Ask a Friendly Landlord

Neighbors Don't Respect Your Space? Here's What to Do

Boundaries are the foundation of all great living situations.

September 13, 2019
Photo by Emily Ringel

What's your apartment living pet peeve? Your next door nuisance? What do you do about the nosy neighbor who rifles through your mail? Or the guy who practices the trombone at 7 a.m. on weekends? In our latest series, Ask a Friendly Landlord, a peaceable expert suggests resolutions to the issues that arise when humans share space.

Apartment issues fall into two categories: the potentially annoying—like barking pets and stinky smokers—and the potentially dangerous. The former at least has the potential to turn into great cocktail party fodder, but the latter can keep you up at night. (I have a friend who recently moved out of his apartment because his roommate had taken to drunkenly leaving things on a hot stove.)

As a tenant, it’s always important to remember that you do have the right to speak up if something feels unsafe or confusing. To answer your questions about apartment safety, we talked to friendly Pennsylvania landlord Eric, who—as every landlord has for this column—offers the welcome reminder that open communication and boundary-setting are the foundation not just of a great relationship, but a great living situation.

My neighbor and I share a backyard. I furnish it and do the gardening; all he does is sit there every night, having a few drinks by himself. My kid and I like to escape to the yard for a bit of fresh air before bedtime, but it’s uncomfortable to never have privacy, and have my kid be around him drinking all the time. Should I call him out, or just chill out?
Anna C.

It seems like your issue here is a lack of boundaries—both verbal and physical. It’s tricky to share common spaces with people you don’t live with, since asking for things can often make you feel fussy or high-maintenance. But, Eric says, there’s an easy way to deal with this: just develop and propose an agreement for how to use the space.

“As a landlord, I like to make rules basic foundations for living in my properties,” he says. “In this case, there is no structure to the common area. First, I would create some simple rules like ‘children are permitted to play in the common backyard until 7:30 pm each night. Adults: please be considerate of appropriate behavior around the children (e.g. no alcohol or smoking, please until after 7:30 pm).’ I would also schedule a brief tenant meeting to discuss the rules and get "buy in".” He also suggests asking your landlord to add in some of these details to the lease, so that future tenants don’t have to manage this sort of issue.

At the end of the day, the space is yours and your neighbor’s. Which means just like him, you have a right to enjoy it the way you like. You seem concerned about this dynamic, but he doesn’t. While you risk appearing “high-maintenance” by bringing this up, you’re also redistributing the load of that concern. And anyway, he may not even have thought about this issue before, so you have no idea how he’ll respond once he does. He may even offer to split a beer after your kid goes to sleep.

In one apartment I lived in, there were two doors to get into the building. The first one locked automatically, but the second one had to be locked manually—and none of our neighbors ever did. There was even a note on the door that said, "Please lock." This really frustrated my husband and I—why not take two seconds to make our building more secure?—but we never brought it up because we didn't want to seem difficult. But is it fair that I felt unsafe?
Emma L.

Basic safety should be something everyone has access to, no matter where they live. So it’s totally fair to feel concerned about your fellow tenants not locking the appropriate doors when they leave the building. And while, according to the landlord advice I’ve gleaned throughout this column, it’s always good to try to talk to your fellow tenants about issues, this seems like a time to go straight to the landlord.

Eric recommends increasing the incentive for locking the door by asking your landlord to install security cameras. “In this case, I would install a set of cameras by both doors and have a tenant meeting saying that ‘security is our number one priority,’” he explains. “Now, knowing the cameras are catching everything, the tenants should be more mindful about locking the door.”

Illustration by Emily Ringel

How do you deal with neighbors who don't respect your need for safe space? Tell us in the comments below!

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Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull