Im having trouble with my 90 year old neighbour. HELP
July 3, 2006 1:58 AM   Subscribe

Problems with my Neighbour Filter: Im having trouble with my 90 year old neighbour. I live in a ground floor flat and she lives above us. I play music in the daytime as I work from home at a normal level. She is always reporting me to the council saying that I am a nuisance neighbour, HELP!

The contract stats that I cannot play music between the hours of 11pm to 7am, so I dont. I have been living in the same ground floor flat for over 6 years and my neighbour makes it a habbit to report me every 6 months. She is a 90 year old that doesnt like neighbours.

The last time she got the council around was because we installed a ceiling fan and she didnt like it. We are now forced to not use the fan at all.

Before we moved in we found out that she used to report the previous tenant all the time. She has nothing better to do as she is always in the house and never leaves.

The problem I now have is that my wife is pregnant and whenever she reports us it gets her really stressed. I havnt told my wife as she will do her nut and I cant afford her to get stressed this early in the pregnancy. My housing accociation is not coming around to talk with me, this sounds serious even though we havnt done anything wrong. I dont know what I can do to start reporting the 90 year old of stress, im even thinking of taking legal action against her.

I get on well with the other tenants and Im thinking of getting a report from them about the problem neighbour. I know she is 90 but she is a pain in the arse.

Another problem is that I play the Acoustic Guitar, I only play it in the daytime. Im now scared of playing it because of the neighbour.

Is their any advice you can give me about what I can do?
posted by spinko to Law & Government (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go talk to her. Then report her for harrasment. Possibly sue for it (IANL). Or you can just start being the real bastard she's accusing you of. Then find out which of her kids/grandkids is on the council and kick their ass repeatedly.

But first: Have you talked to the association, yet? They obviously know she's a nutter. This should have been your first step. Just how are they warning you, anyway?
posted by IronLizard at 2:17 AM on July 3, 2006

What does she report you for, besides being a nuisance? Is there some particular chapter and page in your contract or agreement or whatnot that she's reporting you for? If so, the burden of proof is on her and the council needs to recognize that.

As for tried & true solutions: You can go to the council meetings, and become generally liked. If the council likes you, or better yet if you're a part of the council, you become beyond reproach.

Otherwise, you can try to butter up the 90 year old lady, stop calling her a biddie, and generally go out of your way to be nice to her.

This is a problem that requires a social solution. There is no legal, technological, or logical solution to it.
posted by SpecialK at 2:18 AM on July 3, 2006

(1) Move. (2) Get the council out to actually measure the decibels created by your activity and prove that they are within normal levels. (3) Talk to your neighbor. (4) Organize your other neighbors to dispute her. (5) Move.
posted by beerbajay at 2:18 AM on July 3, 2006

Given that she has previous history, have you spoken to your council or housing association about this? And if they are aware, then ask them what they can do about it?

Chances are they will be aware of her and, while they won't be taking her complaints too seriously, they may be obliged to investigate each time. Which doesn't help you or your wife..

There's very little to add, other than raising your concerns with the council and speaking to other neighbours.

On the cold but realistic side, she's 90. She might not last much longer. Anything you can do to hasten her exit?
posted by Nugget at 2:28 AM on July 3, 2006

On the cold but realistic side, she's 90. She might not last much longer.

That was my first thought too, but then if his wife is pregnant he needs a more short term solution.

Anything you can do to hasten her exit?

Haha that made me laugh.

No serious advice that hasn't already been said, except I wouldn't go talk to her. She's insane/old and bitter, she won't respond to niceties.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 2:59 AM on July 3, 2006

Start reporting her. "I work from home during the day, and I can't get any work done with the distraction of that cane/walker/wheelchair pounding on the floor all day long! She has to stop walking/wheeling around her apartment!"

