you can always do that when you're scared, of course!

Are you scared she may have a gun and shoot you (or do some other sort of harm)? Or are you more scared she's going to verbally harass you again? If it's the latter, you can go broken record and say "I cannot talk to you right now. I cannot talk to you right now." As DarlingBri said, your neighbor's behavior does sound frightening but perhaps she's less of a physical threat than you think but rather someone in dire need of help in some form.

Based on what you wrote, it sounds like she could be having either a scary mental health crisis (very serious for both of you but especially for her) or something small got incredibly blown up due to language barriers (frustrating but not threatening per se.) I would not recommend your talking to her alone but, if and when a conversation happens, I'd definitely have an interpreter present. I may be totally off but it sounds like many things got lost in translation.

I'm so sorry you're having to deal with this right now. The silver lining is that your neighbors sound supportive of you while also trying to be caring of her. That's a good thing all-around. If she's calmed down for now, it sounds like you may be OK for the time being but I'd definitely pursue this more, however that may be.
posted by smorgasbord at 7:22 PM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

You can call the non-emergency police number and file a report so you have documentation, if they don't come. I think if I was you, I might play the angle that she's not maybe fully competent and you're worried about her well-being as well as your own.

It is possible that the property management (who probably has to deal with this a lot from her) is looking for a reason to get rid of her.

As for you, it does not matter what she's mad about, as you have not done anything wrong outside of generally existing. You're scared and full of adrenaline right now and you sound like you're feeling guilty but you don't know what for, but you've actually just been randomly assaulted by a neighbor. Do not be sorry that she attacked you.

I think for the immediate future, you can get yourself one of those high-decibel personal alarms, and if she comes after you again you set that shit off in her face. Nobody wants to mace an old lady in the face, but that's an option as well (and not one I normally advocate because an attacker can get it away from you, but I'm going to guess it would take an extraordinary effort for her to do so).

The police can probably advise you on your rights re: trespassing, it may be possible that you can give her verbal warning in front of a police officer that she's not allowed to come to your door again, which means next time you call them and they might arrest her but probably will dump her at the emergency room instead.

Try not to convince yourself that a future confrontation is the worst thing that could ever happen. It might, and you may have to get up in her face and call her a motherfucker and set your alarm off and then sit in your car and call 911 on her, and that sucks but it will likely be the final confrontation.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:22 PM on February 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

Most police departments have a mediator person whose whole job involves working out solutions to misunderstandings between neighbors and customers vs stores, etc. This lady obviously doesn't communicate well and is completely confused about your role in whatever's annoying her so it would seem like a good idea to me to ask the police if they can refer you to someone who can sit down with the two of you and find out what the problem is and fix it.

You may end up moving anyway if she just doesn't cooperate or work with you, but my guess is the whole thing's a misunderstanding that can be cleared up with a little work. Hope so.
posted by aryma at 7:23 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

And if you don't have a chain lock on your door, you can either try to wheedle your property management into doing it, or just eat the $10 and do it yourself.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:25 PM on February 15, 2015 [10 favorites]

It sets off alarm bells of drugs or dementia and she may be teetering into that incompetent territory where someone needs to be checking up on her and giving her some degree of care. I would personally be of the mind of telling the police and the property manager that you feel like your neighbor is a danger to herself or someone else, but I could see evaluating your "true threat level" and waiting until you talk to the manager to find out if they're aware of previous complaints and they may even want to get the police involved, or prefer to handle it differently. It is ultimately your call, but I don't know how useful or responsive your police or property manager are.

In my wife's case, over 10 years ago we had an old lady from the apartment below come up to our place and just try to walk in the door when she knocked and my wife opened. She had some sort of paint on her face and was intoxicated by huffing or something else, and calling the police got her some semblance of help. I think a social worker got involved and we didn't hear anything of it again, but this was in Golden, CO at the time.

I later lived in a complex with a very strange individual who seemed borderline incompetent but held it together and everyone understood he was harmless, but he was definitely an uncomfortable character. As a relatively beefy dude I wasn't intimidated or afraid of the guy, but I know the feeling of being around someone sort of unstable.
posted by aydeejones at 7:25 PM on February 15, 2015 [9 favorites]

Also, I didn't even think about language barriers combined with age, so take that into consideration for sure when establishing your personal level of anxiety and's definitely a call that involves assessing how credible any perception of threat is, and talking to the manager about it to see if they're totally apathetic or concerned would be my first choice
posted by aydeejones at 7:27 PM on February 15, 2015

It's the manager's job to deal with it. Tell the manager, and, if she attempts to address you again, tell he that, as a result of your last experience with her, you'd rather she communicate with you through the manager. Document everything.

