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Advice about Neighbor Troubles

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Neighbors constantly burning trash in fireplace

May 2013

Our immediate neighbors do not have trash service and do not have cans in their yard. Instead, they just burn all their trash in their fireplace. To make it worse, we also suspect they are manufacturing meth (they have been reported), so some of the burns are especially toxic. The smells are awful and affecting several neighbors on our block, a few who have asthma. I know backyard burning is illegal, so I imagine this must be prohibited too (aside from the meth issue, which is clearly illegal). Does anyone know a resource to call or have any advice? For various reasons, we can't really talk to them. We are in Contra Costa County. anon


Below is a link to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District's (BAAQMD's) Wood Smoke Complaint Form. Per the instructions, this form should also be used to complain about the burning of trash: https://wscomplaint.baaqmd.gov/public/complaint_form.asp I hope they can help you. Anon
Call the Fire Marshal immediately - and let him or her know you think hazardous waste is being burned at that address. Their job is looking into exactly these kinds of dangerous situations. Call *every single time* you see smoke or smell it, and don't be afraid to be a pest. You are right - if they are manufacturing meth it is very dangerous and an environmental hazard. If they are, in fact, burning the waste in the fireplace, they could very likely wind up having the Fire Marshal red-tag the house as uninhabitable. Sue
I checked with someone who works with these kinds of issues at the Contra Costa Health Department and he said call the air district complaint line at 1 800-334-6367. Jaime
Call Bay Area air quality management once per day, every time it happens, and have the neighbors call too. http://www.baaqmd.gov/ Air
If you had a cordial relationship with these neighbors, it might be possible to just ask them about it. But it seems that this is not a good option. The regional air quality agency cares deeply about wood being burned in fireplaces on ''spare the air'' days, and I believe they have a complaint hotline. This might be a way to bring pressure to bear. Anonymous

Feeling excluded by neighbors

May 2013

I need help figuring out neighbors' behavior. We have a good relationship with our neighbors on either side. All the families have kids about the same age. The adults meet up fairly regularly for scheduled events. But we don't get included on simple daily activities, for eg going to the park, going for a walk etc. When I have tried to contact them with possible plans, my calls and texts go unanswered. If we are both in our backyards (we share fences) they don't bother greeting me but will sort of answer if I reach out. On a number of occasions I have invited their kids over but they usually make excuses why the kids cannot come over.

What I have trouble understanding is that when we run into each other and have a conversation,its cordial and even friendly. Its stops there though. I get the feeling they are keeping me (us) at an arms length. I'm trying my best to figure out if anything I said or did offended them. Needless to say I am quite bothered by this.

As background I work full time and they all don't. Our kids don't go to the same school also. I grew up in a community where families were close and i still remain close friends with kids from the neighborhood though we are scattered all over the country. I am looking for help understanding this dichotomy. confused neighbor


You must be living next to my neighbors!! We have the same situation, but worse they even asked us to stop our kids from coming over to try to play with theirs. We have now just given up. They have their own social group which includes the kids that are allowed to play with their kids. They don't play with any neighborhood kids!!

This is a problem in some neighborhoods. Some so bad that you might never socialize with your nieghbors (I have friends on the Peninsula where most of the nieghbors only say hi or bye).

I agree when we were growing up our parents were friends with the neighbors, we played with the kids on our street. But I've lived in a couple of cities around the Bay Area and have run into neighbors like this. They live in the neighborhood becuase they like their house but have no intention of considering the neighbors as part of their or their kids social group.

We have just learned to deal with the neighbors that do include us in their social group and our kids play with the other neighborhood kids.