I have to ask, as others have asked, what exactly does the council say when they come by? Are they reasonable about it? Or do they say "Turn down that god damned noise, so the nice lady upstairs can have some peace and quiet!!!"? If the former, then I don't really see the problem. Start making it into a joke whenever the inspector comes by: "Hey Charlie, did she report me again? Yeah, I sneezed twice in a row yesterday, and she started pounding on the ceiling, so I figured I'd see you again soon". If it's the latter, inform the council that you are planning on taking THEM to court for harrassment, as well as the old lady, because you are NOT violating any laws (or bylaws of the council, as the case may be) and it is causing your wife undue stress every time she reports you, and they KNOW that she is just an old crank.
posted by antifuse at 2:59 AM on July 3, 2006

My housing accociation is not coming around to talk with me, this sounds serious even though we havnt done anything wrong

Er, they are coming around to talk with you right? I would say don't stress out, they are bound to have plenty of experience with people like your neighbour and should be able to advise you on the best thing to do. If they are prepared to ignore her complaints and she's not directly harrassing you maybe you can leave it at that. Don't worry about annoying her, it sounds like being annoyed and complaining is the only interest she has left in her life. Speaking of which, it might be worth talking to social services, they work with Age Concern and might be able to offer her a regular visitor (this is in the UK, YMMV).
posted by teleskiving at 3:20 AM on July 3, 2006

The last time she got the council around was because we installed a ceiling fan and she didnt like it. We are now forced to not use the fan at all.
Is the fan loud/noisy enough for her to hear in her flat? If so, then there might be a problem with the insulation or soundproofing that the landlords need to resolve.
posted by essexjan at 6:09 AM on July 3, 2006

Make friends: bake a cake, take it round, apologise that everything got off on the wrong foot. You'd like to make it right, can you have a chat about things? Ooh isn't the hot weather nice?

Then start talking about how you want to be good neighbours, and you'd like to try and work out when it would be OK for you to play the guitar. Say that you don't want to bother with things like a block of hours during the day, because what if she's watching her favourite programme at that time. Ask what would suit her, and y'know, be friendly.
posted by bonaldi at 6:11 AM on July 3, 2006

I suggest inviting her over for dinner.

I had upstairs neighbors that insisted on doing step aerobics at all hours of day, 5 am, 11 pm, it felt like they never stopped. I rarely saw them outside the apartment so instead of talking to them in person I called the building manager. The next month after I complained it seemed like there was little I could do without them calling the manager. I realized that we had to get to know each other or the situation was just going to devolve into a horrible living situation. I invited them over, we all had dinner and not only did the complaints stop from all of us we also became good friends.

It is quite possible she is just lonely and bored.
posted by a22lamia at 6:17 AM on July 3, 2006

You can't deal with 90-year-old crazy people. They are crazy. By definition. Nothing you can do will make her sane. Talking to her won't help. Giving her a cake won't help. Inviting her to dinner won't help. Lots of humans believe that 90-year-old crazy people can somehow be reasoned with, but they are WRONG. Senile dementia exists and it is real.

Best things you can do:

1) contact local old-people-support-group. There's some sort of community service/assisted living/meals-on-wheels/elder support deal nearby, find them and make sure they know about this woman. She's reporting you because she's lonely and she wants to talk to people. Those care groups will make sure she has enough nutrition and human contact.

2) Social-engineer whoever she's reporting you to. If you can't out-talk a 90-year-old crazy woman and convince them that you're the good neighbor and she's the crazy one, you're not trying. Once you've convinced them of that, the next time the council calls, you just shrug your shoulders and twirl your finger next to your ear.

3) Hide behind things, jump out and yell "BOO!" when she walks by.
posted by jellicle at 6:26 AM on July 3, 2006

The fact that she complained about the ceiling fan makes me think she can hear you, and does find it annoying. You shouldn't be able to hear a ceiling fan at all from the other flat! Possibly a soundproofing fault?

Go and speak to her. Ask her if she would mind you coming in to hear the "disturbances" for yourself. That way you can both agree a sound level that is tolerable. If not get someone in to measure the sound levels.

Sometimes old people do like to complain a lot. Possibly she does have a valid reason (superman type hearing or something). Speak to her first though... better to resolve issues with your neighbours rather than starting neighbour wars.
posted by twistedonion at 6:30 AM on July 3, 2006

Seconding jellicle (or at least, items 1 and 2).

