Should I do anything about potentially creepy downstairs neighbors?
February 14, 2017 9:15 PM   Subscribe

After noticing a camera in the neighbors' window, I've been feeling unsettled, and unsure if I should do anything about it. Please help me decide if it's a big deal or if I'm overreacting.

About 4-6 months ago, some new neighbors moved in downstairs (I live in a large U-shaped building with four separate entrances and three floors; I'm on the third floor). I've made several observations about these neighbors (two males, I believe) since they moved in, which, separately, aren't very meaningful. They appear to smoke weed often, as I can smell it in my bathroom (often early in the morning). Recently, my roommate and I have heard them hammering and banging loudly, possibly building something. They have one (or possibly two) yippy little dogs.I've been face-to-face with one of the guys several times, and he gave off a slightly unsettling vibe (subjective, of course, but my boyfriend noticed it too.) These things aren't really a big deal on their own.

Within the last couple weeks, my roommate noticed that the neighbors have a little white, round camera sitting inside their living room window, pointed outside toward the courtyard, where all the building's entrances are located. It appears to be more of a home security type camera versus a big video camera. My roommate thinks they're drug dealers (which doesn't bother me necessarily, but the presence of the camera is unnerving).

I'd like to tell my landlord about the camera, but I'm not sure if she'll care. I've lived in this building for 3.5 years and have never met the lady; she's kind of a mystery, and not incredibly responsive. The other possible factor is that I remember seeing one of the neighbor guys doing something that looked like building maintenance (washing the windows, maybe) several months back, so there's a chance that they work for the landlord and she knows about the camera or even suggested using it (I'm not sure why this would be).

Does this sound totally benign? Or weird? Do you think I should contact the landlord?
posted by sucre to Human Relations (19 answers total)
I'm the original Miss Marple whose suspicions are relatively easily aroused. This sounds utterly benign to me.
posted by arnicae at 9:26 PM on February 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'd consider a camera "pointed outside toward the courtyard, where all the building's entrances are located" a plus.

(Is your roommate the sort whose information about drug dealers comes solely from TV and clickbaity news stories?)

I'd ignore any perceived snubs and keep being somewhat obliviously friendly. "Lovely day out!"-type stuff when you cross paths. Good, sensible drug dealers want to blend in and do not want to attract attention, and do not want to give the neighbours any reason to be upset with them.

People have cameras up in all sorts of places these days; on my 'weird, unsettling' scale this wouldn't really register. That they behave a bit, so does one of my neighbours, but I know enough about him to know he's just a keep-to-himself dude and not an actual weirdo.

I'm not even sure what you'd tell the landlady. If I owned the property I expect I'd think 'the more watching out from the tenants, the better.' Unless demonstrably weird, and not just weird-vibe, stuff happens, I'd ignore this. Well, I'm a dreadful gossip, so if I was pals with somebody else in the building I'd probably ask if s/he thought the dudes in 1C were sketchy, but that's about it.
posted by kmennie at 9:46 PM on February 14, 2017 [10 favorites]

They do 'kind of ...stuff' and they have a camera pointed to the communal entrance?

I kept reading this question looking for the problem. I feel slightly cheated now I got to the end of it and absolutely nothing even mildly out of line has happened. I'm utterly confused how you have managed to create a 'suspicious' situation out of this.
posted by Brockles at 9:48 PM on February 14, 2017 [12 favorites]

I guess I don't like the feeling of being watched every time I leave the apartment or come home. I'm not sure why they'd need a camera in their window.
posted by sucre at 9:59 PM on February 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just ask them. Have your bf with you if you'll feel more comfortable. Even if it's something unpleasant that they're up to, which isn't something that I perceive from your description of their behavior, at list you'll know and be able to react. If they're up to nothing then you don't need to worry.
posted by Fister Roboto at 10:25 PM on February 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe they've been burgled; maybe they've had packages stolen off their stoop; maybe they've lived in places with sketchy neighbors. I get the feeling of discomfort, but there are a great many non-WTF reasons that people might have cameras like this. My downstairs neighbors have one of those camera-doorbell things (they live on the second floor - first floor, I guess, if you are in the UK or Europe - so they can see who rings the bell and know if they need to run downstairs because it's a delivery vs Jehovah's Witnesses), and I know some models can be set to record. But I've also known them for years and years so I don't think anything of it.
posted by rtha at 10:27 PM on February 14, 2017 [10 favorites]

If they give you a weird vibe, avoid them. I'd be much more concerned about that than the camera.

As far as drugs go, the questions for me would be what they're dealing (weed dealers are more likely to be chill than coke dealers) and whether they have people coming to their place or not - even really cool drug dealers whose clientele come over are people you don't want to live near because the clientele can be trouble. If you think it's more like a delivery business or something with another location, that's probably fine.
posted by bile and syntax at 10:34 PM on February 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

It's entirely possible that the camera is a dummy camera- lots of people have these to create the illusion of security without any of the hassle of dealing with all the actual security footage a camera generates.

