Did I do the wrong thing?
February 19, 2016 4:43 PM   Subscribe

I made a noise complaint about a neighbour. Now I'm worried about a possible domestic dispute.

I live in a row of low-income townhouses with apartments above them. Our upstairs neighbour bangs on the outside wall (the one facing the street - RIGHT over our bedroom) all the time. Literally. From 6:30 am to 2 am the next day, this person will bang the wall, much as one does to indicate "keep the noise down!", except - they bang at everything. City bus driving by on the street? Bang. School bus? Bang. Loud pickup truck? Bang. Children playing quietly? Bang. Leaf falls on the lawn? BANG. I have PTSD from former abuse, and loud noises trigger the hell out of me, but I've managed to live with this for three or four years until last night, when I found myself shrieking at Danger Volume "STOP BANGING." (A bus drove by.) I realized that, because of various personal crises, I was not able to cope with the triggering any more, and I made a noise complaint to our complex. Fine. Except... just now, I was standing in the bedroom (the room directly under the room that the noise is coming from), and I could hear someone screaming profanities, presumably at someone else. The words weren't clear, except for the punctuation of "fuck" and variations on that theme, but it didn't sound like "fuck, I stubbed my fucking toe" - it sounded like threats.

Now I'm worried that my noise complaint means that Occupant A is screaming at Occupant B (B for Bang). I do not know who B is, or A, for that matter. This is not a nice area (gangs, domestic violence almost constantly, drug violence) and I do not want to know my neighbours, but I don't want to be responsible for someone getting in trouble like this. The office has told me to keep calling every time there's a noise violation. I was wholly on board with this until today.

TL;DR: Calling about a noise violation that is triggering my PTSD may have triggered domestic abuse. Keep reporting it?

P.S. Please do not suggest a note on their door. I will not risk my personal safety this way - nor do I have access to the apartments above the townhouses.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you have no way to know whether this has anything to do with your complaint and would not concern yourself with it.
posted by ryanbryan at 4:46 PM on February 19, 2016 [18 favorites]

It seems unlikely to me that these things are related, but if you are seriously concerned about possible domestic violence you could try calling the non-emergency police number (unless the person screaming is obviously being beaten/murdered in which case of course call 911).

In short I don't think there is much you can do about this or should worry about.
posted by a strong female character at 4:49 PM on February 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

The banging person needs to not do that, regardless of domestic living arrangements. That's just unacceptable (and bizarre) behavior, period.

Call in noise complaints any time it happens, as the property management told you to do.
posted by yesster at 4:55 PM on February 19, 2016 [19 favorites]

I agree that you have no way of knowing first what is actually going on upstairs and second if your complaint had anything to do with it. I think you have two courses of action here. One, do nothing going forward including keeping silent about the banging, or two, complain again when your PTSD is triggered and you cannot work through it on your own.

If you think that there is domestic abuse going on upstairs, I can assure you it did not start because of your complaint and will not stop if you don't complain. It seems to me that your real option is to complain whenever the noise is unbearable. It may bring the authorities who may determine there is a real danger and take action.
posted by AugustWest at 4:57 PM on February 19, 2016 [9 favorites]

I think everyone would be annoyed by an objectively annoying thing like someone banging on the wall for hours on end for no good reason. You have to decide if getting them in trouble is more important than your own sanity. Sounds like they have left you with no recourse.

Also, it's not like you overheard a murder and didn't report it. If you think a violent crime is happening, by all means, call the police. But it sounds like your understanding of the situation is still pretty vague. Do not feel like you are personally responsible for whatever is going on in your building.
posted by deathpanels at 5:02 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had to deal with something similar to this a few years ago in a small town. My upstairs neighbour(s) were literally banging into walls and falling on the floor. They were likely drunk, but one time a can fell out of my cupboard, hit the sink, and landed on my floor... and another time, I really did hear a male voice telling (yelling to) the other person on the floor to "clean it up" after what sounded like a full plate was thrown to the ground... and telling her how disgusting she was in the process...

I was advised to call 9-1-1 if I felt there was domestic violence in the suite, or if I felt threatened. I was very uncomfortable at doing so, but that was my only option - and it was really stressing me out. It turned out that the tenants were very apologetic for their noise, but that didn't change the fact that I just needed to get out of there. I had a year's worth of work, and there weren't many places even available to move to, but a co-worker managed to offer me her mother's empty half-duplex. I was grateful for the change, but I decided to move away from that town completely once my contract was up.