Also, prepare for things to escalate when your wife has the baby; if this lady is making such a fuss over moderate noise during the day, she is very likely to really step it up once you have the added unpredictability of a screaming baby which knows nothing of contracts or approved noisemaking hours. It would be a good idea to mention this ("My wife is pregnant, she's already stressed out enough, what's going to happen when the baby cries at night?") when you speak to the council. Which you should, and soon.
posted by Gator at 6:34 AM on July 3, 2006

It would be a good idea to mention this ("My wife is pregnant, she's already stressed out enough, what's going to happen when the baby cries at night?")

Yes: baby trumps biddy.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:57 AM on July 3, 2006

Sounds like she has an out-of-whack hearing-aid (or her hearing has changed and she's failed to update her device). Its possible for an out-of-wack device to garble normal speech tones and magnify annoying ones - imagine barely being able to make out someone talking right to you while hearing a floor squeak two rooms away - as loud as a jetliner taking off.

Worst of all possible worlds - she become even more socially isolated and angry, while at the same time becoming hyper-aware of every audio annoyance.

I don't have any advice, but if that's the problem you will never be quiet enough for her - just living and moving around will generate offense, even with no music.
posted by Jos Bleau at 7:06 AM on July 3, 2006

If it helps, there's a new study claiming that moderate stress might actually be good for a developing fetus and calling into question the methodology of previous studies claiming otherwise.
posted by occhiblu at 7:56 AM on July 3, 2006

This same thing has happened to me before. Except it wasn't with a 90 year old biddy, it was with a 20-something school teacher.

Despite the fact that she stomped around the apartment like she was trying to put out a fire, she complained every time we had on music, the TV or were playing a game on the computer. It got to the point where we turned the TV down so it was barely audible to us at night and tried to listen to it at normal levels during the day, but she complained about that too.

We offered to allow her into our apartment so she could hear the noise levels. While inside, she agreed they were normal, but then basically told us we were turning it up once she left. One time she came stomping down to knock on our door and complain about all the noise when I'd just arrived home from work and nothing was turned on.

We talked to our leasing office about the absurdity of her complaints. They sympathized with us, but stated when they receive a complaint, they had to write out a letter to the "offending" party and our only option was really a counter complaint.

We have subwoofers for the TV/stereo and computer and once we turned those off or as low as they could go, the complaints decreased. If you have a subwoofer on your stereo, try turning it off/down and see if she complains any less about it.

Still, nothing we could do could completely stop the complaints. We tried talking to her, being friendly with her and even complying with her requests to some extent. We figured she was just a bitter, angry woman who didn't understand she wasn't going to get complete silence living with other people attached on three sides. Even her husband seemed to think she was crazy although he would not verbally admit it (but the looks he gave her behind her back were very telling.) Thankfully, they moved and we no longer have to deal with them. Their replacements like to vacuum and dance around the apartment with music full blast at 11pm, but that sound is so much sweeter than her stomping it doesn't bother me in the least.
posted by lynda at 7:56 AM on July 3, 2006

Fight fire with fire. Best defense is a good offense. Shock and awe! Either tie her up in your own complaints or actually start making noise. Use the fan. Play your music. Enjoy your life. Either you are going to get thrown out or move because of her, but short of her kicking off you are a goner, so enjoy it whilest you can.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:03 AM on July 3, 2006

Er, this is meanness disguised as kindness. Sorry. With that disclaimer, could you report her to the Social Services? Remember they don't just take kids into care, but the elderly too. Tell them that you're concerned she can't handle the stairs, or that you think she's extremely lonely, or that you are worried she's not eating enough. The more you play the concerned neighbour, the looser her grip on reality will seem.
posted by featherboa at 8:49 AM on July 3, 2006

Fight fire with fire. Best defense is a good offense. Shock and awe!

Jesus Christ, the woman's 90—have some respect. She may be a pain in the ass now, but she's a human being, and one day, if you're lucky, you'll be a 90-year-old pain in the ass too.

