Should I be concerned for our safety and what precautions can I take?
June 1, 2016 3:48 PM   Subscribe

Our neighbor is a strange man I need help deciphering if we should be more concerned and what we can do to keep our family and house safe, if need be.

My husband and I own a single family row house in a major U.S. City. We bought our house last year and are renovating. It is very rare to find a single family in our city where everything is becoming condoized, so moving is not an option. Besides, this is pretty close to our dream house, it's in a great community, on the beach, and has all the public transport and amenities we could hope for. Our plan is to finish our renovations and then have kids (late 30s couple with dogs) and settle in for a few decades.

Because it's a row house we share a common fire wall with a 50/50 passageway with the house next door that has been fully under construction for over a year with a long ways to go still. We have tried being friendly with the owner but he is an odd fellow - doesn't like to communicate on phone or email, is rarely around and if we need to speak with him about his construction he only responds on text. We have tried scheduling one-off conversations with him but he is either a no show or appears and is very pompous and scattered. He is in his late 50s and divorced. We had difficulties this past winter when our pipes froze due to his wall being open and not insulated and needed to know his plans for closing the wall so we could figure out a reactive fix to keep our house warm. We also had to speak with him about his timeline for when his house piping caused an active mouse infestation in our kitchen over three days (which the city requires him to pay for per building codes). His construction project has taken three times as long as he said it would. We recognized we have zero control over this, but knowing some information would be helpful so we can plan around it.

Fast forward to two weeks ago. His workers did severe damage to our backyard and fence to the point where we can no longer use our yard due to hazardous debris and dogs getting loose. He also built part of his deck on our property which we have confirmed with our deed, architect and surveyor. Finally, he completely demolished the shared passageway wall so it can be fully accessed and doesn't have a locking mechanism so anyone can wander into our yard now - this was all done without our knowledge. We tried many times to call and email and text with no response - we just wanted to talk about it. Finally we called the city Inspectional services division out of safety concern because we had transient people sleeping in the passageway. The city chose to issue a stop work order on his project because it deviated from his plans filed with the city. We ended up finding a lawyer who helped us reasonably draft up an easement about the passageway and other 50/50 deeded spaces to say that neither of us could store anything in the common passageway (like trash - that would be an INSTANT rodent issue) to install a locking mechanism, for him to fix our property damages and in the future neither can alter common spaces without the others consent. This way, it would be on BOTH of us to be responsible and fair neighbors.

Cue the crazy - the guy went OFF on us (with the lawyer copied on email) about how we are "dangerous criminals" who are "coercing him into signing illegal and unreasonable agreements that are part of a FBI conspiracy" and how he was essentially going to send us to criminal court and jail. There was a day or so of exchanges of this stuff so it wasn't a one time email. I was actually shaken up about all of this all weekend because I've never even so much as stolen a pack of gum as a kid. Anyway, today our lawyer called to tell us that he spoke with the guy who signed the easement and was in full agreement and everything had been settled -??!?

Maybe he had a change of heart? My husband seems to think that everything is fine now, but I'm feeling really uneasy about potentially living next to this guy once his project is done and he moves in. He was so adamant about having us arrested for sending him the legal easement and there is really nothing more to this story. MeFi, am I overreacting about having the creeps about living near this guy? I'm worried he may snap like that again and someone or our dogs could get hurt. Is there anything I can do? I tried talking to my husband but he was a bit dismissive and wants to give our neighbor the benefit of doubt but my gut is telling me something is not right.

I've never lived somewhere where I've had to worry about safety of my home before. We have the legal easement in place to fall back on, but I'm worried about behavior of our neighbor and him snapping like that again. What can I do to (not be paranoid) but ensure our home and family is safe from something happening? Anything I should be on the lookout for? Thanks so much!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
am I overreacting about having the creeps about living near this guy?

Nope! Lots of red flags there for sure.

Keep that lawyer on retainer and keep the city involved. Plus any other official channels. Stop trying to talk directly to him. Not just because of the red flags, but because he's not responsive to you that way.

I tried talking to my husband but he was a bit dismissive and wants to give our neighbor the benefit of doubt but my gut is telling me something is not right.

It doesn't matter if this guy turns out ok in the end, right now you're not feeling safe at home. Your husband needs to respect that and back you.
posted by headnsouth at 4:04 PM on June 1, 2016 [38 favorites]

A security system with visible cameras that includ in the yard and any entries to it, might act as a deterent.