Not a solution, but just modern reality. Living with unfriendly neighbors


I'd ask each neighbor separately if you have in some way offended them. Tell them you notice you're not included and you wondered why. I did this once years ago and though it was hard, I found out that the people I questioned thought I wanted to be left alone because I was kind of quiet and kept to myself. You never know. If it bugs you, speak up. anon
It sounds like their kids are not enjoying being around your kids. Kids are like that. You might ask them if that is the case. Be truly curious about what they think the issues are, and see if there is, perhaps, some modifications of behavior that might help your children be nicer to be around. It may be something simple like ''your kids only want to play games that my kids don't want to play''. Remember that, just because they are the same age and near each other, they may not feel compatible. Be curious.
You should not assume that you have offended them somehow. I suspect the main issue is that you work fulltime and they don't. That's huge. They are home during the day, so they have a lot more opportunities to build a relationship with each other. Plus, for people who are home all day, their main adult relationships are with other parents who are also at home during the day. So those friendships have high value. I'm a working mom now, but I spent a few years as a stay at home mom, and during those years the other moms I saw during the day were the only thing that kept me sane! I still had my after-work friends and neighbors but I was much closer to my day-time friends. Now as a working mom, I have my work friends and my kids' school friends, and my neighbors, and my log-time pals - a much bigger variety, though less time to spend with them.

Scheduling is completely different too, when you stay at home vs. when you work. When I was at home with little kids, I thought nothing of showing up at a park at random times to see who was there. I had time to hang out waiting for that friend who always ran late, or just strike up a conversation with someone new. It's different now that I work. Playdates and social events happen only on the weekends, and occasionally after school, and they are planned in advance. My leisure time is precious, so I am picky about how I spend it.

Keep having social get-togethers with the grownups, and keep saying hi when you see them. Your kids go to a different school, so that's another reason why you're not going to have the close ties that the other families have. But you can still be a good friend and a good neighbor. local mom


You grew up in a neighborhood where neighbors were close and like family. Perhaps your current neighbors do not want to be like family. Perhaps they (to use a california phrase) need some space. They are likely glad to be friends and chat with you, but not every time they are in their yard and not every time they go for a a neighborhood walk. Expiriment with not talking to them everytime you are in your yards at the same time. Try pretending that they are not there unless they initiate the conversation. And if they initiate a yard to yard conversation, try to keep your side of it cordial and brief. Also their relationship with each other may be closer than their relationship with you. Try to accept that, if so. If you are someone who carries out long conversations and has challenges with brief hellos, or with ending conversations, perhaps this makes them not want to begin a conversation all the time. when you talk with them do you try to rope them into a time commitment? If so, try laying off scheduling anything with them for a month unless they initiate it. In general, consider backing off for a bit, yet still being cordial but brief. Let them initiate. Leave room for them to express their level of comfort with communication and joint activities. If you pay attention, leave room for them to initiate and are very patient, you may learn a lot about their preferences for communication and activities. This may be the best way to nurture your long-term relationship. Another neighborly neighbor
You *have* figured out your neighbors: ''I get the feeling they are keeping me (us) at an arms length.'' That's just them, and it probably has nothing to do with you. Be yourself, and let them be themselves. Good fences
Hi there. Not knowing the neighbors or you, it sounds simply like you guys don't really click as friends. From what you have said I doubt you've done anything ''wrong.'' We have some casual acquaintances who have made overtures to be better friends, but my hubby and I are not that interested in getting to know them better. We both find it hard to really connect with the husband, though he is a very nice guy and has a lot of admirable qualities. We enjoy chatting with him casually now and then, but don't really want to take it that step further to hanging out a park, sharing a meal, etc. In short, we really don't want to be friends in that way. That spark of friendship is just not there, similar in some ways to a romantic spark -- someone may be attractive and nice but you just aren't that interested. So my advice is to enjoy the easy chit chat you have, don't worry that you've done something wrong, and let it go. As long as they are cordial neighbors that is the best you can hope for. It's not you, it's them
The fact that you work and they don't, and that your kids go to a different school could easily be the issue here. Less contact, less of a shared world means you're not really as close. Also, if they all go to public school and yours goes to a private, there could be perceived or assumed snobbishness on your part. Unfair but it could be there, possibly they may have assumptions they're not aware of. Your continuing hospitality and friendliness may be the thing that changes that in them.

