How to deal with a crazy neighbor?
December 26, 2005 3:00 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine lives in an apartment in New York where for the last 8 or 9 months his downstairs neighbor has been harassing him.

This harassment comes in the form of banging on the ceiling and coming to his door to yell at him. Both of those seem pretty much like "normal" neighbor occurences but things have escalated.

She has (on more than one occasion) left broken glass outside of his door and once broke the locks on his apartment (didn't go in and take anything) and later admitted that to him verbally and the police response to that was it's not worth $250 or more - sorry for you. She also dumped an entire jar of miracle whip on the rug in front of my apartment and put some sort of glue or gum substance on the top lock on my front door (as well as mailbox). Lately she's just been banging incessantly on the ceiling at least once a week

My friend has been to the police, filed reports and basically been told - you're s.o.l. The lady claims that my friend "...harass(es) her all day and night" even though he has a full-time job and isn't home much.

I suppose it's worth nothing that he does have 2 cats but cats can't make enough noise to drive someone batshit crazy can they?

So basically what I'm asking is what is the most appropriate course of action? The super has assured him it won't happen, but it continues to. I did advise him not to correspond with the super or building manager unless it's by certified mail and to make sure to cc them both in on it. But besides that, what could/should he do? Thanks for your help.
posted by heartquake to Law & Government (23 answers total)
She also dumped an entire jar of miracle whip on the rug in front of my apartment

Is she harassing you as well or did your "it's for a friend" facade slip?

posted by CunningLinguist at 3:07 PM on December 26, 2005

No, I was cutting and pasting from an aim conversation - my neighbors are quiet and sane but thanks for sleuthing :)
posted by heartquake at 3:10 PM on December 26, 2005

Take lots of photos!!
posted by netjustin at 3:20 PM on December 26, 2005

I second the photos and once you have them, send copies to the landlord.
posted by fatbobsmith at 3:22 PM on December 26, 2005

The super has no authority or responsibility to deal with this - it's between the tenant and the landlord. Landlord wants to know if this kind of crap is going on, usually, so they can mitigate their liability in case the nutty person flips.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:31 PM on December 26, 2005

Bad neighbors in NYC are an epidemic. Sometimes it is just easier to move. I've found that cono buildings are much more picky about how they allow as tenants, both as owners and renters.

My brother lives on a street where at least 3 times a week, someone drives up and honks the horn for 15 minutes trying to get the attention of someone else in a neighbring building. He finally got sick of it, bought a powerful Mag-Lite flashlight and scared the shit out of the driver by shining the light on him from the stoop and yelling "Ever hear of a fucking doorbell?"

So, sometimes it's people just being stupid and inconsiderate, but often it's people who are as nutty as a jar of crunchy peanut butter.
posted by camworld at 3:38 PM on December 26, 2005

petty tyrant,
"The enemy is a very good teacher." ~ The Dalai Lama
‘kiss the feet of these petty tyrants’ ~ Don Juan
posted by JohnR at 3:42 PM on December 26, 2005

My wife and I were in a situation like this. We moved.
posted by languagehat at 4:43 PM on December 26, 2005

It's times like this that I don't miss New York.

Yes, you definitely need to make sure the landlord hears from you whenever something happens. Do not call them up and freak out -- preferably, call them, speaking calmly, and then follow up with a sober, factual letter and any proof such as photos.

Of course, landlords hate this sort of situation, and the key is to make sure that they know a tenant is causing problems. Ask around to your other neighbors and see if there have been any other problems with this person; a group will be more powerful than a single voice.
posted by dhartung at 5:10 PM on December 26, 2005

Dude it is time to retaliate. Glue in her keyhole, stinkbombs, loud music with the speakers aimed down on to the floor, etc. It's go time! Making a game out of this and in turn making them move is easier then moving yourself.
posted by pwb503 at 5:49 PM on December 26, 2005

Strength in numbers. Make friends with the other neighbors then recuit them to issue complaints against psycho neighbor.
posted by StarForce5 at 6:40 PM on December 26, 2005

Restraining order?
posted by atom128 at 7:41 PM on December 26, 2005

You've exhausted civil options. Your landlord won't help, the police won't help, and you can't move. We shouldn't have to tell you that, at this point, your only options are those we can't advise you to take. Be creative.