I second the get-to-know-her approach, with the proviso that it may well not work, in which case you have to go with the butter-up-the-council approach and hope they can do something. (Note to jellicle: You don't know she has Alzheimer's. Most 90-year-olds are cranky, for good reason. Don't assume that because you happen to have known an old person with Alzheimer's, that's the explanation for everything.)
posted by languagehat at 8:50 AM on July 3, 2006

Tell them that you're concerned she can't handle the stairs, or that you think she's extremely lonely, or that you are worried she's not eating enough.

Terrible advice...

To those that automatically assume 90 = senile/retarded/not human...

You will get old yourself one day. As an athiest I don't exactly live by the Bible but one piece of advice always stuck...

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

So, if you honestly thought the neighbours next door to you were making your life hell and you complained. Would you want them to ring up the lunatic asylum or would you want them to call round and sort the problem out?

God knows, years ago she could have had students making her life hell for years and now she is hyper sensitive - You don't know her history, so don't judge her, just the situation.
posted by twistedonion at 8:58 AM on July 3, 2006

I had a situation a bit like lynda's. Our downstairs neighbor reported us for noise during times that we were away on vacation or at work/school, or when we were watching TV at completely normal levels. We filed letters with the property manager in opposition to each citation. It all came to a head one night when she angrily pounded on our door at midnight and woke us up -- when we (obviously) sleepily answered the door, she swore that we must have just turned down the stereo. We called management the next day and made a BIG fuss that our crazy neighbor woke us up with crazy accusations and wrote a letter of complaint.

Here's the thing. In some old buildings, the pipes and ducts can carry sounds and magnify them in funny ways. Despite the fact that it sounded to her like loud music was coming through the ceiling from directly upstairs, the noise was actually from different apartment. The super explained this to her on our behalf. (Happy ending to the story: She sent us an apologetic basket of flowers, and we stopped glaring at her everytime we saw her.)
posted by desuetude at 9:00 AM on July 3, 2006

Why not listen to music with earphones?

I dont think its right that people in apartments subject everyone else to their musical tastes, even during the day.

The walls and floors are so thin in most places.

My life was made very difficult by people who stomped around NIGHT AND DAY. I and husband used to joke they were vampires because they NEVER WENT TO SLEEP and their loud bass-booming music all hours of the day and night, we nearly had to move, filed endless complaints but I remember the day they moved out and how relieved I was.
I am hearing impaired and still heard their horrible bass music night and day. I remember trying to sleep at 3 am, praying "Lord have them shut it off" and yes we banged on the ceiling, tried to talk to them and more. THEY NEVER STOPPED. These people were insane and seemingly had no physical need for sleep. I still believe they may have been meth or speed addicts.

I actually think that listening to a stereo and loud radio is a hobby that should not be indulged in when you live in an apartment. In FACT, my husband who loves music has used EAR PHONES for YEARS to listen to his music.

I know I am far younger then 90, and I found the boom boom boom and beats of most music VERY DISTRACTING.

Seriously if I cant read without having it distract me, its too loud! I am disabled and sometimes do have to stay home for extended periods of time without leaving. The last thing I want to hear all day is having music interfere with my reading, thoughts and being on the computer.

Im sorry but Im on the side of the 90 year old. Buy some earphones or else turn it off.
posted by Budge at 9:00 AM on July 3, 2006

Jesus Christ, the woman's 90—have some respect.

Eh, I don't buy this. This woman is trying to drive you out of your home. She's adversely affecting your mental health and that of your pregnant wife. If that's not cause for hostilities I don't know what is. You should definitely go on the offensive. Write a letter to the housing association and establish a clear pattern of harassment. Use those words over and over again. If you can take a legal action against her, do so. She won't care because she's crazy, but make it clear to the housing association that you mean business. If they play but-she's-old! card then you can play I-have-to-think-of-my-baby! card. Take the high ground; only once you've got the position of strength can you begin looking for some sort of compromise that will make everybody happy.
posted by nixerman at 9:07 AM on July 3, 2006

Languagehat OTM. There's a shocking amount of disrespect in this thread to the lady just because she's 90. She *may* have hearing problems/dementia, but she's probably just isolated and too scared to approach the poster directly about the noise.
posted by bonaldi at 9:10 AM on July 3, 2006

nixerman, do you know spinko? Have you visited their flat?