I wonder if you could just ask one or both of the moms, I know I don't get a chance to see you all as much as I'd like. I just wanted to check in and make sure everything's ok with [your kid's name]... are there any issues or difficulties with him I should know about? If they say, Oh no, no... Then just say, ''Oh, OK, I was just wondering,'' and drop it.

You could add, ''Is there something I've done or said to upset or offend you?'' See how it feels. It could make them defensive as it seems to point to their avoidance behavior, or maybe it could be part of the question about your kid. You could quickly add, ''I know Johnny going to ABC School takes us a little out of the loop (make it situational and not personal) and that's a little at odds with wanting to be part of the neighborhood like when I was a kid... I just don't know quite how to deal with that.''

I guess I feel the different school and your full-time work issue is probably it. So maybe acknowledging that right up front, at least the school part along with your desire to be part of the neighborhood, and your willingness to hear if there is some specific problem, at least gets it out there. - open the dialogue, stay friendly, no rush


Do your neighbors socialize with each other? It may just be that they keep to themselves or socialize with their families or people they know from church, kids sports, etc. It's a time issue. We live in a neighborhood with about 6 other families with kids on our street. My kids used to play with them but don't anymore. Most of them joined the local country club and are also families transferred here for work. They are their own community. Our community is our local families and people with kids that we have known from work, childhood, etc. My husband has always lived in this area.

Also, we hang out with the sports team families a lot. It's easy to grab a pizza with them after a lacrosse game or for the kids to have impromptu playdates.

Also, I know that one of my children is very headstrong and so that may have contributed to her not wanting to play with the neighborhood kids -- she can't always have her way. Don't necessarily take it personally.


They don't want to be friends with you, but they are willing to be friendly. It may be that they feel like they have enough friends and obligations already. Or maybe they don't like your personality. Or maybe you are a lousy neighbor. Does you dog bark too much? Do you let your kids pick their flowers? Does you cat poop in their yard? Do you burn wood and have bbq's all the time, creating air pollution? Do you start up your power lawn mower at 8 am on Saturday morning? Is your front yard an eyesore? Try being a better neighbor and see if that helps. You could just ask them, but most people don't like being put on the spot like that. Anon

Neighbors hot tub- unpermitted?

April 2013

My neighbor just built out a deck and added a hot tub. The tub ends up sitting a few feet away from my bedroom. We live in the city of Berkeley, and it looks like he was supposed to get a special permit that would make sure the tub was installed correctly and did not cause noise disturbances. I don't think he went through this process since there was no opportunity for input. The deck was built with permits. We are on good terms otherwise, but I can hear the motor running now (11 pm) as I head to bed, and even quiet conversations come through our double pane windows. Any advice? How to mitigate the noise, or any safety concerns we should worry about? Missing my quiet nights. Quiet hill mama


Everybody is SO obsessed with rules and laws nowadays, many that seem so trivial. Maybe you can hear the noise of the hot tub motor or the gurgling of water or hushed conversations. But if you are a mother, and it seems like you addressed yourself as one, then did you ever wonder if your kids made tons of noise outdoors or indoors that your neighbors had/have to be privy to? They just can't complain because it is legal for your kids to make noise. By the way, I have three kids. My point is that can't people just seem to get past what is legal or not in order to justify their actual intolerance of things? One of these days, you might have a situation that might require your neighbors to be sympathetic or accepting and you will have lost that opportunity by complaining abut something that seems so trivial as a hot tub in someone's back yard. Is it necessary to spend time worrying about this?
Not all permits require input from the neighbors so I wouldnt assume your neighbor didn't get a permit.
What safety concerns might a hot tub have to you, the neighbor? It sounds as if there are two real issues: the sound of the motor and the sound of voices late at night. I would suggest that you knock on their door and let them know that you go to bed at 10PM (or whenever) and could they please keep that in mind when they are 1)running the hot tub and 2) using the hot tub. If they are normal, caring and decent people they will happily oblige. If you don't want to approach them face to face, a nice letter would suffice. anon
I was in a similar situation a few years back but issue was with an a/c unit not a hot tub.

