Neighbor issues and shared basement
March 19, 2004 3:40 PM   Subscribe

Neighbor problems involving a basement [more inside]

I'm having a problem with my neighbors. I live in a one family house that was converted to a two family home. Upstairs is mine, and the first floor is the neighbor. The two car garage has been separated by a wall into individual garages, and the basement split into two the same way. There is a definite division of the garage and basement with barriers. However there is a door that adjoins both basements. The neighbor's side is a laundry room and finished bedroom for her teenaged girl, while our side is just a basement. The door between the basements swing open into their side and opens in the girl's bedroom.

When we first moved in we had problems with the neighbor running extension cords into our side of the basement to power things in her daughter's room (computer, tv, etc) and leaving a litter pan for her cat on our side. We complained to the landlord and he told us to put a lock on the door. So we did. A padlock with a key. Time goes by and today we find the lock hanging off the door broken. It looks like the door was pulled hard from the other side until the lock broke off.

The landlord basically wants no part of what he sees as a neighbor dispute; and because of that, my husband doesn't want to do anything because with no chance of her being evicted, we'll have to live with this neighbor no matter our decision. I would like to call the cops, as I see it as breaking and entering, but I can see the neighbor claiming it must of been one of her daughter's no good friends. Right now I have a stack of boxes piled in front of the door, but the neighbor can just open the door from her side and move them.

What can I myself do? Is there a better lock to try? Should I try multiple locks? I can't nail the door shut because the heat and hot water are on her side. If something happens and she's not home (which is frequent), then I need a way into to have it fixed.

Outside of moving, which isn't possible, what can I do on my own that won't have her retaliating?
posted by FunkyHelix to Human Relations (29 answers total)
You don't mention whether you have actually ever talked to this neighbor.

Also, it seemed cut and dried until I read this:
I can't nail the door shut because the heat and hot water are on her side. If something happens and she's not home (which is frequent), then I need a way into to have it fixed.

So it seems you need to have access to her place but don't want her/ cant trust her to have access to yours?? That seems a bit unfair without any more information. I think you should talk.
posted by vacapinta at 3:50 PM on March 19, 2004

If the landlord is available to open their side up in an emergency, have it walled up. Ideally the landlord pays, but expect to go halfsies.
posted by Feisty at 3:53 PM on March 19, 2004

Response by poster: Apologies. I haven't talked to her about the lock because of how well our talks have gone before. After having her go into meltdown because I asked her to turn down the music shaking the pictures off my walls at 11pm, we're leery of any contact with her. I've no desire to have the words, "Stupid, white bitch!" screamed in my face again as her kids laugh in the background. I'm a bit of a chicken like that.

As to the other point, there is nothing on my side of the basement that pertains to the comfort of her home. If there were some sort of shut off valve or such on my side, then I would have to give her access. Outside of that, I nor my husband have never entered her basement side without her being there. We also haven't stolen utilities or let our animals defecate on her floors. So I think we have some leeway on trustworthiness that she lacks.
posted by FunkyHelix at 3:59 PM on March 19, 2004

It sounds like your landlord is a bit of a negligent dope. I have been involved in neighbor disputes with an indifferent landlord before, and I found the best solution involved coming together around the idiocy of your landlord. Is there anyway that both sides can find some way to rip off the landlord together?

Barring that, go nuclear. It sounds like you have let them get the upper hand in the asshole contest, which can only be bad. It also sounds like you are the more respectful party, which is also bad in that there is no implicit threat that you will fuck up their shit worse than they can fuck up your shit (you know, like the nuclear deterrent). Plus, if it is the "no-good friends," they'll probably steal your shit at some point. Get another lock, just like the last one, as well as a hidden camera, or some sort of bucket-of-oatmeal-on-the-door-frame-like booby trap.

On preview:
I've no desire to have the words, "Stupid, white bitch!" screamed in my face again as her kids laugh in the background. I'm a bit of a chicken like that.

Call the cops. She isn't a neighbor; she's an asshole running her own backwards-transition-to-homelessness program. Or, alternatively, try assuming a new racial identity. I hear Asian/Pacific Islander is nice.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 4:07 PM on March 19, 2004

Response by poster: What's the matter, xmutex, didn't you get enough attention at home?