Sure, it might be dementia. She might be harmless. You're not qualified to make that assessment, and, if you feel at risk, you have every right to trust that feeling. If you feel threatened, call the police. If she pushes her way into your apartment when you have told her no, she is trespassing. If it's an ongoing problem, the building manager needs to take responsibility for communicating to whoever is appropriate so it can be assessed.

I don't think you're feelings of concern should be minimized here. More people are hurt by ignoring that than by addressing it, so unless you have a history of overreacting, if you feel nervous about this, trust that.
posted by maxsparber at 7:34 PM on February 15, 2015 [15 favorites]

I can understand how this would be scary, but let me share how this could look from another perspective: a downstairs neighbor comes up (in a very annoyed mood) to talk about food smells, and the upstairs neighbor refuses to talk and calls the police. You will need third party corroboration (e.g., from the neighbor who intervened) to get someone like the police or property owner to see it as anything other than a difference of opinion/style. Perhaps ask your neighbors if they see it the same way you do and if so, to call the owner or manager themselves.
posted by slidell at 7:34 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't think there's a perspective where a neighbor trying to force their way into your apartment is a misunderstanding.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:38 PM on February 15, 2015 [28 favorites]

Do I have anxiety? Um, what? Obviously I am stronger than her and I am not scared in that sense, but she seems crazy. I've interacted with her before and always thought something was very "off" about her and I've been polite, but tried to avoid her. Her English is bad, but she also doesn't make much sense when she speaks. I figured she was just senile. But I don't know if she is going to continue harassing me. She was very aggressive and tried to push her way into my apartment. She doesn't need to be a 400-pound man for me to feel scared of being attacked by someone. She was pressing against my door and being forceful. I don't need anyone assaulting me or having it out for me, including an old lady. I don't think it's unreasonable that I feel threatened by what happened. I can't fathom anyone is sitting here turning this on me and acting like I have a problem because I found this very unsettling. All I'm just asking how to resolve this in the best way possible and what I should be mindful of as I work toward a resolution.

I don't think the cops are coming, so I will talk to the property manager in the morning and decide how to proceed. I specifically heard this woman tell my neighbors that she didn't tell her son (who sometimes visits) about this issue. I've only seen him once and I get the sense that he doesn't see her much, but I suppose someone should try to contact him, since he can presumably communicate her in her primary language. I will also talk to my neighbors again -- they agree the food smells are annoying, but I guess the difference is we all have decided to live with it and the lady below me is convinced they are damaging her health and it's my fault.
posted by peachpie at 7:38 PM on February 15, 2015 [35 favorites]

You might try alerting senior adult services if you have that in your area. They could check on her and perhaps contact the son and inform him that the situation has escalated. I have an older relative with mental health issues who can become very aggressive like this so I think you are right to alert management and call the police again if any further confrontations happen.
posted by tamitang at 7:56 PM on February 15, 2015 [8 favorites]

Talking to the manager sounds like a good plan. They may have emergency contact info for her in case they need to get family involved.
posted by oneear at 7:59 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm fresh off of dealing with a neighbor who, sadly, was having a sustained mental health crisis. Calling the police is the RIGHT thing to do, as per my county's mental health dept & all the folks I spoke with at NAMI.

Anywho, OP, it is important to tell 911 if you think your neighbor is having a mental health crisis (wasn't clear here) but either way getting police intervention is important.

I don't really care who this person was, they tried to push their way into your home.

OP. You are not a mental health professional, not or you an emergency responder. It is not your responsibility to evaluate your neighbor's level of risk or danger to you. Seriously!

Please document this incident. If you want further info about my recent situation (most important if she is having a crisis, you need to know the responsible way to deal with this) then you know where to find me.
posted by jbenben at 8:02 PM on February 15, 2015 [16 favorites]

I would personally call the police non-emergency number back and ask to followup and that they never arrived to speak to you. Plus I would state that you are worried about your neighbor's state of mind. I'd want the police to actually talk to her and do a welfare check. Then talk to your manager (I'm assuming tomorrow.) Also, you can call 911 and that gets to dispatch which sends out the active duty officers. (Anytime I've called a non-emergency number they've just connected me to a 911 operator because that's how they dispatch officers, at least in my experience.)
posted by Crystalinne at 8:23 PM on February 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

The police just came. They asked if I wanted them to check on her, but at this point it's late and the situation seems calm now, so I told them as far as the incident that occurred, I could just speak with the property manager in the morning and proceed from there. If she has calmed down, I don't know if the police speaking with her would rile it up again and be helpful or not. The incident happened almost three hours ago now. I did tell them it seemed like mental illness may be a factor and I wanted to document it and they took down some information. I wasn't expecting them to ever arrive since it's been so long, so I wasn't sure what to ask them or tell them.
posted by peachpie at 8:36 PM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

My dad (6'2" hefty dude) was cornered in his apartment complex's laundry area by an angry old Chinese lady who didn't speak much English. She wanted "a hug" and she flipped out when he said no and later left a butcher knife stuck in his door! I think she also started dumping trash in his courtyard.