Remember that people like this live for feedback, and that you can't fight a fire by feeding it. If you're backed into a corner where your only response to someone who wants attention is to give her attention...make sure it's a kind of attention she can't afford. "Make a game out of it" is bad advice unless you're looking for a game -- because she probably is. If you're looking for an end, you need to win on the first play.
posted by cribcage at 8:06 PM on December 26, 2005

" I prefer the hands-on approach you only get from hired goons." -- C. Montgomery Burns
posted by neuron at 10:37 PM on December 26, 2005

I'm curious as to how this whole thing started. I know batshit people don't need much more than a perceived funny look to set them off, but do you know how or why the feud started?

My upstairs neighbors are very unfriendly-- the husband is very antisocial and miserable looking...I don't expect us to socialize, but even at our first accidental meeting he didn't even return my "hi"-- but we just give each other a wide berth and don't go out of our way to fuck with one another. It's an uneasy truce.

I think the easiest way out is literally a way out; your friend should start looking for a new place. It's not worth the effort and aggravation to fight back.
posted by Devils Slide at 11:45 PM on December 26, 2005

Anything she does, escalate x 10. If she dumps a jar of miracle whip, go shit on her doorstep. If she bangs on your door, go kick hers in and scream at her for 30 minutes, etc.
Be the bigger psycho.
posted by signal at 5:18 AM on December 27, 2005

She may be nuts, or close to it, but does she live alone? Maybe there's someone else there who could be reasoned with? If she's somebody's crazy mother, maybe your friend could talk to that somebody and try to find out what sets her off.

I figure she's right on the edge, and that your friend's average behavior (say, wearing hard shoes and walking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth in his kitchen at night while chatting on the phone) sounds to the ready-to-snap woman downstairs like a neverending CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP...

Whatever the problem is, maybe it's actually solvable. What if it was as easy as slipping out of the cowboy boots and spurs and slipping into soft slippers (or putting a rubber ball on the end of his peg leg) when he gets home at night?
posted by pracowity at 6:10 AM on December 27, 2005

I'm the person that heartquake posted the question about. Thanks for the responses so far. I'm actually gonna head out to the courthouse and get a restraining order filed today. As far as whether I might actually be the cause of the issue, we can pretty much nix that. I've gone overboard in trying to placate this lady. I tiptoe around the house, my shoes come off as soon as I walk in the door, and given my size (I'm 5 ft 7/155), it's almost impossible that I walk hard enough to make any kind of significant noise. In addition, I barely use my kitchen or my living room, and when I'm in my bedroom, I'm either actually in bed, or I'm sitting in a chair tapping away at the computer. As mentioned earlier, I do have two cats (and the neighbor is aware of this), but how much noise can they possibly make?

What's mind boggling is that nothing started happening until March of this year, but I've been living in this apartment since 2002 and she's been living here since 2001. I briefly had a roommate (February-May of this year), and I know for a fact that he caused some problems with this woman. However, he's been gone for nearly eight months now. She's convinced that he still lives here although I actually brought her in the apartment, and walked the length of the apartment with her to assure her that no one was living here except me. I've been accused of following her (keep in mind that I live ABOVE her), of stopping whenever her husband (who I don't know from Adam) is home, and of being a "sick" "psychopath" who "victimizes" her even though I'm home and awake maybe four hours a day during the week. I should add that she's also threatened violence.

I've filed police reports (God, I hate the NYPD). I've sent letters to building management. I've called the landlord at least five or six times (including this morning). I get sent to his voice mail immediately and never get called back. I don't want to move, quite frankly, because I'm comfortable here, I've been here nearly four years, I like the location, and if I were to move I'd probably have to give my pets up as well as move in with someone because my credit is shot. Part of me thinks that the landlord is not responding because (relatively speaking) my rent is low, and if I vacate (or she vacates, for that matter), they can charge two or three hundred dollars more for the apartment.

If anyone has any ideas that don't involve retaliation (because, with my luck, I'll be the idiot that ends up getting locked up), please pass them on. Thanks.
posted by speeddemon531 at 6:54 AM on December 27, 2005

Speaking as one who's been through something similar -- your friend should NOT try to retaliate or escalate in any way. He can't possibly out-escalate the neighbor, because she's nuts and she's got nothing better to do. Don't even start down that road.

Moving might well be the easiest option but if he wants to try to stick it out, here's some tips. (I'll address your friend directly from here on out.)

* Document EVERYTHING. Photograph the glass, Miracle Whip (?!), clogged locks, whatever. Keep copies of police reports, plus a log of conversations with the neighbor, the super, the cops, neighbors. (Just note the date, time and place, plus the gist of whatever's said.)