Otherwise, how do you not know that they are not adversely affecting her health?

Different people have different tolerance levels to noise. Spinko seems like a very reasonable sort of person. This woman may not be all that reasonable but people do have a right imho to privacy and no noise pollution within their own home.

Unfortunately us youngsters are used to a much louder world than that of the elders. Personally, I treasure silence at times and if I was trying to read and could hear outside noise I'd probably be distracted. If that went on every day I'd probably end up going mad.

Again, I'm not blaming Spinko at all. But we have to be a lot more considerate of others now we have started living like sardines in a dirty polluted tin.

Want to make a racket, then move. Don't expect others to put up or shut up.
posted by twistedonion at 9:16 AM on July 3, 2006

sorry, too many not's in that second sentence should read...

Otherwise, how do you know that they are not adversely affecting her health?
posted by twistedonion at 9:18 AM on July 3, 2006

Is there a flat above/next to the 90 year old's? Because she may just be having trouble figuring out the source of the noise. Or, she knows that some of the noises are yours, but the most annoying ones might be coming from somewhere else.

The 90-year-old invalid in the apartment below ours has complained a few times about our music (two computer speakers + small subwoofer). Although those couple times were our music, the people in the apartment below hers play music (and bad music, at that) ALL THE TIME, and they do so very loudly. However, they're closer to her age (50's), so we think that she just assumes it can't be them, or she likes them better than us.
posted by MrZero at 9:28 AM on July 3, 2006

twistedonion, how on earth do you stop making a racket when you aren't making one? Regular use of your television or stereo or a fan (for pity's sake) is not a racket, it is the normal sound of living. Being an apartment dweller with a hypersensitive neighbor should not consign anyone to constant use of headphones or living in uncomfortable warmth. There must be a line of fairness and it is not anywhere near "don't engage in normal-volume activities during daylight hours." That way lies madness.

Spinko, I believe that you'll need to have the council (or representatives thereof) over for some sound testing. With someone in your apartment, using your TV, or watching you strum your guitar, and someone in the complainer's apartment to hear what's being filtered up through the floors and ducts and what have you. Let them get a picture of what you're doing and what she may be hearing. If your noise levels are seen as usual and yet seem inappropriately loud upstairs, it's a soundproofing issue and they'll have to deal with it. If it isn't noisy upstairs at all, it should mean an automatic dismissal of any futher bi-annual complaints. You both live there and pay rent, you're equally entitled to fairness and if the council won't do anything to actually make a reasonabe judgment regarding this matter, then seriously, find a new home. It won't be worth the hassles to stay, even if the complainer only lives for another six months, because if the council isn't interested in fairness, no issue that you ever have, with another tenant or otherwise, will ever be dealt with appropriately.
posted by Dreama at 9:54 AM on July 3, 2006

A) The woman is not crazy or senile just because she's 90.


B) A fact of living in an apartment building is that it is unrealistic to demand absolute silence.

If this woman doesn't like having neighbors and is unwilling to tolerate even the slightest amount of sound, she's living in the wrong place. It's a shame that she wasn't moved years ago to a corner apartment on the bottom or top floor, as to have fewer neighbors.

File counter-complaints -- you likely should have been all along. I don't envy the complaints you will get when the baby arrives. Good luck.
posted by desuetude at 10:04 AM on July 3, 2006

I once lost it at 3am and blessed out a neighbor because I could hear this god-awful metal coming through my walls at 3am. I was sleep-deprived and pissed off, and as it turns out, also wrong.

It wasn't this poor guy that I yelled at, it was the other adjacent townhouse making all the noise. Due to pipes and whatnot, it sounded like my OTHER neighbor torturing me at all hours.

She probably doesn't know where the sound is coming from and assumes it's you when it is not JUST you, but also other people in the building. This may be something to point out to the Council.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:23 AM on July 3, 2006

The correct solution to this problem is to ignore it. You will not change the behaviour of your neighbour. So long as you're abiding by the condo regulations, you're in the clear.

So let her bitch and moan all she needs to. You just keep doing your own thing, and you be as sweet as sugar to her whenever dealing with her face-to-face. You stick to the facts, especially as regards the regs, and you be nice.