Thanks for the answers. I think I'm going to see if I can just have the door walled over, even if I have to pay for it. It just seems like the best answer, as if the landlord doesn't want to deal with this, he can just deal with requests for access to the tanks.
posted by FunkyHelix at 4:16 PM on March 19, 2004

Random thoughts:

Add another wall. Or maybe a chain-link fence around the door, with a gate locked by a padlock. Basically, if you can't lock the existing door, add something you can lock. Find a way to make your landlord pay, maybe?

Meanwhile, stealing electricity is illegal. Call the cops.
Breaking and entering is illegal. Call the cops.

Can you turn off the electricity to your side of the basement?

Tell the landlord the lock didn't work and that he has to replace the door with one that can be secured.

And of course, move as soon as it is possible.
posted by whatnotever at 4:27 PM on March 19, 2004

Tell the landlord the lock didn't work and that he has to replace the door with one that can be secured.

I think this is an important point - where I come from (and I assume it works the same for you) landlords have to provide security for the premises. If the lock doesn't keep people out of your property, landlord has to fit a new lock, or do whatever it takes to keep the home secure.

In regards to an unhelpful landlord, I can't understand how they might see ignoring neighbour conflicts as a positive way of looking after their property.
posted by Jimbob at 5:12 PM on March 19, 2004

It's difficult to live in such close proximity with people who clearly have no notion of respect for you whatsoever. At the moment, I live in a neighborhood largely comprised of people with a mentality much like your neighbors'. I sympathize.

If your landlord won't get involved -- though the forcing of a door sounds a bit like damage to the property, if you ask me -- stronger measures are obviously warranted. Seal or wall off the door, call a cop the next time the neighbor breaks in, and prepare to live in a defensive manner for as long as you have these neighbors. Unfortunately, nothing in the world makes asshole neighbors see reason, and there's nothing you can do to force people to respect you.

I'd strongly consider moving; someone capable of breaking in to steal your electricity and sprinkle cat shit around is possibly capable of other crimes as well.
posted by majick at 5:13 PM on March 19, 2004

In some states, landlords are required to do certain things to ensure the safety of their tenants. For instance, in Alaska a landlord must, by law, supply heat for all tenants. And according to the landlord/tenant laws, if the landlord refuses to provide heat the tenants can hire someone to fix the problem and then deduct the cost from their rent. Similar things go for locked doors, plumbing, etc.

I would suggest looking up your state's landlord/tenant laws and see what courses of action you are legally allowed to take. There is probably even a person you can contact in your city that you could talk to who works directly with landlord/tenant laws.
posted by rhapsodie at 5:25 PM on March 19, 2004

Instead of a padlock, why dont you buy some cheap hardwood and make a double wood stopper (you know, holders on the outer sides of the door, wood slips between then making door nearly impossible to open) and call the cops about the electricity?
posted by Keyser Soze at 6:35 PM on March 19, 2004

In regards to an unhelpful landlord, I can't understand how they might see ignoring neighbour conflicts as a positive way of looking after their property.

Sometimes, especially in gentrfying or developing areas, property getting trashed and condemned is in the best interests of the landlord, as condemnation of the building will allow the property to be sold in a differently-zoned manner than it could be with the house around. I've lived in buildings operated by slum-busting dickweeds (who also happen to be racist goons, for what it's worth) that follow that exact model, with a little help from a local university.

The bottom line is that if your landlord seems like they don't care at all, assume that's the case.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 7:05 PM on March 19, 2004

Push the landlord hard for a 2nd door that can be properly secured from your side. If the existing door is solid, mount 2 brackets on it, and put a 2 x 4 across the door that extends across the door frame. That sort of door bar is hard to defeat. The landlord is obligated to get you any access you need to water heater and furnace. You should not be entering the other tenants' space, especially if you have unpleasant relations. The cops are probably unlikely to do much about loss of some electricity.
posted by theora55 at 7:23 PM on March 19, 2004

It looks like the door was pulled hard from the other side until the lock broke off.

The lock actually broke? Not the hasp you probably used to fasten the door (or the screws pulling out of the wood)?

I'd avoid escalation through open hostility. Neighbor things can get reeeeally ugly, and you're always vulnerable in some ways. Maybe just quietly take theora55's advice:

If the existing door is solid, mount 2 brackets on it, and put a 2 x 4 across the door that extends across the door frame. (Same as keyser's you know, holders on the outer sides of the door... ?)

...but expect backlash even then.