Hopefully this will be okay, but I'd be creeped out too.
posted by pennypiper at 4:08 PM on June 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

I tried talking to my husband but he was a bit dismissive and wants to give our neighbor the benefit of doubt but my gut is telling me something is not right.

I think you're both basically right. Your neighbor sounds like he has a mental illness that may or may not be being managed. Getting angry is one level of thing but as soon as you start bringing the FBI into it you're basically in paranoia territory. I had a neighbor not unlike this when I lived in Vermont and I got a lot of good information about best ways to manage living near him from the person I bought my house from which might be an issue. It's a case-by-case situation often and you can't tell what the issues might be. I'd suggest

- only communicating with him the way he prefers and even notify him of other contacts he might be getting via text
- have your husband deal with any other contact with this guy (if he's not as phased)
- minimize contact and ask the people you bought the house from if there is something you should know

Could be he drinks, could be he has a mental illness, could be he has a rage problem, could be he's a weird guy who had a very bad day. I don't think your dogs are in danger and I don't think you are, but it's worth being very aware of what's going on with this guy and since you've said moving is not an option you'll have to find your best way to live with it and with him. It might help to read some of the information from NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) which might help you frame this better. Most people with mental illnesses are not violent, even ones that can sometimes sound scary. Not saying you need to be pals with this guy, but just to put your mind at ease somewhat.
posted by jessamyn at 4:16 PM on June 1, 2016 [20 favorites]

Am I the only one wondering why this great house that's so hard to find in your city was up for sale, next to a person who's concerning, and whose house has been under construction for over a year with aaaalllllll sorts of problems ensuing? You should be on the lookout for neighbours who will tell you why the former owners really sold the house, and speak to your Real Estate Agent/Brokerage and Lawyer about having possibly bought an undisclosed stigmatised property, and do so before the statute of limitations runs out.
posted by peagood at 4:27 PM on June 1, 2016 [71 favorites]

The good news is that this guy may NEVER move in! He might be flipping the place. Who knows?

At this juncture, don't try to deal with him directly, go through your lawyer.

I would make friends with the workers on the project. They can give you good information about what's going on. I'd get the Foreman's name in case some shit goes sideways (like leaving a wall open) so you have a way of getting a responsive human should you need one.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:01 PM on June 1, 2016 [14 favorites]

You might check out whether he has a record of criminal violence. A variety of services do this. If he's made it into his fifties without violence then there's a good chance he isn't violent (unless all of his problems are recent onset.)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:21 PM on June 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

Hi! We have a tenancy in common (TIC) house in another major U.S. city. We're two very small houses on one lot. Our house is in front, our TIC buddy is right behind our house. He has an access path to his house that runs the length of one side of our lot. And he is a stuck-up, fussy, bossy ass.

What's worked for us:

1. Get to know all our other neighbors, to make sure they don't confuse US with HIM. This has been very, very helpful, especially because some of our neighbors are businesses (we're on a street behind a major neighborhood commercial strip, so our alleymates are all businesses... businesses that HIM is always calling the police on for minor things like noise complaints, mixed-up trash pickup dates, cats, raccoons, you name it, he's called the police about it and blamed it on other people).

2. One of our neighbors is a tenants rights attorney, and she connected us with a mediator not long after we moved in. Mediator helped us craft a document to share with him that sort of defines our relationship, which modes of contact each party prefers, dates/schedules/times that are important to us/HIM, protocols for dealing with problems, etc. This has been a godsend--he got to add to this document, we agreed to it (after long, weird discussions), and it more or less forced us to come to terms with living in close proximity with one another.

3. Since then, we've stuck to this agreement--including when we call him, when we can (or can't) knock on his door, and, on one occasion, when we told him we'd call the lawyers if he didn't behave in accordance with our agreement.

The agreement isn't like a lease or anything legally enforceable, but it does give us a starting point if we ever need to take legit legal action against him.

Good luck, and don't give up! People deal with weird neighbors as a matter of course and it'll seem much more routine the longer you live there. Dare I say it, you may even end up like us--we kinda like the guy now that his weirdness has boundaries that we can discuss, together, out in the open. Thank you, attorney neighbor!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:37 PM on June 1, 2016 [15 favorites]

I feel for you, OP. I have been dealing with a similarly obnoxious neighbor problem for a while now, and I have stepped up the complaints, but they seem to want to push the boundaries. I found out that they have had similar issues in other places they've lived in, but felt comfortable being jerks here because they are related to the LL. Such is not the case, the LL will not put up with any more hijinks, but they continue to push boundaries and accost me with pseudo apologies (while drunk) in my back yard.