* Talk to the super again. Avoid anger or pissiness; you want the super as an ally. Tell him the harrassment is continuing and you really, really want to work with him to get it stopped. Let him know that you'll probably have to talk to the owners directly (which he'll hate) but that you aren't going to be complaining about him. This might be enough to get it stopped, but I doubt it.

* Assuming the harassment continues, send the owners a letter. Emphasize the property damage, and mention what you and the super have tried doing and how it's failed. Ask for the owner's help dealing with it. Don't make threats; just state your case.

* My guess is that Crazy Lady is a long-term tenant and you're not the only neighbor she's targeted. If the super's been there a while, he could tell you about her history; so could other long-term tenants, if any. Ask the other neighbors if they've been subjected to similar attacks recently, or if they've seen Crazy Lady in action while you're gone. Again, be friendly; you're recruiting allies here, too.

* You've never handled this before, but there are people in the city who have. Get some help. A few places to start:

Tenant.Net is a non-profit clearinghouse specifically for NYC renters. They should be able to make a referral, if nothing else.

The city's mental health department has an Adult Services division. Not all the services will be applicable, since you're not the nutter nor her next of kin, but the "Crisis Intervention" option might work.

MFY Legal Services is a non-profit that specializes in tenant issues. They're mostly about keeping people with various disabilities in housing, but with adequate supervision and support. In this call (as with all the others) you want to present the problem as one of getting Crazy Lady the help she badly needs so she'll stop harassing you. Don't mention that you'd rather see her flabby ass out on the street, which is how I'd feel. Remember, you need allies. Good luck.

heartquake, tell your friend he can email me if he wants -- vetiver83 at gmail dot com. Again, moving might be his best option. Unfortunately, there's no quick fix, whatever he does.

On preview: Hey, speeddemon531, now you can just read the above in second-person throughout. Looks like the super/landlord approach has been tried and proved pointless but the other suggestions and resources might still be useful. Again, feel free to email.
posted by vetiver at 7:33 AM on December 27, 2005

I wouldn't retaliate. Picking a fight with someone that's crazy is, well, crazy.

Write her a very polite and very factual letter itemizing everything she's done that also says you want the situation to stop. Send seperate letters to her, her husband, your landlord. These should be emotionally neutral letters.

Every time she does something, update the letter and send it again. Take pictures and insert them.

I think this will work for two reasons. One, it may shame her into stopping her behavior (though she sounds really nutty). Two, letters have a somewhat official feel and she may think you are building a case to sue her and stop, even though you know you can't really sue her for anything worthwhile. Similarly, your landlord may feel that you are preparing a case to sue him, and that may convince him to get involved.

It is very important you not mention sueing, that the letters be very factual, and the emotional tone of the letters be neutral. Furthermore, state that all you want is to be left alone.

In addition to the letters consider calling the police every time she does something. You may not be able to charge her with anything, but the police will try and talk to her each time. They will get angry eventually at you and her both for wasting their time and eventually start acting cross with her.

Definitely write the letters. They will embarass her and let her know the situation is being documented. By the way, it was smart of you to get a restraining order, because if you didn't she probably would get one, making you out to be the instigator.

I feel for you. In New York this is a tough situation. Good luck.
posted by xammerboy at 7:34 AM on December 27, 2005

And stop tip-toeing. I agree with the "don't escalate" responses, but there's ZERO reason for you to be at all accommodating to this woman's psychosis.

But, really, you should be documenting EVERYTHING. Your next step would be to talk to a lawyer regarding your options, which will likely be along the lines of a harassment complaint or restraining order. The specific outcomes of each are negligible, but they are serious ammunition for the next time it happens. But, be prepared to drag this out.
posted by mkultra at 9:45 AM on December 27, 2005

Do not try to retaliate. She'll just pull the "I'm a meek woman and am being harrassed by this big scary man" card, and you'll end up getting screwed.

But like everyone else has said, document everything. Write letters. CC them to the appropriate recipients.

And otherwise, avoid her as much as you can.
posted by drstein at 8:47 PM on December 27, 2005

Thanks for the responses folks. Turns out I had to call the police AGAIN last night after the banging resumed. And I'm just gonna call them every night it happens until it stops for good. I just got off the phone with my building manager, who says he's going to "get rid" of her. I don't know whether that means she's going to be evicted (I don't see how he can do that), or reassigned to another apartment, but that makes me feel better in the short-term.
posted by speeddemon531 at 7:26 AM on December 28, 2005

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