I agree with others that what you have typed here would not personally bother me, but I still think it's good you felt weird about this person- means your instincts are up and running. And whenever I feel weird about a person, I trust my gut and I give myself permission to subtly avoid them and not feel guilty about it. More than 50% of the time, the person turns out to be a creeper in some (usually harmless-to-me) way, so it's not like my instincts are faulty.
posted by spraypaint at 12:00 AM on February 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

It's been many, many years since I had drug dealing neighbors. The steady stream of cars was the tip off. If they are drug dealers, a camera like that would seem likely to spook their customers at least as much as other residents in the building. Just imagining that the last thing I would want a dealer to do is to record my comings and goings to their place in a way that will be seized by the cops if they get busted.
posted by Gotanda at 12:48 AM on February 15, 2017 [32 favorites]

Is it possible it's towards mailboxes or the like? It could be they buy online a lot and have had stuff stolen. I don't think they're drug dealers. A camera makes no sense in that case, unless they are really really bad at it. And creeping on people probably be more subtle-- I doubt the camera would be visible. It'd also probably be pointed towards apartments.

Also do you have a shared laundry room or utility rooms? I know a property manager in Seattle that has constant problems with vagrants breaking into these rooms to sleep, do drugs, etc. They also broke into tenant's cars. Police were called and the police advised a camera at the entrance, which would help them later catch those breaking and entering. She couldn't add one--she doesn't actually own the property, and the landlord was afraid of legal ramifications-- but the tenants could, and some did. If they do help the landlady with chores, then perhaps it's something like this.

But you are worried and they give you a bad vibe, avoid them and keep your eyes peeled, listen to your gut. But I don't think the camera itself is a big deal as its obviously pointed at a communal area for an unspecified security reasoning. If it unsettles you, you could use your own camera as you walk by the entrance, for your own safety. You say it has four entrances, though. Could you just pick a different entrance and avoid that one for the time being? I wouldn't contact the landlord just yet, but if you notice anything else that's off, it might be worth just asking if she knows anything about it.
posted by Dimes at 1:16 AM on February 15, 2017

It's super-common now to have a security camera to record or alert to anyone approaching your door. There are even security cameras integrated into doorbells. I have a Nest camera in my living room, and will be adding one outside by the front door soon. I live in a single family home, but there's probably no way that I can avoid including my across-the-street neighbor's house in my field view.

While most people install security cameras to deter or record theft, there are certainly people who use them to monitor for approaching law enforcement as well. Unfortunately, there's no way to know the motives of your neighbors, "sketchy behavior" notwithstanding. You have a legitimate complaint about weed smell, banging, and yippy dogs. If you want to complain about that, I would not fault you; I certainly wouldn't want to put up with it. But leave the camera out of it.
posted by The Deej at 5:51 AM on February 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't understand the logic. Criminals generally don't want to create a record of their activities. Why does your roommate think they're dealers?

I can tell you I'm in the market for cameras to point out my windows, to see who's coming up to the house, and to make sure they know that I'm recording them to a cloud server as they approach, hopefully dissuading burglars.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:39 AM on February 15, 2017

Nthing that they might have had stuff stolen. I used to leave a camera up near my room because a roommate had been stealing my things and I would definitely do this if I was worried about someone stealing my mail.
posted by Marinara at 8:39 AM on February 15, 2017

Does this sound totally benign?

Yup! I have a security camera, because there's a lot of mail theft and break-ins in my neighborhood and I hope the camera will scare off the bad guys. There's nothing really nefarious I can do with it -- I could track when my neighbors come and go, but I could do that with my own eyes if I wanted to.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:04 AM on February 15, 2017

I guess I don't like the feeling of being watched every time I leave the apartment or come home.

You must know that this is not only paranoia, but utterly unrealistic even from a logistical ability to watch the footage. Not only are you on camera a lot of the time you leave your house anyway (stores, businesses, parking garages, other private cameras), but your neighbours don't have enough time in their own lives (nor do they likely care) to watch even a fraction of the footage from that camera.

Chances are it won't even get looked at unless something actually happens - a parcel goes missing, their door gets kicked or damaged, or some other notable event happens. You going about your day is not a notable event. They just aren't going to be watching you.
posted by Brockles at 11:21 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

If your landlady is that unresponsive, no wonder they'd put a security camera up.

Don't confront them. Sounds like they're improving the overall experience.
posted by RainyJay at 12:18 PM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Brockles: nope, not paranoid, just curious if something I observed was weird or not.

Thanks to all who offered helpful answers! I'm glad it's likely benign.
posted by sucre at 1:02 PM on February 15, 2017

FWIW we have a camera in the garage b/c we can't tell whether the garage door is closed from inside the house. It doesn't record-we can access it online, but it doesn't 'go to tape'.

There are dumb, practical, non-defensive reasons to have a camera (Did they pick up my mail? etc.)

I actually keep meaning to mention this to the dude that walks our dog because I'm horrified that he might think we're spying on his comings and goings when really it is that the garage doors are a level lower than the living part of the house, and it's a colonial, so it's not a matter of opening a door and looking. Your question reminds me I should tell him, because random cameras are in fact creepy and raise a lot of questions. (But generally on a person to person basis, innocuous.)

Fun fact: one time Mr Llama was testing a camera to watch the backyard for wildlife/look-its-a-gadget-why-not, didn't tell me, and the next day I peed by the compost pile in the yard in full view. So that camera, which did record, was jettisoned from space. What a fun conversation that was!
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:23 PM on February 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

These wifi security cameras are really cheap now, like the basic YI Home Camera is 35 bucks. They are getting really common. I have a few of them pointing out of my windows to deter bad guys.
posted by w0mbat at 8:27 AM on February 16, 2017

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