Neighbors from hell. They’re the stuff of movies, TV, Stephen King stories—and real life, unfortunately.
Some of these nearby strangers in our midst make for funny anecdotes (usually well after the fact). Some prompt us to seek intervention from psychiatric professionals, bartenders, exorcists, and even law enforcement officials. And some of them have forced major life decisions.
As it turns out, several of us here at realtor.com® have experienced major neighborly challenges. Here are five of our most harrowing stories—and the lessons we learned from them, whether we moved out or fought back (in legal and appropriate ways, of course). We don’t actually suggest you go all Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen in “Neighbors”—unless you have no choice.
1. The scary grouch
“I was renting a top-floor apartment in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond District, a sleepy neighborhood. I’d only been living there a few days before the shouting began … and the name-calling … and the banging with a broomstick from below. As I quickly learned, my unit had a high turnover because the ornery old guy who lived directly below never left his house and despised noise.
Apparently, the building suffered damage in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, and the owners didn’t bother to put soundproofing back in when they made repairs. And so every step I took and every cough I coughed could be heard by the seething man downstairs. One night after a particularly terrifying verbal assault, I called the police. But they couldn’t do anything about screaming unless there was a direct threat involved. The only way I could escape the situation was to move. –Brittney Gilbert, audience development editor
Takeaway: Ask whether your potential new apartment has soundproofing or sound-absorbing features in place.There are a few DIY tricks you can do to block noise through ceilings and walls, such as adding rugs, bookshelves, and other heavy pieces of furniture as a buffer between the walls. And use rugs (mandated by law in some cities) to mute your footsteps.
2. The late-night monsters
“The house next door to us was vacant for at least six months. Then it sold and was used as a flophouse. There were 10–15 people living there, coming and going at all hours. It was all young men—some you’d see for only a few months. They used their porch as the laundry room and enjoyed excruciatingly loud parties. The guy who parked his car in front of our house used to come home at 2 a.m. with his stereo at full volume. It woke me up every single night.
We tried to talk with a couple of them but never got anywhere. We called the police a couple of times, but not much came from that either. We dealt for almost two years before we couldn’t take it any longer—and got the hell out. We’d been wanting a larger house anyway, and this forced the issue.” –Erik Gunther, senior editor
Takeaway: Sometimes there’s not much you can do about neighbors who are simply annoying. After you’ve tried reasoning with them—but before you call the movers—try calling the police when the noise ordinance is being violated. Take note of the time frame in which the violation repeats itself (e.g., bagpipes practice at 11:30 every night) so the police can catch those next-door maniacs in the act. Noise-canceling headphones, meditation, and litigation are other options.
3. The odiferous ignoramus
“My neighbor did an illegal renovation of her kitchen that had her stove venting into my bathroom, disgusting as that sounds (and was). She loved cooking heavily seasoned cuisine of undefinable ethnic origins, so my bathroom always smelled like a Third World spice market. I complained to the co-op board, and she started harassing me in the hallway. When I finally stood up to her and told her to leave me alone, she sicced her husband on us. He kicked my door so hard it left a shoe mark and dent—and so when the police came they took my side. Then the real battle began, except I decided to completely ignore her and her aggression. It drove her mad. She actually ended up putting her apartment on the market and moving out before she sold.” –Rosie Amodio, consulting editor
Takeaway: Avoid engaging with furious people. They’re terrifying and sometimes exude strange odors.
4. The tattletale
“My neighbor almost got me kicked out of my apartment. I was dog-sitting a friend’s dog who wasn’t very house-trained. So on our way downstairs to his morning walk, the pooch decided to pee on my neighbor’s welcome mat. Somehow my neighbor figured out right away. … She freaked and immediately set out to squeal to the landlord. I know this because by the time I got to her door 15 minutes later with a check to cover the expense for a new welcome mat, she had a letter in hand she was about to fax over. Pets weren’t allowed in the building, so that note would’ve got me booted! Luckily, I caught her before that happened.” –Judy Dutton, senior advice editor
Takeaway: If you fear you’ve rubbed a neighbor the wrong way, nip it in the bud immediately. A genuine apology can go a long way in making for a happy home life. And train your damn dogs.
5. The lunatic
“I was having a party in my apartment, and a small group of us decided to go up to the roof. My building was on a corner and, like most Brooklyn rooftops, connected to other buildings, so there was another party going on a few rooftops away. They weren’t particularly loud. Or so I thought.
Apparently, a longtime resident of the neighborhood had been incredibly annoyed by the multidirectional noise coming from the rooftop all night. It was dark, and I didn’t see him clearly, and thought it was a joke one of my neighbors was pulling when I saw something being swung at me. It turned out it was an infuriated man with a baseball bat. He struck me hard in the back of the leg and started swinging wildly, landing glancing blows on a few others, before we could run down the stairs. We called the cops, and when they arrived I led them upstairs, where the guy was still standing with the bat. When he saw me he yelled, ‘Oh, you come back for some more?!’ as a cadre of police officers spilled out from behind me. The look on his face as his anger melted into abject fear took some of the sting away from the huge bruise I had for months.” –Greg Chow, photo editor
Takeaway: Remember the ground rules of shared common spaces. You may think a rooftop is the ideal spot for your summer evening entertaining, but don’t forget that your rooftop party pad is likely another person’s ceiling. Also, watch out for people carrying baseball bats.