I came back to my home town to realize that the a**hole above me was a twice -a-week partier - who intimidated me in the hallways, elevator, and by the mail box... but having realized that things could be much worse, I put up with that for at least another year. Finally, I just decided that I would notify management of every single incident where he was violating noise by-laws - without any emotion attached to my complaint - just simply recording the fact. I sent emails each time, starting with what time it was, describing what was happening, and how it affected my ability to sleep. Eventually, since I wasn't complaining to complain - but simply to log the infraction, the party was evicted. When he was leaving, he tried to intimidate me yet again, by coming to my floor and pointing me out as his "friend" to his buddies helping him move... but he's been gone for almost a year, and life is much more peaceful now. There hasn't been any incidents of his stalking me for revenge, either.

I'm so sorry you are having to deal with this. I know how troubling it can be. I will say though, that now that you've started, you really do have to stick to what you know you have to do - whether that be continuing to log the infractions and wait it out, or to find another place to live. It really is worth it for your own wellbeing and sanity.

Best of luck!
posted by itsflyable at 5:03 PM on February 19, 2016

There is no way ever that you are the cause of another person's violent behaviour toward a third person.

There is no way ever that a reasonable request for tolerable noise level is the cause of domestic violence.

At worst you are unwittingly used as an abuser's excuse. They will find any excuse.
posted by chapps at 5:22 PM on February 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

Also, if you think someone is being abused you should call that in, Too. If you have even the suspicion that a child is being abused you are required to do so if you are in Canada and no doubt in others areas too.
posted by chapps at 5:24 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I wanted to throw out as another option...are you certain there is more than one person in the home? Could be a total kooky personality living there - banging around and yelling at themselves. Alternate explanation which at least where I live, is even more common than domestic abuse.
posted by Toddles at 5:48 PM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Whatever possible abuse you heard, if it was abuse, it was there already. You did not cause it. If you only heard it once of may just be a bad fight. If you hear anything worthy of calling 911 absolutely do it.

It seems as, since you have put up with this banging for 3-4 years, something is keeping you from being able to move. That would be untenable for me without PTSD. But is there a possibility of switching units?
posted by Vaike at 5:51 PM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Call the emergency line if you really think someone is in danger; otherwise, the non-emergency line at the local police station will do, especially if there is a noise ordinance in your city that's being violated (may depend on time of day). And keep making noise complaints at your apartment and document all your calls.

FWIW when I was in a similar situation, my neighbor was living alone, mentally ill and off her medication. There wasn't anyone else in her apartment. I told the police which walls I shared but asked that I be recorded as an anonymous caller because I was concerned about my safety. They were aware of her and her issues and helped calm my own worries that someone else was being abused. Maybe the police have some knowledge of your neighbor's situation already?

My sympathies that you're dealing with this -- it is so difficult to live with this sort of incessant noise. There were days I couldn't even stand to be at home because of it. I hope your situation resolves for you soon.
posted by phatkitten at 7:02 PM on February 19, 2016

Your neighbor is not well. Neither, apparently, is their partner. Making a reasonable noise complaint did not cause their issues. You were taking care of yourself, your own mental health. That is a worthy, good task.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:09 PM on February 19, 2016

people who feel they have done something wrong often imagine consequences that will end in their punishment.

at the most extreme, this is a kind of paranoia, but in smaller doses it is very common.

for example, i once unpacked my shopping and realised i had not paid for a bar of soap. i honestly felt like everyone in the shop must have watched me steal it and were just waiting for me to return so that they could criticise / attack / arrest me. it took me a good hour to "calm down" to the point where it was clear it was a mistake, that no-one had seen (or they would have said something), that nothing was going to happen, and that it was just a bar of soap (not a big deal in the grand scheme of things).

when i read your description i see that same process. you did something you felt was "wrong" or "unfair" (complaining) and then started constructing ways for that to come back and punish you (the neighbours are angry and planning revenge).

now i am not saying either of us is crazy. i suspect this kind of process is necessary for society to work - the alternative would be psychopaths that "get away" with abusing the system at any opportunity. but once you recognise what's happening you can do a couple of things:

first, understand that your scenario is unlikely. that we're hardwired to imagine things like this when other explanations already exist (there are many, many reasons to say fuck).

second, examine why you felt guilty in the first place. either find an alternative way of reducing the noise (a way to talk to your neighbours, for example), or come to see that making a complaint is actually an ok thing to do - that you have the right to a reasonably peaceful existence, and that this is a reasonable, balanced way of addressing that (they're unlikely to be immediately evicted!)
posted by andrewcooke at 3:47 AM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

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