The Leftmost Neighbour
I don’t tend to write much about my personal life here, mainly because it isn’t really that interesting. (I had muesli for breakfast this morning; how utterly radical am I? Oh, and I also drank a cup of tea! Steady on there!)
But, something did happen recently. And it occurred to me that my experience here could possibly be of some relevance or use to other people. So, here it is.
For the last two years or so, I’ve been having an ongoing problem with what you could call an antisocial neighbour. Now, I’m not going to name names or anything like that, but just as a bit of context, I should probably explain that I live in a block of flats. It’s a smallish one, only two stories, and it’s more long than high. It’s also thin, with a small yard behind it and a public square at the front. The flat itself is actually quite nice; spacious, south-facing and with a reasonable view. I’m on the uppermost floor of the block, all of one level above ground. I have neighbours below me, neighbours to the left and neighbours to the right. The neighbours beneath and to the right are fine; I’ve never had any issues with them. In fact, the neighbours below are almost invisible – I don’t think I’ve ever met them!
The neighbour on the left, however, isn’t invisible. Or inaudible.
I’ve been here since summer 2008; I’m not 100% sure when the trouble with her started, exactly. It’s gradually been getting worse. I think it may have started as quite low-level stuff, just the occasional bit of shouting or the occasional burst of loud music. Not, in other words, anything that you’d really notice or register, hence the fact that I don’t really remember when the trouble began. However, it has definitely been going on for at least two years, possibly in fact longer.
Yep, that’s right, I have a nuisance neighbour.
Oddly enough, Problem Neighbour is a she rather than a he. One tends to assume that it’s the males who’ll be the biggest problem, but I suppose in a way, this highlights the dangers of stereotypes, really. (I’m a male, and I’m not a problem neighbour!) Essentially, what she’s been doing is playing host to mad parties, carrying on until the small hours of the mornings. 3 AM finishes aren’t unusual. On one occasion, she’d started before I’d got home from work on the Friday evening, and then carried on until after 10.30 AM on Saturday. I worked it out; she was partying for at least 16 hours.
Sixteen hours. The stamina is impressive, if nothing else!
While she and her ‘guests’ – if guests they are – are holding one of their social dos, they play music. Very loudly. Loud enough that you can feel it through the floor on the opposite side of my flat. Sleep becomes physically-impossible; the springs in my mattress are resonating along with her bass.
Furthermore, these parties occasionally get violent. Screaming matches have a habit of happening, underneath my bedroom window, at 1 or 2 AM in the morning. On one occasion, one of the ‘guests’ tried to break back into her party-den, after being asked to leave. That night was the first time in my life when I had to call the police; I was afraid a mini-riot was about to break out.
It’s also rather frequent. I’d say, on average, she has one of her parties about every 7-10 days. Sometimes she’ll do several days in a row. She particularly likes Sunday nights (and Monday mornings), and she also seems to like Thursday nights too. I suppose it’s quieter at the liquor shop on Thursdays and Sundays.
For a long time, I didn’t know what to do about this. In fact, for a while, I completely despaired of it. I tried talking to Problem Neighbour, but suffice to say, some people can’t be negotiated with. It wasn’t that she wouldn’t compromise over her behaviour; rather it was that she simply didn’t seem to understand that perhaps she should. I get the impression that she’s rarely had to impose limits on any aspect of her behaviour; certainly if there is a job associated with her, it’s well-hidden. It’s possible that there might be, I should add, and it’s also important to note that not all – or even many! – social-supportees are supremely self-interested sociopaths, particularly in our current national state of sky-high unemployment and non-existent prosperity. However after two years of this, hanging onto any shred of perspective has proved difficult. It’s little short of a miracle that I’ve hung onto as much as I have. I’ve described her to friends as the kind of person who turns other people into raving Tories!
So, talking didn’t work. That was depressing. I really prefer to solve these sorts of things informally, if it’s at all possible to do so. I feel it’s best not to get the authorities involved unless absolutely necessary. Also, I’m not some demented fascist who wants to ban her from music. If she could just start using headphones or something after midnight, even that would be fine!
Even that, it emerged, was too much to ask.
The really corrosive thing about these sorts of situations is that you develop a sense of helplessness after a while. This is particularly a problem if you try to solve the issue, and get rebuffed. When you run into a wall of I-don’t-care and I’m-not-listening, and regular sleep has become a thing of the past, and there is no peace even in your own home … after a while, you start to lose hope. You start to feel resigned to it, like this is somehow your fate. You get ground down by it.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
What I ended up doing was making a formal complaint through the local council’s Environmental Health office. I was nervous; I didn’t know what to expect, or what the consequences might be. My only regret now is not doing it sooner. The first thing they did was send me a monitoring form, to record incidents of noise. For it to be a ‘statutory nuisance’, I need three or four in two weeks. I had five in one week, as it happened. Then, after I sent that back, they gave me a number to call in case she did it again. It was a 24-hour line. They’d send someone out to listen in and gather evidence.
On the coldest night of the year, when the temperature reached -10 C in my town, and there really was no possibility of leaving the house to evade her noise, she did it again. (But seriously, why should I have to leave my own home, just for her convenience? Surely that isn’t fair, either?) So at 11.30 PM I called the number, and the nice man from EH came out. He arrived at about midnight. I made him a cup of tea, as it was rather cold out there. He stayed until 1.30 AM.
She’s now been served with a Noise Abatement Order.
If – when! – she breaks that, basically, her stereo gets confiscated. If she then breaks it again after that, she risks jail. Yes, it is a bit harsh, but I did spend six months trying to talk to her about the problem! And it’s not like anyone’s out a gun to her head and forced her to play her music. Hurray! One way or another, she’s dealt with now.
So I guess the point of this post is, if you find yourself in a situation like this, don’t despair. It isn’t hopeless, and there are ways to deal with the problem-causer. Don’t let yourself pay the price for someone else’s anti-socialness; their behaviour isn’t your fault, and their desire for pleasure does not give them a right to wreck your life.