Problem neighbors is putting it lightly
December 7, 2017 9:30 AM   Subscribe

What can be done about my brother's really awful neighbors? I need concrete actions and steps that can be taken. Complication: he's in Florida. This is a long one. Thanks for any help you can offer.

My brother purchased a house in a suburb of Jacksonville, FL a little over a year ago. When he moved in he complained often that the house next door wasn't kept up well and that the grass was all overgrown. Would that it were still so simple.

Since then, the owner has (presumably) gotten out of jail and moved back in, bringing along a number of his dirtbag friends as houseguests. Here is a short list of things that have happened in the last few months:
  • parties at all hours of the night
  • perhaps as many as a dozen people in and out regularly, possibly living there
  • gathering on the back porch to shoot into the trees behind the house
  • paramedics coming when one of the houseguests OD'd
  • US Marshals coming to serve a federal arrest warrant on one of the houseguests
  • shots fired in a bedroom of the house while a child was present
  • indirect threats made against my brother (to other neighbors)
  • my brother also believes that they stole his garden hose
Things my brother has done:
  • called the police many, many, many times
  • received a stranger at his front door, a woman who had been living with the neighbors, requesting that he let her live with him now because they kicked her out
  • set up security cameras
  • he also, an avid gun owner himself, has taken to sitting on his porch in the dark with a gun "just in case" which I understand is his choice and one that I'm not interested in discussing the morality of here on metafilter please and thank you, but one that ultimately I know isn't healthy for him or his sanity
  • he also has started carrying a gun on his person at all times while at home, also just not a particularly healthy way to live
  • my brother is now at the point where he gets home from work and then stays up all night watching his camera footage, also not healthy
The local police are aware of this house and the homeowner as a known quantity, but haven't actually done anything that sticks. The homeowner pleads total ignorance of the situation every time. Every once in a while they take a few houseguests away in handcuffs, then they're all back the next night. Not a single thing has gotten better, things have only gotten worse.

On top of all of this, things are extremely stressful right now in my brother's life for reasons unrelated to the neighbors--he's had two vehicles totaled in the last few months due to accidents where he's been rear ended, and a trench/sinkhole has opened up in his back yard and the house he's had for just over a year is cracking down the middle. There's basically zero chance he would be able to move right now since his house is currently worth precisely shit, so suggestions to move are not helpful.

I (along with a handful of other family members who are less capable of dealing with this kind of bullshit) will be visiting him for a few days around Christmas and want to be able to provide as much actual, concrete help as I possibly can. He has plenty of people to commiserate about them being scum to, but no one has any advice except to always have a gun on him (SUPER ADVICE, MOM AND DAD) and to call the police.

This is a dangerous situation and something bad, either directly the fault of these neighbors or by his own doing, is going to happen to my brother if he doesn't catch a break. We need help, advice, and steps to take. Thank you.

I have advised my brother to find a therapist for stress purposes and will go down this avenue again when I see him in person so I don't need that advice either, I'm on top of that one, thanks.

posted by phunniemee to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Can he afford a really big, tall fence around all of his property? Gate in front of the driveway?
posted by slateyness at 9:42 AM on December 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

His back yard is gated but the gate is currently falling apart into the ever-widening sinkhole/trench. There is no money available for home improvement for anything other than not having his house fall into a sinkhole, unfortunately.
posted by phunniemee at 9:55 AM on December 7, 2017

Does he have a dog? A dog might help him feel safer, give the neighbors some pause, and also give him some love and distraction. Unless, of course, you don't think he's in a mental place to be a reasonable dog owner.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:01 AM on December 7, 2017 [10 favorites]

Is there any kind of a consumer-advocate guy on his local news? I mean, in practical reality all that those kind of news pieces actually do is do a big dog-and-pony news piece which ends with the news guy saying "shame on you, Florida PD!" and that's it, but that does tend to shame the offendors into action pretty quick. Maybe some kind of local news/media story about "half-assed police" would help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:04 AM on December 7, 2017

Are there other nearby neighbors experiencing problems from this? A consult with an attorney regarding a potential nuisance action would seem in order at this point, but will be more affordable if he has allies amongst other neighbors who could join in the action and cost. He might also contact the city administration or state AG’s office — not the police — about the possibility of a criminal nuisance abatement. Both of these are fairly difficult and escalating options in most places, but this situation sounds Very Not Good.