Here's my advice to you:

1. For now, I would buy earplugs and a white noise machine. You need your sleep in the short-term (and I'm assuming here the noise is not just annoying you but preventing you from sleeping).

2. Assuming that the work was done without permits, you need to find out if the tub in its current location would have been allowed under the permit process (in my case, the a/c unit was a property line encroachment - my neighbors chose the location, a few feet from a bedroom window, because it was the cheapest place to locate the unit - in short, it was all about the money).

3. Regardless of whether allowed or not, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Nolo Press's Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise. If you have a problem with noise now, you will need help finding the best way to approach the problem.

Hopefully, though, your neighbors did the right thing, and the hot tub was installed with permits and to code. A brief, friendly note (in writing) giving them a heads up that you can hear the tub and conversations at bedtime would probably be a good faith starting point. I would leave noise ordinances, concerns about permits, property rights etc out of it for now, but in the meantime I'd find out if that hot tub should even be there. been there


Of course, you can and SHOULD require your neighbours and their hot tub are quiet between 10PM and 7AM. Quiet between 10PM and 7AM is your right, by law. How you get back to quiet between 10PM and 7AM is an issue you'll have to address, step-by-step, depending on your neighbours' choices. Clearly, your neighbours knew, before they built their deck and before they installed their hot tub, where bedrooms in your home are, so, for the git-go, you have some idea what attitudes your neighbours have about ''social contracts'' (an ever-evolving political and philosophical concept of how humans live together in a ''civil society'' that includes your right to ''quiet enjoyment'' in your home!)
It's easy to find-out if this hot tub was built without a permit in Berkeley. Call Berkeley's permit center:
http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/psc/
Permit Service Center
2120 Milvia St., Berkeley, CA 94704
TEL: (510) 981-7500
FAX: (510) 981-7505
Office Hours: 8:30am - 4:00pm
Email: planning@cityofberkeley.info
You do not have to give your name to ask a question.

If this hot tub was not installed with a permit (and, based on the fact that you were not asked by Berkeley before a permit was issued, I'm betting this hot tub was not built with a permit), you get to choose how you deal with your neighbours' problems.

But, in addition to noise and intrusions into your bedroom, there may be issues that should concern your family (and other homeowners nearby) about possible damages from weight of that much water, over time, doing damage to the hillside or other structures. If their hot tub was not built with a permit, it is likely the deck was not designed to hold that much weight, especially if there were an earthquake (Is your home anywhere near the Hayward Fault ?)

Is your home anywhere near the Hayward Fault ?


Neighbor's smelly food

March 2013

I am a homeowner in Berkeley and have lived in my current house for over 25 years. About 6 months ago, a new family rented the flat next door. They installed a fan in their kitchen window which faces my living room windows. The fan moves the kitchen odors out of their home and into mine. They are meat eaters and the odors emanating are very strong. I have a very strong sense of smell and often the odor makes me nauseaous. Today I was out in the garden, in front of my house and I could smell the odor from the kitchen at the back of the house. A women walked by and asked me what the terrible odor was!My husband advised not saying anything to the neighbors, whose first language is not English. I would like to figure out a way to talk to them in a positive way. please weigh in. A distressed woman


Oh my do I commiserate with you. I, too, have a very acute sense of smell and I smell EVERYTHING. I surprise people by my extraordinary (and cursed) sense of smell.

There may not be a whole lot you can do about it, but you could certainly tell them something about where the fan is placed -- tell them as carefully as you can that the smells from their house are coming into yours and you'd appreciate it if they moved the fan away. You can do absolutely nothing about the smells that naturally emanate -- nor should you. Heck, they may think your food stinks, too, but you certainly have a right to ask them to move the fan.

