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It all started when I dropped a fork. It was followed by incessant banging from the downstairs apartment, a rebuke, as if I had dropped a 20-pound dumbbell instead of a utensil.
It happened again, and then again. We—my boyfriend or I—would make a small noise, and it would be followed by banging. At first we assumed we had moved in above someone who was very sensitive to noise, but we soon discovered the situation was far more threatening.
You might not think of NYC as being intolerant of gay people, but from the day we moved into our outer borough apartment in 2017, we have felt like outsiders. Our neighbors are Russian and Jewish families and senior citizens—and we are a young gay couple. So there was no welcoming committee for us. We were just happy to have found an affordable first apartment together, and we assumed we’d be fine.
[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's Inside Stories features first-person accounts of dramatic, real-life New York City real estate experiences. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]
The banging continued. Our downstairs neighbor, I’ll call him B., eventually came and introduced himself. He asked us to stop making noise. He looked a bit off, but otherwise seemed like your average middle-aged guy.
After a few months, the banging turned into something very different. One night, we were getting ready to go out, and I dropped my boots on the kitchen floor. It was dumb of me to drop my size 12 Doc Martens on the floor, but it wasn’t intentional and the noise lasted a millisecond.
“FAGGOTS! FAGGOOTS! FAGGOOOTS!”
At first, I thought we were overhearing a neighbor watching a movie, but after standing in complete silence, it was clear that our downstairs neighbor was taunting us with a slur.
It got worse—we would hear banging and scraping noises accompanied by him chanting “faggots,” sometimes even when we weren’t making any noise. One of the most memorable times was when I was home alone, laying in bed with our two kittens, and he banged once really hard below my bed and yelled, “FAGGOTS.” Somehow, he always figures out where we are in the apartment.
That first night, family members convinced us to file a police report. But we didn’t get much help when we went to the precinct. The administrators who took our report seemed a little concerned, but otherwise there wasn’t a huge sense of urgency.
Told not to attend the co-op board meeting
We rent in a co-op building, so we reached out to our landlord, who told us that past tenants had issues with B. too, but it was never this bad. Her advice was to call the police every time he caused trouble, to document it for management. Since then, we’ve called 911 more than ever in our entire lives.
But each time the cops would only go talk to him, rather than issue a ticket. Since we had no proof of his harassment, we had to go to the precinct to file a report every time we made a complaint. We went so often the officers in the precinct started to recognize us. They wouldn’t consider his actions a hate crime “unless we could prove that he was also harassing other gay people for being gay," the police told us.
Building management did nothing to help us, even though our landlord emailed our complaints with copies of the police reports. We were told to go to a co-op board meeting, but then told not to attend because it wasn't a meeting to address these problems. But management did require our landlord to install carpet over the hardwood floors (a real bummer) to muffle noise and came to inspect it at random times. We were told management attempted to inspect B.’s apartment multiple times but never got in.
Fear of retaliation
Eventually the precinct said that we could try to get an order of protection, but after consulting with lawyers and LGBTQ support groups, we learned that even though we definitely had a reason to file for one, it wouldn’t be easy. And the process would require us to face him in court. And considering his bullshit, we were afraid he would retaliate against us.
There have been several other incidents over the years. He calls the police on us for absolutely no reason. My boyfriend saw him in the lobby and asked why he was doing this to us. He called my boyfriend a “cocksucker” and said he would see us in court.
Once, as I was walking down the stairs past his floor I heard, “Bye, Austin.” My name isn’t on the mailbox or directory, so how does he know my name?
Our intercom buzzes in the middle of the night
Someone also buzzes our intercom at various times throughout the day and night. And we've caught him coming up the stairs after a couple of the incidents, so we think he's the culprit.
Eventually, the name calling stopped. We assume management said something to him about it. But we also found out that management is offering him a lease renewal because he claimed we are harassing him—so it is his word against ours.
At least it was until we got some evidence.
One day, my boyfriend came home and noticed that the peephole of our door was covered with ink. At first, he thought it was the kids that play in our hall, but when he checked out our neighbor’s peepholes, they were all clean.
We suspected it was our downstairs neighbor. We would clean the peephole, only to find it colored over again. We decided to post a warning note on our door, which said that we were filming the hallway (even though we weren’t, yet) and to please stop. It seemed to work, but after a week we took the note down, and the peephole coloring started again.
We made a video
So, we got crafty and made a makeshift spycam by duct-taping an iPad to the inside of our door, with the camera pointing through the peephole. We pressed record and left for the day, and within an hour, our iPad recorded our neighbor walking up to our door and coloring over the peephole with a Sharpie. We now had evidence of his harassment.
We called 911, and police filed a report on the scene and they said we could try to get an order of protection. We sent the video to our landlord and management, but management wanted the full police report. We put in a request for our police report to be mailed to us—it’s been two months, and we’re still waiting.
Recently, things have been quiet. There’s still the occasional late-night intercom buzz, but most of the harassment has stopped. We left our peephole colored over so if he does come back up, he’ll just be wasting his time. There’s been quiet times before, so it is probably only a matter of time before he starts harassing us again. My boyfriend and I are moving out at the end of our lease since we don’t feel safe in our apartment—and our building and the police aren’t doing much to help us.
Austin Havens-Bowen is the editorial assistant at Brick Underground.
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