My neighbor has no boundaries
May 9, 2019 7:36 PM   Subscribe

I live in a small apartment building, and my neighbor across the hall is constantly knocking on my door, talking to me through my door, leaving things at my door, and trying to help me in uninvited ways when I see her in the hall. My landlord and I have talked to her a few times and a former tenant yelled at her. Is there anything else I can do?

There are only four apartments in my building. She and I are both on the first floor and are the only tenants right now, though this has been a problem for months. She's probably in her late 40's, doesn't work, has grown kids, might drinks a lot at night.

Our landlord lives on site, and he knows her lack of boundaries is a problem. He's talked to her about it two or three times. It usually helps for a little while but then she goes back. I've also talked to her a number of times. Last week she tried to get me to give her my number (I wouldn't) and I said, once more, that I didn't mind chatting in the entryway but not to come to my door, and she kept pushing as I walked away and she was even calling "I will respect your boundaries!" after me. The next morning I found a bag of leaves at my door--I assume it was some sort of lettuce or something, but all I know is that there was a grocery bag full of leaves on my doorknob with no note or context.

A while back, our landlord mentioned that I had tripped on the stairs while taking out trash. It wasn't a big deal; just caught my shoe. Since then this neighbor keeps trying to take out my trash and recycling, and I snapped at her some the other day over that but it didn't stick.

Her talking to me through my door is new--our doors are pretty thin--and makes me extra angry .

Given that she's been so dense for so long, is there anything left to try? I'm even thinking about posting rules on my door, which is ridiculous. I'm at my wit's end. Never thought it'd be so obnoxious to have someone trying to do nice things for me. I'll talk to the landlord again, but I'd be grateful for other ideas.
posted by mermaidcafe to Human Relations (37 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yikes. I have only piece of advice: You can no longer hear through the door. Of course you can, but for all she knows, you must sleep a lot or wear headphones or something. But it's OK to stop answering, and then she should stop trying eventually...?
posted by rdn at 7:48 PM on May 9, 2019 [11 favorites]

Tell her you're an atheist.
Tell her you don't love the job he's doing but you have to admit Trump ran a great campaign.
Tell her you're a member of the NRA.
Tell her you'd love to chat but you're on your way to a Pentecostal revival for a faith healing.
Tell her you have been ordered by a court to disclose your status as a registered sex offender.
Tell her you'd love to talk about your essential oil business sometime, maybe bring over a few products to demo.
Tell her you think Green Book should have won more Oscars.

You know, whatever you think will offend her the most.
posted by phunniemee at 7:49 PM on May 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

I don’t answer when she talks to me through the door or even knocks.
posted by mermaidcafe at 7:53 PM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

When you speak with your landlord again, use the phrase “right to quiet enjoyment.” This is seriously disruptive, and is not something you should have to solve. Your landlord is legally obligated to provide a living space where you are not being harassed in this manner by another tenant.
posted by sockermom at 7:56 PM on May 9, 2019 [23 favorites]

FWIW. In my jurisdiction, your landlord has no legal duty to you in this situation whatsoever.
posted by crush at 8:05 PM on May 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

"Quiet enjoyment" is more related to possession of the premises than actual quiet, and this sounds more like a right to be free from harassing behavior that is causing you increasing stress. I was thinking about fixes like a white noise machine or additional insulation for your door, but that may not fix what sounds like escalating attempts at unwanted contact, because what if it becomes regular knocking, or waiting for you outside your door?

An attorney in your jurisdiction could help you determine what you can ask your landlord to do, e.g. let you break your lease while retaining a favorable reference, retain your security deposit, etc. There may be legal action you can take against the escalating tenant, but that is something an attorney in your jurisdiction can answer, in what would likely be a brief consultation.
posted by Little Dawn at 8:09 PM on May 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

1. Post the rules on the door (large font), and if that doesn’t work,

2. Move out. This would drive me absolutely nuts and I doubt the neighbor is going anywhere. :-(
posted by sallybrown at 8:13 PM on May 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

could you possibly move into one of the upstairs apartments instead? maybe with a staircase between you she'll be less annoying? otherwise, i sometimes have a hard time enforcing boundaries with pushy obnoxious women who seem like they might mean well (thanks, mom!) but in this case i would probably just tell her to fuck directly off as often as it took to get her to do just that. no politeness, no chatting, no conversation, just "leave me the fuck alone".
posted by poffin boffin at 8:14 PM on May 9, 2019 [14 favorites]

Quiet enjoyment is related to what a reasonable person would expect in a living situation. This isn't reasonable. Of course, YMMV.