So YES - property manager and non-emergency police number. Document document document (as in, send an email to the property manager to confirm your convo and save a copy). In my dad's case, someone was able to get in touch with her daughter who moved her into a supervised aged care facility. This was several years ago in CA.

My grandmother had dementia and while old, there is something to be said for senile/crazy + their adrenaline rush that can create a force to be reckoned with.

Good luck and take care!
posted by jrobin276 at 8:43 PM on February 15, 2015 [7 favorites]

You made a police report, and you're going to talk to the property manager tomorrow - I think you're doing everything correctly.

Call me paranoid, but I would not simply dismiss this woman as harmless because she's small and old. What if she has a gun? Or a knife?

Big picture: you may be doing this woman a favor, if she's having some kind of mental health issue.

Good luck with this.
posted by doctor tough love at 8:47 PM on February 15, 2015 [17 favorites]

When you talk to your property manager, you do need to tell him or her that you filed a police report. Did you get a case number or anything from the officer that came to see you? You may need to provide that to the property manager to substantiate your claim.
posted by juniperesque at 8:49 PM on February 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

You did great. You did exactly right.
posted by jbenben at 9:04 PM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

I don't know if the officer is filing a police report or what. He asked me some questions and jotted some notes down and he took down my name, birthdate and phone number. He asked if I knew my neighbor's name but I don't.

I don't think at this point I am too afraid she will come at me with a weapon, but the responses in this thread are enough that maybe I will pick up some pepper spray while I am out after I meet with my property manager in the morning. I need to pass her garage to get to my garage, and she can see me coming up and down the stairs to my front door from her window, if she wanted to. Pepper spray may be one of those "good to have" things as a female anyway. I certainly don't intend to need to resort to anything like that, but on the off chance she comes at me unsolicited wielding a knife or something, I'd have it.
posted by peachpie at 9:08 PM on February 15, 2015

As a counterpoint to these stories, when a drunken downstairs neighbor pounded on my door at 5 am with his full fist, bellowing something about our dryer, despite him outweighing me a lot, I (female) swung open the door like "what!? no, as you can see, our dryer is NOT running! so GO AWAY and let us sleep!!" And he did. I can understand why her angry, slightly-unhinged, we-must-talk-about-this-now-and-I-won't-take-no-for-an-answer approach scared you. But it doesn't necessarily rule out an easy resolution via direct communication. Just another piece of anecdata.
posted by slidell at 9:28 PM on February 15, 2015

There will be a police report on file, please do track that down. Next time, take the responding officers ' info because it makes the report easier to track down.

I'm really sorry this is happening.
posted by jbenben at 9:38 PM on February 15, 2015

Nthing having the property manager get in touch with her son.

A demented woman in my last building had a caregiver (not sure if it was full time or just during the day )come in after she passed out with food cooking on her stove.
posted by brujita at 10:00 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sounds like she needs the urgent attention of the nearest social worker. Probably a local government service of some kind? More so than pepper spray to the face, probably, though I completely understand the urge. (That might not be a long term solution eh?)
posted by Coaticass at 1:56 AM on February 16, 2015

Just wanted to add, that while her behaviour does sound scarey I would be more worried about her accidentally starting a kitchen fire or something, she sounds pretty incompetent.
posted by Coaticass at 2:00 AM on February 16, 2015

Nthing that your concern levels and actions strike me as appropriate.

For me, it's the teeth thing. Your neighbor apparently believes that your actions are negatively affecting something inside her body. Her words say that you are doing this because You are Bad, and in some kind of state of warfare against her. This might be a translation issue --in foreign languages, it can be tempting to grab for whatever words I actually know, even if they're metaphorical at best. Or it might be schizophrenia. Or it might be a belief in witchcraft, in which case she may have reason for resorting to self-defense. Or it might be some alternate, non-alarming cultural framework for thinking about disease. (I am an anthropologist, but I am not your anthropologist.)

She sounds potentially ... unpredictable. Nthing that size can become irrelevant given things like adrenalin, knives, and delusions.

I don't want to speak with her directly, but should I consider it if someone else is present?

Yes, I would, actually. There's a good chance talking will help. You haven't described any interactions with her prior to this incident, so I am guessing that there have been no significant interactions between you two. It's possible that actually meeting you and talking with you will dispel her ideas about you. It will also give you some more information about these ideas.