I am supposed to wait until they do it again, but at this point, I am inclined to cut my losses and move.

I did own a house in a nice area before, and the next door neighbor rented her property to some jerks, and it was a nasty surprise when she did so. So I know about that aspect as well. And I know about dismissive husbands and the stress these types of issues can have on a person's soul.

You need to realize that you own your home, and you have a right to be there and use it and enjoy it, and this person, nasty as he may be, is encroaching on you, your husband, and your family. Follow your instincts, and insist that he follow every step of any agreement, every time, every instance, do not let him push your boundaries, because these types of people will do it, because nice people like us, who are afraid, let them get away with it.

Do not be afraid anymore, keep at the lawyer and the cops and the city, whatever means is at your disposal, to keep this creepy jerk away from you and your family. I know the drill: push back. Do it legally and calmly, but push back and create your boundaries until this guy either gets the message or it costs him too much money to keep it up. I wish you well, and I mean that seriously, because I feel for you and your stress and pain.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:18 PM on June 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

I agree, it might help to ask other neighbors for information. But yes, I'd personally be concerned. I'd take this as an indication that he may have some sort of mental health issue marked with at least occasional paranoid delusions. I'd be somewhat concerned about how those might shift over time.

But for the moment, it sounds like his view is that you're the criminals, and he will deal with you by calling the police. That doesn't sound like danger is imminent. I would assume that at some point in the future, he may well call the police about something you do. But he didn't threaten to interact with you directly in any way, right? (E.g., he didn't say "and if the police won't help, I'll have to take the law into my own hands?") In his delusion, he's scared of how dangerous you are, and how you're conspiring against him with the FBI, but he can still call local police. He's not so scared of your dangerous ways that he's warning you he's "armed so you'd better not try anything." I might also be concerned by future statements that the local police are in on the conspiracy, because that would remove that safety valve.

I'd also ask the lawyer if he said anything more. To me, him signing would be more reassuring if I knew why he'd signed it.
posted by salvia at 7:15 PM on June 1, 2016


Hey, there. Go ahead and talk to your lawyer directly. Please find out what they did or said to get weirdo neighbor magically more reasonable.

So much in adult life is Risk Management. I would need the lawyer's feedback to give you a definitive guess about this neighbor. Lawyers deal with difficult people for a living and they have skill sets you and I don't. This is crucial first-hand data.

I will tell you that I have not dealt with this personally, but a few years after what looked like a legal property sale, a friend of mine was compensated well enough and got out of ownership from a deal that was mishandled by almost every professional involved with the transaction. I can't remember the details beyond there being misrepresentation by the agent or bank - and it all went downhill from there. My friend walked away OK, though. You might have a case. You should look into it, just out of Due Dilligence.

This is an investment. It's OK to be careful! Be careful!!

Don't go back to sleep. Start turning over rocks and doing research. Why wait?
posted by jbenben at 11:50 PM on June 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Further, if any of your neighbour's construction work prior to your buying (it's not clear whether or not it started before you purchased, but if he's owned for longer than you, chances are he's done damages before) has adversely affected in your home, if you were in Ontario, according to RECO, the seller's agent was obligated to disclose any of this to you. If the property value is affected by this neighbour's behaviour, RECO would say that the onus was on the seller's agent to tell you as well, even though it's not required by law to disclose stigmatised property, and lawyers should have been involved. You'll have to disclose this too, should you sell. Talk to your agent, talk to a lawyer. There is likely a governing body that cares that you were sold a house with a known issue.

“It is important for registrants to know that while sellers are required by law to disclose material latent defects affecting a property that are known to them (an obligation which also exists for the seller’s representative if the material latent defect is also known by the representative), there is no legislation or case law in Ontario to suggest that a seller, or his or her representative, is required to disclose the existence of stigmas to buyers. Registrants representing sellers should advise their clients to seek legal advice if they believe that stigmatizing issues may become a factor in selling the property.”
posted by peagood at 4:52 AM on June 2, 2016

There are lots of practical ways to manage this. Many, many people have neighbors they NEVER interact with. This should be your goal.

1. Deal with any future construction damages through your lawyer. And make sure ALL issues are dealt with.
2. Take a good look at your shared areas, fences, etc and improve them as a way of physically blocking him out of your lives. Do it before he moves in.
3. Upgrade your security.
4. Talking to your other neighbors is a great idea.

And I also think there's a good chance he will never move in.
posted by raisingsand at 1:00 PM on June 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

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