The last time I had question that would be good for a lawyer, I found one using the Mefi wiki page. They only charged a $15 consultation fee for the first half hour. That was enough to let me know how I needed to proceed. (Oops, I see this was already helpfully suggested! Plus one for the Mefi wiki.)
posted by sockermom at 8:18 PM on May 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ugh!! If you aren't doing it already, I'd tell her a final "I do not want to have any contact with you in any way. Please leave me alone." Then be a broken record "I will not talk to you" or "No!" or just ignore her. She'll eventually get the message, and will probably mostly leave you alone.

I've dealt with an awful neighbor who kept disrespecting boundaries, so I finally said the "I will not talk to you any more. Your behavior is unacceptable. From now all, any and all communication will only be through our landlord." It's worked and made living here bearable in her worst moments -- she's got some serious issues, unfortunately -- and pretty great most of the time. After setting the boundary -- and her (mostly) following it, I try to remember that she sucks but also have compassion for her shitty life and lack of social awareness. Fortunately, I like my place and have two more neighbors: one who is neutral and another who is the Best Ever.

If your neighbor becomes aggressive, then that's a different strategy. I'm so sorry you're having to deal with this!
posted by smorgasbord at 8:19 PM on May 9, 2019 [11 favorites]

Does your neighbor possibly come from a different cultural background than you do? I ask because I find mismatch of expectations often leads to neighbor stress. Some people really feel like neighbors in a small apartment building like that should be friends - I think you’ve made it clear you don’t want to be, but she seems from what you’ve described to be just assuming she’s done something wrong that she needs to make up for, whereas it seems you’re just uninterested completely in that kind of relationship.
posted by corb at 9:03 PM on May 9, 2019 [13 favorites]

There is the idea of "negative reinforcement". Simply by reacting to this person you are providing an incentive, or are removing a boundary, to keep her pestering you.

If there is no easy way to deter her, A) just ignore her. Do not acknowledge her in any way. That may result in declining amounts of contact.

Or, B) you could try building a relationship. After a certain rapport has been built, you can explain that you do not like certain behaviours.

Neither strategy seems like it will work, and in that case strategy B has the lowest rate of return on your effort.

If I were in your shoes I would just ignore her.
posted by JamesBay at 9:47 PM on May 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Do you think your neighbor is neurotypical? This sounds like a possible developmental disability or similar to me. I'm not sure what to do about it if that's the case, I'm just raising the possibility in case someone else has a suggestion based on it.
posted by waffleriot at 11:07 PM on May 9, 2019 [15 favorites]

Is there some kind of eldercare outreach program where you live? Maybe just start leaving stacks of flyers for them outside your door. Or flyers about volunteer opportunities.

She sounds like she desperately wants human contact but doesn't know how to seek it out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:15 AM on May 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

She's in her 40s. Don't think eldercare is warranted.
posted by greta simone at 4:21 AM on May 10, 2019 [10 favorites]

He's talked to her about it two or three times. It usually helps for a little while but then she goes back.

I suspect she needs regular reinforcement *before* she slides back into her old habits. This is a long shot but I suspect it might help if the landlord checked in with her more regularly - on a monthly or weekly basis. If she's been doing well, he could say "you've been respecting Ms Mermaidcafe's boundaries, thank you for doing that and for helping to keep the peace in the building." If she's started to slide, he would make a call to remind her how important it is to respect boundaries.

I agree that she sounds very lonely and possibly in need of professional help. That's not your problem to solve, but remembering it might help ease your frustration.
posted by bunderful at 4:38 AM on May 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hey- it could be worse. On the plus side, she doesn't as far as you know have an actual hot tub in her unit. She's not using a large chest of drawers as a hotel for Japanese businessmen. She doesn't invite you to eat a meal she prepared in her shower. She doesn't borrow your butter to improve her tan. As far as you know she is not promoting a coffee table book about coffee tables and hasnt started hosting a talk show from within her unit. However if she begins eating your cereal or has a flamboyant entrance when appearing on the scene, those would be warning signs that you have a Kramer on your hands.