Finally, if there are kids involved at the bad neighbors’, and it sounds like there are, has the local child protection agency been called? That may not help your brother directly, but is important nonetheless.
posted by LadyInWaiting at 10:17 AM on December 7, 2017 [12 favorites]

I know you're likely going to put this in the "not possible" pile, but I really do think he should consider just mailing the keys back to the lender and walking away from the mortgage.

House cracking down the middle? Sinkhole? These things alone are really enough to say "you know what? Its not worth it." and walk away.

Also, consider an attorney to pursue why at least the house cracking issue was not caught in the pre-sale inspection (I'm assuming one was required.)

Your brother was sold a lemon of a house, which is unlikely to ever regain its value. For practical purposes he's done everything he can about the neighbors. He needs to cut his losses and walk away.
posted by anastasiav at 10:17 AM on December 7, 2017 [87 favorites]

Are the other neighbors registering complaints with the police department? Bad neighbor has complained about your brother to others, so perhaps they live close by. If there's a house on the far side of bad neighbor, is that person calling the cops, too? Maybe if everyone else on the street was on the same page, your brother could gain some legal traction. A type of informal neighborhood watch, so he's not the only one making these calls and it's clear this a neighborhood-wide problem rather than just a personal beef between bad neighbor and your brother.

Though, your brother patrolling his porch at night may not be endearing himself to neighbors who could be allies in this.

He needs to get some sleep; I hope he will feel comfortable doing that once you and the family are visiting. Please be careful while you're there, too.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:18 AM on December 7, 2017

+1 for the mail-in-the-keys advice, and I'd be saying that just on account of the sinkhole issue, leaving aside the nightmare neighbors. A 7-year ding on his credit record, yes, but the alternative is living 7 years while armed in your own home 24/7, with the house splitting in half and possibly falling into a sinkhole? Just cut your losses and get someplace more healthy.
posted by mccxxiii at 10:20 AM on December 7, 2017 [24 favorites]

What are the other neighbors doing? If he's the only one calling the police, having the other neighbors also calling might step up enforcement.

Is there a councilman or alderman or other neighborhood-level elected official? Your brother should call that person's office very time he calls the police or every time he sees paramedics, Federal marshals, or other activity like that at the house. If there's no-one that local, send all this information to the state legislator for the District every single time it happens.

Is there a homeowner's association? Go to the meetings, put all this in their minutes. People may have trouble getting mortgages or refinances in the neighborhood if this filters from the HOA to the realtors to the mortgage lenders. Which could lead to the HOA suing. A lawsuit would get the attention of the neighbor's mortgage company who could call the mortgage and foreclose if there is sufficient evidence of criminal activity on the property.

Is there a local journalist interested in neighborhood drug crime/policing or gentrification or non-genttrification or any type of neighborhood level issue? Find their twitter and send them a tweet (with pictures if possible) every time there's a disturbance or your brother calls the police or whatever.

But no-one with authority to improve the situation is going to unless there's a lot of pain to them leaving it unresolved. That means multiple neighbors calling the police every time. That means constant documentation to whatever most-local to the block politician there is. That means getting some sort of reporter to pay attention.

