Ms. Demeanor's Vertical Etiquette

Dear Ms. Demeanor: My crazy neighbor is driving me nuts

By Jamie Lauren Sutton  | March 23, 2011 - 12:58PM

Dear Ms. Demeanor,

My next door neighbor is certifiably crazy.

When we moved in, we agreed that we’d immediately start planning for a cleaning and painting of our wreck of a shared hallway. It took six years to complete the project, which she micromanaged to virtual disaster. By the end of the project, she’d lied and cheated her way through it and manipulated me (and our other neighbor), and after we confronted her about it, I just couldn’t bear speaking with her anymore.

Since then, she has made every effort to annoy me: closing the always-open fire door between my apartment and the elevator vestibule where her front door is, leaving all kinds of inappropriate stuff out to clutter our shared hall, allowing her teen sons to throw loud parties, and pestering our coop board to force tenants to comply with various rules.

Two weeks ago, in the middle of yet another screaming fight in her apartment, one of her sons punched out a double-paned window. And today, we discovered that she got a new dog: A pit bull. Aforementioned dog was discovered when he jumped out of the elevator…onto my six year old son, who did not find it amusing in the least. 

How do I live next door to her without her continuing to drive me crazy? I can't stand grinding my teeth every time I see her. Fortunately, I love my building and my apartment, but her presence grates on my last nerve.

Signed, Irritated Beyond Belief  

Dear Irritated, 

Wow.  I have heard about a lot of crazy neighbors but yours has me shaking in my platform boots just thinking about her. I have written before about neighbor mediation services but I fear this situation is too far gone, so let's get tactical, starting with the hallway shenanigans. 

Fire codes prohibit cluttering common hallways and stairwells, so my first suggestion is to alert the co-op board, property manager, or even 311, who will send a fire code inspector and possibly issue your neighbor a fine.

On the last-time-a-window, next-time-a-person theory, my second suggestion is to immediately call 911 to report a domestic disturbance if there is another screaming fight.

Now about that dog. There may be lovely pit bulls but they are certainly not known to be a lovely, family-friendly breed. Many buildings have policies against certain breeds of dog and/or weight limits, though to enforce these rules and evict the dog, a board has to act within three months of the tenants "open and notorious" harboring of the pet. Additionally, if that dog is not on-leash and behaving appropriately, both the New York City Board of Health and the ASPCA can be excellent resources for you.  

If your neighbor's behavior is egregious enough, your board has the power to cancel her proprietary lease and evict her from the building.  (See "How to get canned from your building" for some examples of objectionable conduct that can trigger the boot.)

Finally, having recently moved myself I do not say this lightly or dare say much more, but people DO move to extricate themselves from untenable neighbor situations.  There are no guarantees that the next crop of neighbors will be better, but this is why real estate attorneys get paid to read through the board minutes for references to problems on the floor and in the building. (Just make sure you find an attorney who takes this seriously.)

Beyond these steps, as long as you and your family are safe in the building and ensconced in an apartment you love from which you do not wish to move, I would advise you to let the more petty nuisances go, or you will add fuel to her ire and remove more enamel from your teeth.  

Remember that when you close your own door and your own eyes at night, you are in a peaceful place.  Your neighbor never has that luxury.  It sucks to live next to her, but it sucks worse to be her... 

Have a French martini on me,

Ms. Demeanor

Ms. Demeanor is channeled by a longtime Manhattan vertical dweller and real-estate voyeur who writes under the pen name Jamie Lauren Sutton. She is here to commiserate, calm and correct. Please email your quandaries to [email protected] and put "Dear Ms. Demeanor" in the subject line.

See all of Ms. Demeanor's advice here.



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