One thing you could try is to empathize and validate her. She clearly wants to connect with you and the more you pull away the more desperate she becomes for acceptance and acknowledgment. She is human after all. Sure, it would be perfect if at all times other humans respected our desired boundaries, and she definitely seems annoying. But I would guess that if you take her out for coffee once in a while, get to know her a little bit, and acknowledge and validate her human experience as being your neighbor and desiring and/or needing some sort of human connection with you, she will behave in a much more reasonable way towards you going forward than if you treat her as if you believe she is a reject, a weirdo, an inappropriate person. I bet it's not easy to be living alone as a woman in one's forties in a culture where after a certain age, one becomes invisible.
posted by winterportage at 4:51 AM on May 10, 2019 [6 favorites]

I'm not advising you to take her anywhere because I don't know for sure whether that's a good idea, but if you decide to take her somewhere, make it a place where she might make friends and/or get involved in an activity.

If I were this woman's family member I think I'd want the landlord to let me know she was having some problems and might need some help. It's possible that she's always been like this but it's also possible that her behavior is a symptom of a health problem. I don't know that it's possible for you to do anything about that, but if it tracks and there's some kind of opportunity in the future (your city starts a social services team that does mental health checks on request - it's a long shot but crazier things have happened), give it a thought. If she gets help she'll probably be easier to deal with.
posted by bunderful at 5:04 AM on May 10, 2019

The most effective training regimen involves rewarding the behaviors you want to reinforce and ignoring those you want to extinguish. This works on any animal you want to train, including an annoying neighbor. The book Don't Shoot the Dog has a lot of detail about this, and it might be a useful route for you.
posted by spindrifter at 5:21 AM on May 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

I hear lonely, misses the kids, wants a small community/family, and since you're the only other person in the building, Melrose Place it is.

If you don't want to be best buds, I recommend against taking her anywhere.

However, there are ways to make it an endurable neighborly relationship. Spindrifter is right - it's about behavior and behavior modification.

Now, is it that you don't like engaging people, she's just especially annoying, you don't have much alone time, so you want that at home because otherwise you're really busy? Not getting the whole picture here.

How is it that she's trying to take out your trash and recycling? Is running up to you carry your trash and grabbing it out of your hands? Or do you put it in a can outside, and then transfer elsewhere? And if she's going to do it, well - umm - "sure, here, thanks for the assist."

Also, is there opportunity to set up some kind of 'common area' - like a set of four lawn chairs / Adirondack chairs around a little table or fire pit?

I had a neighbor when we first moved in that would just come over whenever - home or not - and do things like power wash my walkway. Or offer to paint something he thought needed painting, or fix some seam on the wall he thought shouldn't be there (he was a painter/construction). Some I politely declined. If he did something when I wasn't home, I offered him a beer, and set a hard timeline - "Hey, here's a beer; but I have to do something for work by x time, so can't talk longer than 15 minutes."

May take a little bit of bending/acceptance on your side, but gives you the in to start making changes.

In one of those friendly talks, for example, you can mention how sometimes you have to do stuff for work at home that takes lots of concentration, so any noise can impact your work. then "Hey - tell you what, I'm probably going to put a 'do not disturb' note on my door when I'm working just so the landlord and other people know not to bother me.. don't want to lose my job."

So, some mix of white lies, and slow creation of a working relationship that you can live with, and you never know, you might find some value in.
posted by rich at 6:03 AM on May 10, 2019 [6 favorites]

In your shoes, I would probably move, because it seems like there's a good chance this won't get better. But I would definitely try a large "do not disturb" sign- worth an experiment.
posted by pinochiette at 6:55 AM on May 10, 2019 [7 favorites]

I too think that an approach where you give her ten minutes to chat and feel some validation will actually improve her need to pester you. She sounds anxious and lonely and not secure mentally. The more you resist the more she's going to feel desperate. Just try it and see. Ask her how she's doing. Get to know her. A little bit at a time. I don't think you need to take her to coffee-- that's a lot to ask at this stage. But just give her a few minutes to be present with her in the hallway everyday. It's not too much to ask. And you'll feel better that you're not running away from her or hiding.
posted by jj's.mama at 7:14 AM on May 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don't think moving to a different unit in the building will help, and I doubt that any sort of legal action would work either. Her persistence and aggressiveness about it is kind of ridiculous. Is she why the rest of the building is empty?