It's untenable, honestly. All of the things your brother can do is going to make things really tense with what seem to be unstable neighbors. I don't have any advice for that and I really don't know what I'd do in his shoes. Steps 1-3 above are how we got the amplified music street buskers off the corner by our place, but those guys were just irritating, not dangerous.
posted by crush at 10:26 AM on December 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

You mentioned children being at the home. If they are ever seen on the property and anything at all sketchy happens, calling child and family services for a welfare check is a valid use of that system. It won't fix the problem for your brother, but it might help out the kids.

If mental health issues are obvious, again, DHS for welfare check (Florida, by reputation sucks at doing this though). Again, this won't fix the problem, but might get some help to the people living there (unlikely as it is).

If the person was in jail/prison, they might have a parole officer (or depending on the situation a probation officer). Finding out who that is and forging a relationship with them can be valuable in enforcing better behavior. Parole and Probation offices can order drug tests at any time, and even being in the presence of weapons can be enough to violate parole/probation. This might be a path towards resolution? It's highly unlikely that it will though. We're on a first name basis with the parole officer in charge of a heroin dealer on our street. Even HD footage of this guy dealing drugs wasn't enough to get him to violate his parole though.

Suggestions to move aren't helpful, but really, if this guy owns the house and they're a known quantity to the authorities, there's precious little to be done other than move. It really sucks that it's the only end-game option, but there's no fixing neighbor situations like this. This is an appropriate (albiet shitty) situation to just pack it up and walk away from the loan/house.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:31 AM on December 7, 2017 [9 favorites]

And btw, I've had friends successfully sue to get out of a mortgage in adjacent circumstances, it is totally possible. A good lawyer in your brother's jurisdiction will know for sure. Just letting you know this is a thing people do.
posted by jbenben at 10:33 AM on December 7, 2017 [22 favorites]

Is there a chance that the people who sold the house to your brother did so knowing that a sinkhole was forming? If so (and I realize this could well be just bad luck, not deception), maybe he could pursue remedies that way.
posted by amtho at 10:34 AM on December 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

He needs to move immediately. Fuck the mortgage - he needs to leave now and fix the situation legally (if possible) in post. This is not a salvageable situation and it sounds as though someone may end up getting shot. It isn't worth it.
posted by killdevil at 10:50 AM on December 7, 2017 [10 favorites]

Nthing the suggestion that your brother just needs to GTFO of that house and neighborhood. Sinkholes are super dangerous, a house right next to one, with foundation damage is worthless. It sounds like the stress of both the neighbors and the sinkhole is causing some serious stress and taking a mental toll on your brother. He doesn't need to lose his life to these problems.

If it was my sibling, I'd show up for Christmas (staying at a hotel) with enough cash to pay for an attorney's consult as their present (have the parents chip in if you can). Or if things really deteriorate in the next couple weeks, I might just show up with the offer of a Uhaul and a bunch of boxes to get out ASAP.
posted by sharp pointy objects at 11:05 AM on December 7, 2017 [9 favorites]

Florida is a strategic default state, so worst case scenario, he can jingle mail the keys back and let the bank deal with the house and the sinkhole. Strategically, he'd be best off to stop paying the mortgage, save up the mortgage payments for a few months, and use them as a deposit for a new rental. But if he can afford to rent without needing to do that, he needs to back out of how entrenched he's become in this situation and objectively look at the the pros and cons of defaulting.

He should look at this in conjunction with a reputable real estate attorney to consider default, bankruptcy, and the odds of getting out of the mortgage based on the sinkhole. He has options. He needs to accept them as valid.

He SHOULD NOT GET A DOG. All that does is give the neighbours a target, and the dog is a target he can't protect while he's at work 40+ hours a week.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:13 AM on December 7, 2017 [42 favorites]

The house needs an ASAP emergency assessment.

Jacksonville Planning Dept is (904) 255-7800

Jacksonville Fire Marshall is (904) 630-0445

I phoned the city myself just now to get those phone numbers. That's how serious a sinkhole + structural damage. I like in a city where we have sinkholes, but more commonly hillsides collapse after rains. This is something I know a bit about and I urge you to call and explain the situation, find out how quickly professionals can show up and assess the integrity of the house.