If they're delusions, of course, she may just proceed to attach them to one of your other neighbors. But this shift would at least strengthen the case for outside intervention.
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:13 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think at this point it's good that the police came out. I am personally not so quick to leap to the conclusion that this woman is demented or otherwise incapacitated. Hopefully if she is she'll get help, but a possible reading of this situation was that she is bad at communicating in English and was mad that you didn't want to talk to her. Maybe she just was mad by the time you opened the door because you were ignoring her when she knew you were home and awake. Then she had a frustrating encounter where she tried to get her problems across in English and you weren't receptive to listening. Then when you started to shut the door in her face while she was trying to explain she pushed back on it-different than trying to force her way in (and not okay, but a pretty human thing to do and bit necessarily indicative of mental illness or high aggression, especially in someone from outside the us who may have a while different set of cultural norms).

I'm not trying to blame you for the situation-I think it's important that we do what we have to do to keep ourselves safe and obviously she's not good at communication whether or not she needs further help but I also hope that you don't jump to the assumption that she's crazy. I disagree with Lyn never--I think this could be a misunderstanding between two people bad at communicating.
posted by geegollygosh at 6:50 AM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

When you call the po-po, they have a record of it at 911. When I called a noise complaint, the city sent me documentation of the call when my apartment complex requested it. So although there was no formal report, there is a record of the police having been called.

Just say to the manager, "I had to call the police on Mrs. Mumbles, she came up to my home, pounded on my door, wouldn't go away, and when I opened the door, she tried to muscle her way in. I want a formal complaint lodged, this behavior is unacceptable."

In the future, don't feel obligated to open the door. you have a right to quiet enjoyment of your domicile, and while your neighbor may have issues, it's not for you to solve them, or even to have to put up with them.

So far you're doing everything right.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:56 AM on February 16, 2015 [10 favorites]

I don't want to speak with her directly, but should I consider it if someone else is present?

Nope! Do not speak with her directly. You don't have to talk to anybody who makes you feel scared, ever. Full stop.

This sounds like a super frightening situation that is not your fault in the least. I'm glad the cops got back to you, and glad to hear you are meeting with your building manager. Hang in there.
posted by hush at 9:34 AM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

I spoke to the property manager. In one sense, I'm not super comforted by their response because it basically amounted to, "We will talk to her." On the other hand, I guess I am comforted that it sounds like she has complaints all the time and the property managers are already aware she has mental health issues.

They said she has not done enough to warrant her being evicted or anything like that. They told me there are steps in the process and they will speak to her and let her know the incident that occurred was not acceptable. They said they've been working with her son and they are aware there are issues with her, but they said they can't guarantee she won't bother me again and next time I should call the police and have them speak with her. They said for privacy reasons, they cannot tell me about prior communications with her or specific issues regarding her.

I told them that I need it communicated to her that I am not doing anything wrong and she should not contact me again, and I want to be notified in writing after that conversation has taken place to confirm they have talked to her. They said they would email me.

They said that she complains about stuff all the time and she will just walk right into their offices and start complaining, but she has never identified me as having done something wrong and her complaints have never been directed at my unit before. So I guess maybe this was just one episode, and I do tend to think she is a lonely person, and this may have been a plea for attention gone wrong. She tried to invite me for Thanksgiving dinner a few months ago, and if I understood her correctly, she made it sound like she used to have Thanksgiving with her son, but wasn't this year, so I think being alone a lot is making her a bit crazy. Now that I know she is nuts, I will certainly avoid her and be careful if I do see her.

Thanks for the helpful responses.
posted by peachpie at 9:49 AM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

I like to think I'm a pretty tough person who doesn't rattle easily. The only neighbors who have access to my apartment door are a nice, mostly quiet little family who seem perfectly happy and well adjusted. Even if it were just their youngest kid (scrawny, maybe about 12 years old, I could take him easy) who came up to knock on my door, if he started yelling at me and trying to force his way inside, it would absolutely scare the crap out of me.

You are not wrong or irrational for feeling threatened by this. It's completely unacceptable behavior.

You're doing the right thing by reporting this. You don't need to engage with this woman in person if you don't want to. It's your right to feel safe in your own home.
posted by phunniemee at 9:53 AM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm SUPER impressed by the professional way your management company responded. I'm deeply impressed.

They told you to do the right thing (call the police) and they are respectful of the law, privacy, and your safety. You could not ask for more at this stage.

I'm sorry for your neighbor, and for you. You can't reach out to her now that she's "turned" on you, you can not reward her negative behavior with kindness. But it sounds like other neighbors are on better terms with her, and that management is doing the best they can.

You are all her defacto caregivers. Hopefully, she'll land someplace with more support, shortly.
posted by jbenben at 2:15 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

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