I would first put a sign on my door that read your "rules".
1. Do not knock on my door unless it is an emergency.
2. Do not attempt to talk to me when I am in my apartment with the door closed.
3. Do not leave things at or on my door.

Then I would be stern if she ignores them. If she yells at you through the door I would open it up and tell her sternly "Do NOT yell at me through my door. You know not to do this and it is even written on my door." If/when she apologizes tell her that you don't want apologies, you want the behaviour to STOP IMMEDIATELY AND PERMANENTLY. Then tell her that you are returning to your apartment and that she is to do the same and to not bother you again unless it is an emergency. Then close the door and call your landlord.

Every time she harassess you I would contact the landlord. They have an obligation to protect you from their other tennants harassing you. You need to make it their problem and make them accutely aware of how disruptive and frequent it is.

And in the meantime I would be looking for a new apartment.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:43 AM on May 10, 2019 [6 favorites]

You can be direct about the behavior you expect and about the behavior you don't want to happen.

X, you are knocking on my door. I don't want to talk to you, please don't knock. If I want to talk I will knock on your door. End convo.

Now this throws out all of the social conventions that we rely on and makes people really uncomfortable. But it allows someone who isn't understanding know exactly what you want and that what they are doing isn't OK, and also gives them a signal when it is OK. It's a hard conversation to have but it really establishes clear boundaries.

Now, of course if you are an amazing person you would occasionally knock and be nice to your neighbor BUT it is is not required.

Also by having a, signal you cut out all the but maybe- she- if and but thoughts. I'd it happens again you remind them, I don't want to talk, if I want to talk I will knock on your door. I bet you will see a dramatic change in behavior.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:47 AM on May 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Maybe set "office hours" and set a 15-minute session time, get a kitchen timer, and stick to it?
posted by amtho at 11:37 AM on May 10, 2019

I would not be setting aside ten minutes a day, 15 minutes a day, whatever, for this person. If she already ignores boundaries, that will absolutely not help. I would just go with flat-out refusal to talk to her, to the point of rudeness. If she approached me, I would say "Leave me alone" and keep walking. If she yelled through my door, I would open the door, say "leave me alone!" and close the door. If it kept up, honestly, I would be inclined to talk to the police. You are not obligated to give this person your time, and trying to parcel out short amount of attention to her will only encourage her to stomp on your boundaries even more.
posted by sarcasticah at 12:24 PM on May 10, 2019 [7 favorites]

I want to validate your instincts here; your anger is valid and you certainly don't need to hang out with someone you don't want to hang out with. This is your home and you deserve to be at ease at home.

Having empathy for a problematic person doesn't mean you have to tolerate bothersome and unwanted behavior. I myself am lonely, not neurotypical, have social problems, am not from the same culture as most of the people in my building, etc., and yet I still leave my neighbors be, and don't call to people through closed doors. I kinda resent the idea that she's some kind of charity case and a good person would take her on in some kind of limited way (as if you could really apply hard limits now, given nobody has been able to so far.) That's only going to encourage further breaches, right? I think what you really want is no contact, not more contact, right? That's valid!

I feel like a lot of the advice here would be different if this neighbor were a pushy, likely drunk man trying to worm his way into your life, so I'm answering you the same way I'd answer someone complaining of a male neighbor behaving this way. OP, you don't have to engage in unwanted interactions with anyone who is bulldozing past your signals or breaching social conventions. Since this person is a known problem, you might try telling your landlord you're going to have to move and see if the landlord is willing to do anything. Otherwise, I'd be prepared to move if that's at all possible for you.
posted by kapers at 1:07 PM on May 10, 2019 [22 favorites]

holy hell, no, you do not have to and should not feel in any way obligated or pressured to take this person out socially and help her make some friends. that is a shocking suggestion and if those suggesting it think that a harasser's gender confers some special obligation of niceness on her targets, they are much mistaken. I assure you that many men who, without committing crimes, intrude on women's physical and psychic space in public, also feel "invisible" and wish for women to heal them of this wound; they behave in a pushy, oblivious manner for exactly the reason theorized here: they want to be seen by those they demand to have as an audience; they will not accept that others refuse to recognize and engage with them. is it different, because men do this in public places to strangers usually, and this woman is her neighbor and knows her name? yes. yes, it's different when you can't go home to get away from it.

based on our personal ideas about kindness, we may choose to react to such people in a variety of ways, to tolerate these intrusions, even to feel empathy or pity. even, if we have questionable judgment and grand ideals, to reward them with engagement in an attempt to teach them better and improve society. but this kind of entitlement is not something we urge other women to reward, "empathize" with, or "validate."