Alternately, you could put a strong fan in YOUR window and blow it back out.

I completely understand your angst, but this is a hard one. Just hope they are friendly and understand what you are asking and that they comply as much as they can. Smelly McSmellerton


My suggestion would be to treat the problem as a technical issue.

Does anyone in the neighboring family speak English? Try to get across the idea that there is a problem with ''strong kitchen odors'' coming into your house.

Maybe you could get a Grainger's catalog and show them a ventilation pipe and fan listing, while you point to the offending fan in their kitchen. In many immigrant families, there are one or more members who are savvy about technical fixes. Offer to pay half the cost of them repairing the problem.

If that fails, try a neighborhood mediation service.

It is best to stay away from any discussion of vegetarianism or any implied judgement of what the neighbors cook, unless they are from a culture where vegetarianism is not uncommon. Anonymous


Neighbor having an affair

July 2008

I think my neighbor is having an affair. During the week when our husbands go off to work, and while I am working in my home office, recently, I've seen a man walking by the side of my house to this woman's back door of her apartment unit. She'll greet him by stating, ''Hurry. Get in before someone sees you.'' Then, I'll HEAR them (as they're pretty loud when they moan and groan and not something I really want to hear but don't have much choice here and they're louder than my radio)...and, a couple of hours later as they say and kiss their good-byes, I can hear him say, ''I have to go now. I really have to go now.'' Then, he'll walk by with cigarette in hand! Her husband will be home about an hour or two later. I don't know this woman as she seems sort of snooty and not very well mannered or receptive when she walks by me even though I try to smile. Her husband, though, always greets me, my husband, and/or my kids when we're watering our front lawn. Though, I know it's absolutely none of my business, and, I won't say a word to the man, I can't help feeling extremely awkward when her husband says hello. And because my first marriage ended in divorce because of my ex's extramarital affair, I think that's what contributes to my feelings of akwardness. I just really wish I didn't know about what I think I'm perceiving because my heart feels terrible for her husband...any words of wisdom? anon


Yes I have some wisdom...Stay out of it! It's absolutely NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. What your neighbors do with their time in their own home is completely their business. If they want to swing naked from the chandeliers they can do that. If you can't help spying on them I suggest you get a hobby, listen to the radio, go for a walk, volunteer your time. Do whatever it takes to stop yourself from eavesdropping on other people's lives. I don't know why Americans feel the need to be sex police. Maybe these people have an 'understanding'. Maybe they don't. Either way drop it and move on. Maggie
Maybe just tell her privately you're sorry but the walls are thin and could she and her friend keep it down, the way you would with loud music (or work in another room?). That's all you can do, it isn't your business, the husband may beat her for all you know or may have had an affair or something that would morally justify it for you. But the morality of it is not your business. I'd just take the signal of how it's upsetting you because of your past situation to look into that and get whatever help you need to heal from that. - my 2 cents
At first, I thought, ''Don't go there -- let it alone.'' But I remember a similar question and responses a while ago, and someone brought up the question of STDs. And that seemed like a pretty good point to me -- if this guy thinks he's in a monogamous relationship, but this woman is cheating on him, who knows what she's picking up and passing on? I would think about an anonymous letter to the husband -- ''Dude, your wife is having an affair. She does it while you're at work. If this bothers you, hire a P.I. or something. P.S. Wear a condom.'' kevin
If your neighbor thinks that no one is noticing the visitor, she is really in denial. I agree it is a tricky situation, but truthfully wouldn't you want to know if your spouse was having an affair? I am interested to hear what others say. I know it is not your business, however you see and hear it and it bothers you. You could 1) write her a note and let her know that her afternoon visits are loud and upsetting to you or 2) tell her husband that his wife has an afternoon visitor. He can decide from there what he wants to do. anon
This really isn't any of your business. So, just be polite and move on. -anon