If the existing door is solid is good advice. If it's hollow and cheap the brackets will tear out. But I'm assuming it's solid, otherwise the door would have broke before the padlock (or hasp) did.
posted by Shane at 8:21 PM on March 19, 2004

Like this but mount the two brackets on the door, not the wall, right theora?
posted by Shane at 8:27 PM on March 19, 2004

Theora's idea is excellent, but instead of open-top brackets, you would need something closed (I don't know what to call this), otherwise, they could probably just remove the door from the hinges on the other side and lift up. So, imagine Shane's illustration (mounted on the door itself, as he says) but with closed [] brackets instead of open [ ones, and with as snug a fit as possible regarding bar and brackets, to leave as little wiggle room as possible.
posted by taz at 11:46 PM on March 19, 2004

A 2x4 door bar like that could probably be easily defeated with a table knife, no matter which direction the door opens, unless there's some sort of locking mechanism on both sides (theora may have meant some sort of square bracket preventing it from being lifted). But heck with that. If the door can be pulled, that implies the hinges are on the opposite side from you -- which means the neighbor could simply remove the door by using a screwdriver to bang out the hinge pins.

A simple deadbolt -- assuming this is a solid, exterior class door, and not a cheap wood veneer interior door -- would be about the same price and more effective. But the hinges need to be on your side, again.

It may be possible to install a 'standoff' door by buying a complete door set -- if possible used, if necessary of better quality than the existing -- by securing the jambs to the existing. This would give you a double-door much like the familiar ones between hotel rooms.

What's the situation with the walls? Drywall? Well, if her friends want your stuff, a utility knife could be the means of entry. In that case you'll want a way to secure the basement access door as well.

In any case, and this is important, the landlord must pay. Send him the bill, and if you don't trust him, do it certified mail, return receipt. If he won't pay, tell him you're deducting it from your next rent check. If he won't permit you to secure the premises, and won't do it himself, feel free to call your city's code enforcement office -- or at least let him know you have their phone number. Say, Joe, while I'm talking to you, can I check if the number I have for the Housing Division is the same as you have?

I can't think of this without concluding that you should be moving, and that what you should be thinking is not how can I make it impossible for her to get in? but how can I use this to break my lease? If you're to the point where you need to secure your premises and the landlord is shrugging, that's intolerable. I speak as a landlord, btw.

Make sure you document landlord contacts and any incidents. A police report on the b&e would possibly be helpful in housing court.
posted by dhartung at 11:48 PM on March 19, 2004

Other random (patently off-the-wall, if not utterly absurd) thoughts on this: If the reason that you cannot leave is financial instead of contractual, you might check out the possibility of "ceding the territory". In other words, tell your landlord that you are going to remove all your stuff from the basement and deduct a portion of the monthly rent for this unusable space. He would then either be forced to deal with the situation, or deal with the legalities of kicking you out, which I assume ("ASS"-"U"-ME" caveat applies here! Investigate a bit first!) would also mean defending his failure to act on the problem. Or you end up with less space and lower rent.

Do you have things down there (washer/dryer, for example) that make this impossible? Maybe you could keep a terrarium with a lovely big snake or great hairy spider. On a nice heavy table. Right in front of the door. They would probably end up building a wall on their side. Obviously, this is somewhat ridiculous, but I personally love ridiculous solutions. We (my husband and I, and our next-door neighbor) once cowed a nasty upstairs neighbor with voodoo mojo, but that is another story entirely. (disclaimer: IAMNAG - I am not a Goth.)
posted by taz at 2:20 AM on March 20, 2004

Sorry, but one more thought. It would be pretty easy and inexpensive to put an nice (very) loud sound alarm on that door... Not as fun as spiders and snakes, but perhaps more sane. I would guess most people, after having encountered this once, wouldn't be too tempted to do it again.
posted by taz at 2:44 AM on March 20, 2004

My solution:

I like taz's sound alarm.
I also like IJRs camera.

I'd do both, record the evidence, and drop a copy of the tape off at the neighbours with a simple message "ANY MORE BULLSHIT AND THIS WILL BE AT THE COPS - B&E IS A FELONY OFFENCE."

But that's just me.
posted by shepd at 5:13 AM on March 20, 2004

I had a neighbor who ripped of my guitar, which I have never replaced. Bastard.

Anyway, it turns out the crackhead wasn't on the lease so we got him thrown out. Our landlord was a responsive corporation, however. The dick broke my car windshield before leaving.