If and only if you feel entirely safe physically, mermaidcafe, you may want to say directly -- in person or in writing -- "Don't knock or yell through my door again unless the building is on fire." If you haven't already, if you feel like you've only given broad hints until now. But if you want to exclusively communicate through your landlord at this point, that's completely fair.

I bet it's not easy to be living alone as a woman in one's forties in a culture where after a certain age, one becomes invisible.

this is, considering the specific context, one of the more insulting things I've seen written here about women of any age.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:23 PM on May 10, 2019 [24 favorites]

She sounds like she has something going on where she doesn't quite understand the rules. I would say them very explicitly.

Part one, say:
"Deborah you said last week you will respect my boundaries and I really appreciate that. I want to tell you my boundaries.
- Please do not knock on my door unless there is a life threatening emergency.
- Please do not try to communicate through my closed door.
- Please do not leave items at my door.
- Please do not touch my garbage or recycling.
I'm really glad you respect boundaries! I also respect boundaries so if I ever do something that oversteps your boundaries, do let me know."

Part two, if she violates the above, tape it to your door.

Part three, start calling the landlord every time she does.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:17 PM on May 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for the ideas.

Indeed, it is not my job to set office hours to be with her, give her volunteer opportunities, see if her family can get her therapy, or get patio furniture that we can hang out on. I'm also not going to "just move" to deal with the problem. I'll call the landlord, print up and post rules, and plan to ignore her, and I'll keep calling the landlord as needed. I can be genial again much later down the road after she's earned it.
posted by mermaidcafe at 8:02 PM on May 10, 2019 [8 favorites]

My apologies for mis-phrasing what I was trying to say; when I was talking about volunteer opportunities I was envisioning more "leave flyers in the lobby and then ignore her" rather than dropping them by and giving them to her. But I see I didn't phrase that well, and apologize.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:48 AM on May 11, 2019

I'm not sure if someone has suggested this already, and I'm a very anti-confrontational person generally, but if I were you, the next time she pisses me off, I would show it, and yell at her.
"Doris, this is my HOME. You are invading my privacy. I don't want you to TALK to me, LOOK at me, or BOTHER me. CUT IT OUT!"
and the next time I see her if she even fucking looks at me "BACK OFF, DORIS. I've called the landlord twice on you, don't make me do it again."

If she knocked on my door, I would open it, and say "Knock on my door one more time, and unless the building is on fire, and I'm calling the police on you, Doris."

I would try to get this lady to be scared of me, and start to avoid me. She sounds like a sad case, but if you appear even remotely kind or sympathetic, she will work that angle with all her might.

Find someone else to bother, Doris!

Good luck...
posted by tk_zk at 7:10 AM on May 13, 2019

p.s. I thinking posting a sign just for her is crazy and playing into the attention she clearly craves from you. Don't do it!
posted by tk_zk at 7:10 AM on May 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Ignore her. No eye contact. No talking. No answers. If she knocks on your door repeatedly, call the police.
posted by all about eevee at 11:31 AM on May 14, 2019


I'd been totally avoiding all contact with neighbor, including eye contact, and thought things were going better. Until she tried to beat down my door today while yelling obscenities at me through the door so loudly I could hear them in the bedroom where I was hiding while I waited for the cops.

The cops arrived and instructed her no former contact, telling me they'd arrest her if I reported any, and neither cops nor I have been able to get in touch with landlord. (I quickly packed and left with my cat to stay with a relative.)

I tell this story as an update, and also because I was frankly appalled at all the comments suggesting I needed to be a little more compassionate to this friendly, kinda pushy, probably bored and lonely neighbor lady, and I hope this anecdote is a good counterexample.
posted by mermaidcafe at 7:50 PM on June 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Sorry to hear that you had to call the cops and that she was yelling and banging on your door. It sounds like she has a mental health issue that is not being treated.
posted by jj's.mama at 8:00 PM on June 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

also because I was frankly appalled at all the comments suggesting I needed to be a little more compassionate

hard same and i'm glad you are okay, although obviously stressed and badly inconvenienced.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:04 PM on July 1, 2019

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