Ms. Demeanor is Brick's (semi-retired) etiquette expert. Unsurprisingly, she's received a lot of neighbor-related questions during her tenure. Here are some of the trickier ones, along with her answers:
One New Yorker wrote in to complain about the family next door with art all over the walls and doors. Here's what Ms. D had to say: "I think you need to pick your battles when it comes to approaching the neighbor yourself. I also think the sentiment should come from an official source lest you seem petty. Check with the co-op board or building manager about the rules concerning door decorations and ask them send a letter to neighbor(s) reminding them of same."
If neighbors aren't breaking down their boxes properly, ask management to redistribute the rules and hang them up in the waste room, too. Everyone needs a reminder sometimes.
Take a cue from the building vibe—if it's a kibbutz-style building, introduce yourself in person. But it can never hurt to give out your names and email addresses so people become familiar with you.
It all depends on your relationship, says Ms. D. If you're friendly, invite him or her over for coffee and cake to discuss. If you barely know each other, a formal and polite letter is best. If you've had problems, ask your doorman to ask as a go-between.
Write a polite letter explaining the rules—and have as many tenants as possible sign it.
You're going to have to suck it up a bit. But compromise could help—ask them to party on the roof every other weekend, and offer to pay for beer once every few months.
When your neighbor's sex life is heard more than you'd like, write a carefully worded and polite letter asking them to stop and citing the times you've been woken up or disturbed by their noise. And feel free to sign it "your neighbor."
At least one work week (five days).
When neighbors are doubling up their bikes and just generally packing the bike room to the brim, Ms. D says, "if you find a great storage solution, pass on the information to other building bikers to relieve the congestion. If this approach does not work, going to the management with a suggestion for positive change ('Let's make the bike storage more efficient') is usually a better approach than being a negative narc."
When he or she (and his or her kids) stops by unannounced too much: "I would speak directly and frankly to your neighbor. Tell her that you love your close relationship and close proximity but sometimes you want to predictably have your own time and space. Ask that she call (or text) first but assure her that you are always there for her when she needs you."
Use the 30-second to one-minute rule when holding the elevator.
One neighbor complains that the dog barks while they're at work during the day, to which Ms. D. says, tough luck, that's part of NYC living. And considering that they have a dog walker and trainer coming in, they've done almost all they can do. "You can make a good faith offer of a white noise machine and a letter detailing your efforts to your neighbor, but you may just have to put up with her barking too."
Explain that this is likely illegal and he or she could get fined.
"If he plays at reasonable times for a reasonable amount of time, don't open that Pandora's box just yet," she advises. "Perhaps you can use his practice time to do something worthwhile out of the living room or the apartment altogether? Make dinner, go to the gym, take a hot bath..."
It's technically impolite, but this is New York, people. But if it seems too rude to ask, it probably is. StreetEasy can help you find out what you want to know in most cases.,
When you have a neighbor who's all up in your business, choose your words carefully.
"Perhaps turning the focus, and the tables, on her is the way to go. Few people can resist talking about themselves. Lastly, there is always the direct approach, 'I am uncomfortable with the personal comments you make and would appreciate it if you stopped.' Ms. Demeanor personally doesn't have the guts or the heart for that but you may. Just be aware that it may turn an irritating situation in to an uncomfortable or hostile one," she says.
Ms. Demeanor gives tough love to a Fifth Avenue resident who doesn't want kids drawing on the sidewalk outside. "If dogs can do their business on it, children can certainly play on it. Central Park or no, sidewalk life in all its forms is part of the vertical village's charms and necessities. Would you really deny children, however privileged, this simple pleasure?"
When you're the one making the noise—and it's actually your child—you can't do much more than shrug and apologize. "If you are doing everything possible to work on her behavior, both you and your neighbors will simply have to be patient. An understanding nod and simple 'I am sorry for all the racket' should more than suffice," Ms. D says.
Sometimes neighbors leave their clothes in the washing machine forever. But Ms. Demeanor says you have "a grace period of 15 minutes from the time the cycle is finished" until you can take their clothes out. "After that, remove the clothes to a table, a basket or a plastic bag, making sure to tuck any unmentionables out of sight… and always clean the lint screen!"
In the event that your neighbors are chronically tardy, she writes, "a hand lettered sign along the lines of 'After Two Hours, Abandoned Laundry Will Be Donated To The Homeless' might come in handy."