I hope I'm wrong, but only building inspectors know for sure. Call them.
posted by jbenben at 11:29 AM on December 7, 2017 [11 favorites]

Thanks everyone for the suggestions and also a big huge thank you to Eyebrows who contacted me on the side with some top notch advice. I just typed up an essay length email to my brother and parents with some specific, non-dramatic actions we can start to take to get some headway on a number of these problems. Thank you.

My brother has two big dogs (pits) and we're all concerned these pieces of shit are going to shoot the dogs. They're never outside by themselves anymore, but still.
posted by phunniemee at 11:31 AM on December 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

Any chance the sinkhole could also take out the dreadful neighbors? At least that would be some cosmic justice...
posted by mccxxiii at 11:41 AM on December 7, 2017 [11 favorites]

Does he have a metal door in addition to the alarm system? Might be something to think about post Christmas when a house might empty while people are traveling and new Christmas toys are unattended and hanging around
posted by raccoon409 at 11:43 AM on December 7, 2017

I think his main issue is the condition of the house and the sinkhole likely undermining the foundation. This needs a lawyer so that he can get out of his mortgage and also find out whether the seller knew this was an early-stage issue. At a minimum, his homeowners insurance needs to be notified immediately. If your family can all pitch in to help get a specialized lawyer, that would be great.
posted by quince at 11:55 AM on December 7, 2017 [9 favorites]

An ever-widening sinkhole and dangerous neighbors? The task here is to get out of this house safely and with as little financial damage as possible.

Find an attorney who can talk to him about suing the seller, realtor, or inspector to rescind the purchase (in the case of the seller) and/or recover damages, and also about walking away from the mortgage. Keep in mind that the attorney will cost money and may be biased toward the option where s/he gets paid.

Either option will cause stress and potentially mess up his credit for something like 1-7 years, so he should go ahead and get started.

Do not get the house red-tagged by the city unless your brother has a place to go. Of course, if the house is structurally unsound, he should move out right away. But getting himself forced to move out is a bad idea. He can pay an engineer to evaluate the situation if he wants an outside opinion about the building's safety that won't get the sheriff involved.
posted by slidell at 4:51 PM on December 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

For security (cheaper than a gun!) he might want to consider a ridiculously bright motion activated light facing his neighbors property (so the moment someone comes onto his property they are nearly blinded, if its at night).

I had a friend whose neighbor had set up a meth lab (more than once). Eventually (!!!) they got put in jail and the neighbors lawyer ended up taking possession of the house, and the awful scary neighbor was gone. That was a very long process though.
posted by el io at 11:48 PM on December 9, 2017

Breaking neighbor update:

Over the last week my brother has been collecting all the paperwork together and scanning it to me in disorganized lumps (a bunch of police reports, etc) for us to deal with later, but nothing had actually been acted on yet.

HOWEVER, as of last night--the neighbors have completely disappeared. It's the first time the house has been totally empty in months, everyone just picked up and left. There's been no activity at the house (security cameras have been checked) in nearly 24 hours, which is extremely unusual. Apparently.

They left the house with windows open and doors unlocked (police were sent by), and the house and back yard are completely full of garbage.

So...this is good news, I guess? My brother contacted the neighbor's mortgage company to fill them in on all this, including that they appear to have abandoned the house, and I guess their mortgage company is going to be doing whatever it is that they do in situations like these. My brother seems to be pretty confident that the neighbors are gone-gone, at least for a while, so fingers crossed there won't be anyone there doing a bunch of dumbshit things while grandma's visiting for Christmas.
posted by phunniemee at 11:50 AM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

So this happened this morning.
posted by phunniemee at 9:23 AM on January 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

I need to know what's in that thermos. Also what's up with the "big gulps." Is the sheriff trying to be a media personality?
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:51 AM on January 5, 2018

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