Childfree vs. families: A shrink tells neighbors how to keep the peace

By Jennifer Laing | April 29, 2015 - 2:00PM

Marriages aside, few New York City relationships are as fraught as neighbors—especially when they include a quiet lone ranger or a couple living adjacent to a rambunctious family. In a perfect world, everyone would just magically get along, but that’s hardly possible—we humans are notoriously prickly and emotional—and landlords and managing agents are loath to get involved in tenant conflicts. So how to live in harmony then? It's up to you. “A building is a family,” says Dr. Jeff Gardere, a clinical psychologist with a master’s degree in real estate development (and a reputation for dealing with difficult issues among residents), and families, as we all know, have to work their issues out, and hopefully to everyone's satisfaction. Here, he weighs in on three typical conflicts.

Situation 1: Noise emanating from the family apartment

The empty nester’s POV: It’s impossible to enjoy any peace and quiet with all that racket from upstairs.

The family’s POV: Kids will be still be kids, even in small NYC apartments, which means they run, jump and skip instead of walk; build towers of blocks and Legos then knock them down; roughhouse with siblings; and are prone to meltdowns that sometimes result in time-outs. That said, many are in school most of the day, go to bed on the early side and sleep 12 hours, all of which add up to a lot of quiet time. Besides, we had to endure the thump-thump of loud music from the downstairs neighbors who still can party until 2 am just last weekend. So everyone has to deal sometimes.

Dr. Jeff says: The better you know your neighbors, the better you’ll treat each other. The empty-nester can introduce himself to the family. And families can invite the single neighbor over for drinks or dinner. Laying down rugs, teaching kids to adjust their noise and activity levels when at home and giving neighbors advance warning when playdates and parties are planned will also contribute to an overall sense of goodwill.

Situation 2: Kid gear left in the hallways

The empty nester’s POV: It’s impossible to get to my front door when there’s a double stroller, two bikes, a scooter and multiple pairs of rain boots blocking my entry.

The family’s POV: I just want to let the UPPAbaby drip-dry in the hallway before I wheel it into the apartment. (It's been a long day wheeling that thing around in the rain.) But now that you mention it, it takes up a ton of space, folding it is a hassle and I’m just going to have to haul it out later, so what’s the point of bringing it in at all?

Dr. Jeff says: Gardere encourages buildings to introduce tenants so they get to know each other. After the initial meet-and-greet, he recommends a follow up at which neighbors can discuss various concerns (like, say, hallway safety). A building manager or super can also be made to remind residents of any house rules regarding gear in the common spaces. In the end, though, the childless resident should bring up any gear concerns with the family in a way that doesn’t overly personalize the situation (a simple, “I’m having trouble accessing my front door” should do) and not resort to guerilla tactics—having the super intervene on the single tenant’s behalf or having the stroller removed by the super entirely—which can just lead to more animosity.

Situation 3: Common areas used as recreation fields for the kids

The empty nester’s POV: It’s impossible to enjoy any peace and quiet when there’s a 50-meter dash taking place in the hallway outside my apartment, a soccer match going on in the lobby and kids playing capture the flag in the courtyard.

The family’s POV: Kids need air and exercise but the nearest playground is blocks away and dinner is in 15 minutes.

Dr. Jeff says: Gardere recommends childless tenants not waste time “sweating the small stuff.” These are, after all, good kids, up to good stuff. The alternative could be unruly kids doing drugs in those same areas. Families can ease the tension by inviting neighbors to join the fun or offering them something to eat or drink while the kids are at play.


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