Monday, July 11, 2011

Question of the Week: What Would You Do?

broken window....Image via Wikipedia
This week I want your advice about how to handle a situation that occurs where I live, literally. To be specific, the difficult person I am dealing with lives next door and occupies a bedroom 14 1/2 feet from my back door.

Of course it hasn't escaped me that the irony here is that this person would say the same exact thing about me if they were talking to you...

I bought my house in a starter neighborhood in Los Angeles in 1994 when I was single.  Now when I say starter neighborhood, what I mean is small houses or bungalows on small lots with the dwellings close together.  When I moved in, there was a nice older couple living next door.  The wife and I chatted from time to time, and told me to feel free to cut myself a rose off the bush that was just on the other side of my driveway.

Life would have been just peachy if that is the way things had remained...but that's not how life works, is it?

As far as I know, the bedroom in question was unoccupied at the time I bought my house.  At least I think it was because I didn't hear a complaint out of that window for many years.  But then someone moved back home...

I'm not a snoop, but I did hear that person say they had some kind of autoimmune disease (maybe lupus?) when they were talking very loudly on the phone trying to make a doctor's appointment.  So while the complaints have escalated over the years, I have tried to redouble my efforts at turning a deaf ear when they come at me through that window.  

But here is the crazy thing.  If my neighbor had their way, I would never go out my back door.  Because apparently every time I go out my back door, the only door we really use, I am being all kinds of rude and inconsiderate.

I get yelled at for taking my trash cans down the driveway "too late" at night.  I get yelled at for my back door light being "too bright."  If I "make too much noise" I am greeted with "Jesus!" and the sound of a window slamming.  Late last night, I took the dogs out.  We were all quiet, no one said (or barked) a word, yet I hear mumbling coming out of that window as we all head back inside.  All I caught was the word "a#@holes!"

Really?!?  I'm the a#@hole?  For using my back door?  For paying for a fence that goes along the side of my driveway, creating a barrier between my back door and your window?  For training my dogs to be silent as the go out the door to do their business? Really?!?

Never has there been a neighborly exchange or conversation.  No knock on my door, no "I'm your neighbor next-door and I am having a problem..." It seems my neighbor isn't interested in having a conversation, only complaining. 

Here is the thing.  If it was me in that bedroom, I wouldn't be complaining.  I would focus my efforts instead on dealing with the situation at hand and making things better from myself, which is what I do in my own bedroom.  I have:
  1. black-out curtains
  2. a sound soother that plays white noise
  3. air-conditioning
  4. a sleep mask
  5. lots and lots of disposable earplugs
You see, my health problems have completely screwed up my sleep schedule and I get my best sleep in the morning hours.  You know, the time when everyone is leaving for work, the trash trucks come by to collect the garbage, the gardener comes to mow the lawn and the UPS delivery person drops off packages.  But I have taken the steps to insulate my sleep environment, so I rarely get woken up by any of these intrustions--light, sounds or the need to leave my window open and invite these problems in.  

To their credit, the next-door neighbor recently got black-out curtains.  But this is Summer and that window is always open now at night, which means the complaints are more frequent...and getting down right nasty.

I don't know if this person is ever going to find the peace they desire if they keep seeing me as the problem.  After all, I'm not moving.   I'm not remodeling my house and relocating the back door.  I'm not going to stop going out my back door to take my dogs out or tend my garden or take the trash out.    

After last night's encounter, I am wondering if you would handle this situation differently?  Do you have any advice for me?  How do you handle difficult people?  Can you relate to my situation?

I can't wait to hear what you have to say, so leave me a comment, shoot me an email or join the discussion over on Facebook.

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Wacky Lisa said...

We live in a trailer park. The neighbors to our left facing the house are great. The ones to the right are downright scary. One woman is nice and we can deal with her. The other can be nice one day and the next will threaten us. This is how we cope with it.
So, we don't use our back door which is on their side of our home. We try to keep the window over our sink closed unless the heat is unbearable and we also have a decal on the window to discourage them looking in. We also don't mow the lawn on that side of the house. (The lawn service tried once and hasn't tried since.)
We have tried to be more quiet at night. (There was a noise complaint a few years ago.) When they've asked us for help we've tried to be gracious within limits. Because there are real safety concerns my husband usually deals with them. However I'm more able to be nice so if the unstable neighbor seems to be having a good day I'll handle the interactions.