Anyway, I wonder if it isn't possible to call the police on them for something else. Put the war on drugs to work for you!
posted by mecran01 at 6:40 AM on March 20, 2004

remove the extension cords , remove the litter tray , buy her some flowers .
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:44 AM on March 20, 2004

I think that Sgt.Serenity has the best advice so far... it sounds as though your neighbors may be under the impression that the basement is shared space. If that's the case, then flowers and a copy of your lease showing that you rent the space and are paying for the utilities in that space should clear it up.

If this isn't the case, then definitely speak to the responsible government office... you whether the cops do anything or not, filing a report is _always_ in your best interest — if only to leave a paper trail.

Also, the idea that the landlord needs to provide you a reasonably secured space is probably valid, and deserves looking into.
posted by silusGROK at 10:05 AM on March 20, 2004

This is tough. You pay a landlord for shelter yet he does not provide proper security. Then your neighbor woman does not feel out numbered by you and your husband? Also seems proving to the cops they stole your electricity would be difficult.

Does your neighbor not realize you live above them, loud feet. Folks do wear work boots for comfort. Are you using your basement?
I'd block up all A/C outlets with replacement covers. You should be able to disconnect the circuit at the breaker either taking the switch out or replacing it with one that will lock the circuit "off". Then I'd take the adjoining door down and sprinkling pepper on the floor to keep the cat out. Also on your way out the basement entering door, leave it wide open: leaving them with no secure space or privacy. Too bad winter is over a nice cold air would really wake them up. Maybe this will show them how important it is to have privacy and what the door's intentions are for.

The shared space has me puzzled involving the electricity. Sounds like a "patch" job with the walling so are you sure the electricity is separate?
posted by thomcatspike at 10:36 AM on March 20, 2004

but with closed [] brackets instead of open


The flowers idea is great too, maybe in conjunction with some type of... action.
posted by Shane at 3:03 PM on March 20, 2004

I second the war on drugs idea. Make sure to laugh at her in front of her kids as she is hauled away.
Another idea is to justr dump the kitty litter tray through the door, making sure to toss it far and wide into the daughter's bedroom: "Oh, well, it is your property, I was just returning it to you. I never stepped over the threshold of the door, just returned the property you must have forgotten was there".

I like the flower idea, but I have had the same sort of neighbor. The idea of contractual obligations was totally foreign to her (or she patenetly ignored it). So showing her the lease would have done nothing. She stole m husband's bike, stole all the appliances out of the apartment, and didn't pay 6 months rent. The landlord had her arrested when they found her renting again. I would have liked to be there laughing at her.
posted by oflinkey at 9:52 AM on March 21, 2004

All you need to do is get a 5-pound steel padlock. Just go to the hardware store and get the biggest one.
posted by abcde at 6:29 PM on March 21, 2004

Though I do love the camera thing.
posted by abcde at 6:30 PM on March 21, 2004

Anything you do to secure the door itself depends on the construction of the door - if it is a hollow-core door and opens towards the neighbour's side, there is no way you can secure the door effectively, unless you can get access to the other side of the door to through-bolt fastenings with coach bolts (the round heads make it almost impossible for them to undo the fastenings and you can bur the ends of the bolts on your side to make it 99% impossible) and fit plates behind the bolts large enough to spread the weight sufficiently to make sure the bolts cannot be pulled through the door.

Before you go building walls to block the door, make sure you are not breaching your lease by making unauthorised additions to the premises, but this seems like the only way to solve this, assuming that the landlord is not going to help and more civilised means have failed. Given that the landlord has expressed a wish to not get involved, a proposal to build a wall over the door may be well received if it is presented as a way to avoid future problems. You will probably have to pay, though.

I would second the idea of alarming the door, as nobody can fault you for providing additional security to the property, although you most likely have to leave it there when you move. Be careful about making it too loud, as there are probably laws about how loud they can be.
posted by dg at 7:32 PM on March 21, 2004

I can't nail the door shut because the heat and hot water are on her side. If something happens and she's not home (which is frequent), then I need a way into to have it fixed.
Keep in mind that, if you enter her side of the wall without her express permission, you are trespassing and she would be well within her rights to report you to the police. If you need to access the neighbour's property for repairs or maintenance, you should do it through your landlord, or you are leaving yourself wide open to accusations of stealing that $10k that she had hidden under her daughter's bed. Stranger things have happened.
posted by dg at 7:36 PM on March 21, 2004

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