Speaking from experience here.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:27 AM on July 3, 2006

90 year old crazy-ass neighbor?

I have been there my friend and what follows is a full proof strategy for dealing with this situation.

I call this "The Five Step Hush-Hush-Sweet-Charlotte Good-Riddance octogenarian Plan"

Step One: Operation I Love You Grandma.
Be on sickeningly friendly terms with the old coot. You want to get the point where you help her find her recently missing cat. Take out her garbage. Start calling her "Grand ma."

Step Two: Operation Cholesterol.
Arterial sclerosis can be your friend. Plus heavy foods make the old lethargic and pliable. Bake high quality cookies with lots of butter. LOTS of BUTTER. Or lard. Leave a couple dozen on her doorstep a couple of times per week. At least once per week invite her over for nice steak dinner. Make mashed potatoes with heavy cream. Serve a nice heavy mousse and a triple cream latte for dessert. Be patient with Step Two.

Step Three: Operation Sew Suspicion.
With real crazy old timers you can be sure they live in fear. Of the government. Teenagers. Satanists. It is then relatively easy to nudge this instinct along by occasionally slipping notes under her door. Cryptic notes that say things like "We know you know.", "You can't hide forever." or "Satan RULEZ." It is also helpful in step three to allay suspicion away from your self by dropping hints that you heard screams coming from the young man in 302, the single one who wears black and doesn't shave, well, his flat. Things like that.

Step Four: Operation Like Family.
Old people generally make a show of having great nostalgia for their families but in reality they often bare serious grudges that can be nurtured into homicidal rages. Remind "Granny" that cousin Lucy never gave her back that sewing machine Greatgran Memma willed
her. And her kids? When was the last time those little ingrates called, anyway?

Step Five: Operation Happy Birthday.
Get all your flat neighbors together and plan a birthday party for the old person. A SURPRISE birthday party. Don't worry about if it actually IS her birthday or not. It's the thought that counts. It's a most effective surprise if it's also a costumed surprise party. With the theme being "Hells-Angels" or "The films of Clive Barker." Remember to coach all your neighbors on how to yell "surprise!" real loud when old granny walks into the dark room and you flick on the lights sudden like.
posted by tkchrist at 1:45 PM on July 3, 2006

Definitely measure the sound levels you are producing, as that should give you some traction with the authorities. Ask the council to see if the neighbor has carpet, or would consider a white noise device, in order to reduce the sound issue.

Her age, and whether or not she is bored or crazy, have nothing to do with the issue. Treat her the same as any neighbor who complains too much or is unreasonable, and you'll both be better off. My 30-something neighbor was a royal pain about my colicky baby, so plan ahead. Can the council help you move to another unit?
posted by theora55 at 2:19 PM on July 3, 2006

If you are allowed noise between 07:00 and 23:00 buy a marine air horn and blow it every morning at 07:01 and every evening at 22:59

Give her something to complain about.
posted by Megafly at 3:32 PM on July 3, 2006

Seriously, are you planning on remaining in this apartment when you have the baby? Babies and toddlers can be ear-shatteringly loud at all hours of the day, with no mute button. We have a fairly easygoing 15-month-old, but when he occasionally gets a cry-fest going, I'm sure our neighbors are aware of the fun -- especially when our windows are open. And we're in a single-family house, with neighbors more than 20 feet away.

It's stressful enough when your baby is crying and you can't figure out how to immediately calm him or her, particularly if you're also sleep-deprived. You don't want to also cringe while worrying about this particular neighbor getting upset -- and if a normal-volume stereo or fan at 4 p.m. disturbs her now, a shrieking babe at 3 a.m. will be much worse. (And you can't get upset at the baby -- crying is normal. Though I do recommend the book "The Happiest Baby on the Block" for swaddling/calming methods for the first few months.)

People live with babies in apartments all the time, but some walls are more soundproof than others. If you can't come to a resolution with this neighbor soon, I'd seriously consider moving if you can afford it. It's not fair, but it's for your mental health as much as hers. Good luck.
posted by lisa g at 5:01 PM on July 3, 2006

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