In your situation I might go knock on their front door one afternoon and try to start a dialog. Or perhaps write a letter. Your neighbor doesn't sound as unstable as mine so safety might not be as much of a concern. I'm not suggesting you bend over backwards by any means.

Sharon Stevens said...

Egads,Selena, I don't envy you at all!!! That must be a terrible situation to have to deal with. This person sounds like they are really unhappy with their life and takes it out on others.
I agree with Lisa to write a letter. I don't think I would try to approach this person. Do the old folks still live there? Maybe you can rationalize with them?? Too bad there isn't an agency that could help you with this. I know when I was renting there was a landlord/tenant place that could help be a mediator.
Hmm maybe spoil them with kindness? But they would probably complain about that. Sorry I don't have an answer..I would be doing exactly what you are doing and just ignoring that person.

Anonymous said...

Here's the thing...when we get older (I should know, I'm 56) and there are things that are out of our control (i.e our own poor health), we just get down right cantankerous over things we feel are unjustly infringing on 'our' territory.

I live in a community that has an HOA. There are rules. We signed a contract. I abide by the rules. Well most of them anyway. So...when my next door neighbor flagrantly violated said rules by parking his huge, unsightly business truck, on the street, across from his home for 6 years despite receiving the same newsletters I received that stated there would be a severe fine for this violation, I was insensed. Every time I choose to focus on it, I became ticked off. High blood pressure and everything.

Fast forward to now. They are gone. Had enough with the HOA. Fannie Mae owns the house now. It's empty. And sad. It's forlorn and dismal looking. Void of all life.

Now don't get me wrong, they were messy people. Trash cans sat in front of the house for days despite 4 healthy, young people passing by them daily. Newspapers littered the drive. Dog poo accumulated to stench proportions in the back yard. However...now there's no one there and it feels downright spooky.

My advise would be to do the unthinkable and go next door with a gift of some baked goods. Rewrap something from the grocery store. Let her (them, him ?) know that you have health issues but that you still want to be neighborly. I'm betting that will start a conversation going.

Selena said...

Thanks for all the comments. It's a pretty awkward situation and I wanted your help to see it from a different perspective.

When I was younger, I lived in the dorms in college and in off-campus apartments, so I know what it is like to have crazy neighbors. Those situations taught me to focus on what I could do to make a situation better for myself. After all, you can't change other people, just yourself.

Keep the comments coming. You are giving me more to think about. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Selena,

This is such a difficult situation and I even changed my mind on the order on how to approach this as I was writing the comment.

Unfortunately, what is happening to you is verbal abuse. My thoughts as I was reading your post were that the person may be dealing with a mental illness, definite anger issues and possibly addictions on top of the autoimmune disease.

So, I would suggest first that you write down the instances that you can remember that have happened, with as much information as possible, and get some advice. And for all new instances, be as specific as you can. Note the date, time, what the neighbour said and what you were doing. Take what information you have now and contact someone to get some legal advice as to what options you, as a homeowner have in dealing with another, presumably, homeowner.

Do you have a community legal clinic close to you or a community health clinic? The area that I live in has a couple of health clinics who also have social workers on staff. They would be dealing with issues such as this and be in a great position to advise you on how to initially approach your neighbours and who else you may want to talk to for further advice.

The reason I say get some advice first is because you didn't say whether the older couple had moved away. If they haven't, the person may be a child of theirs, or a relative. They may try to talk to the person before you do, which could make matters worse. They would mean well but by being protective and trying to ease a difficult situation, it may not work out if the person is dealing with mental illness.

If you don't go for the advice route first, or you still feel that it would be better to contact the neighbour first, I would say talk to the older couple, or wife since you are on friendly terms with her, first. If it's not a relative, they may have rented the room to help with their budget. They may be able to shed some light on the situation, either way.

If it is a relative of theirs, they may also be able to tell you what else the person is dealing with on top of the autoimmune disease. (Something they may or may not be willing to share.) This way, if you decide to try a dialogue, either in person or with a letter, you will have a better idea on how to approach your neighbour.

I hope things work out for you. Something like this is never easy. Good Luck.