New neighbor's hostility toward me

May 2008

I've had a series of bouts with a neighbor who has no control of her children, who lives at an apartment complex behind my house. This woman would also throw regular loud parties to 4 a.m. Her children, who played in the back area of the apartment complex, would throw things into my yard, e.g., chards of glass, oranges, gravel, rocks, toys, and garbage. They've verbally harassed my kids and have thrown wine bottles at them. I stupidly did not call the police on the leader of the pack, an 11 year-old girl, and her gang, unsupervised children of the other tenants, but I did notify the landlord and then the City of Oakland officials to deal with the ongoing situation that has gone on for a long time. Had we known about these problems beforehand, we would have never bought our house but that's a different story.

To make a very long story short, the landlord, who has a $250,000 fine over her head now if we have one more problem with her tenants, finally erected a fence and the unsupervised kids now have no access to our back yard area anymore. The mother and the landlord refused to meet us at a mediation we had requested and left us hanging but the city officials took matters into their own hands. Anyway, we now have a new neighbor who is friends with the mother of the 11- year-old, who lives at the apartment complex, that is adjacent to us. Whenever this woman sees me, she makes it very obvious that she dislikes me and has made it loud and clear that I can hear her, that she thinks it's very unfair that the ''children'' (her children included) can't play in the backyard area of the apartment complex that is parallel to my backyard. Since she's never heard my side of the story, it's obvious I have been described as the villian. She gives me harsh looks. If she sees me gardening in the front or back of my house while she's walking one of her children in her stroller, she'll stop and make it very obvious that she's trying to escape my presence by running or walking away to the opposite direction, which oddly enough at times looks sort of funny. Anyway, I don't know this woman, and I try to smile and be friendly though I have never said a word to her. She doesn't know me or my family or the situation from our perspective. I know I can't control how others feel but I do feel sort of odd that this woman is so against me without even knowing me. anon


I used to live in Oakland and had almost the identical situation. My partner and I brought our first home in a 'changing but questionable' part of Oakland. We wanted a good size yard so we could have dogs. Unbeknown to us there was a mom and her 2 kids directly behind us renting who were terrors. Other neighborhood kids would come over also but it was her kids that were the ringleaders. They would yell, throw things at our dogs in the yard, climb up on their garage to get a better shot at throwing things at the dogs. It reached the point where we could not leave the dogs out while we were gone. So much for a nice backyard setting. Confronting the kids did no good, when I confronted the Mom the results were the same, suprise. My fear was that the kids would fall into our yard, the dogs, who were now very agitated with these kids would attack them ( they were 2 labs, not 'normally' agressive at all) and then the city would charge the dogs. We stayed 2 1/2 years and moved. I WISH I HAD CALLED THE POLICE, THE CITY AND EVERYONE ELSE! Do not worry about this new neighbor, everyone knows there is 2 sides to every storey and if she really knows that other woman's kids, then she should know that story. Would do it different now
Wow. I can't even imagine the stress of not getting along with a neighbor. My advice is to do whatever you can to make amends and repair the relationship to the best of your ability. Obviously a lot of damage has been done thus far. Now that a fence has been erected wouldn't it be okay for the children in the apartment complex to play in their own backyard? Perhaps you could start by writing a letter to the mother of those children, expressing your concerns and apologizing for the effect that its had on her family too. Perhaps you could try befriending them, taking them a gift as an offer of peace. In the future, I hope you can recognize that these children were probably looking for attention. The best way to deal with children is to befriend them, invite them over to play, or for ice-cream. Then I guarantee they will be the protectors and not the offenders of your property. This is a sad situation for everyone involved. I wish there was a way for you to make amends. There is an apartment complex behind my backyard as well. I invited the children over to play and I've never had a problem. People are bound to be mad at you as long as you are the reason that children are not allowed to play in their own backyard. Write them a letter. Then think about getting a friend to go over there and make peace with the family. I guarantee everyone's life will improve. You have the luxury of living in a home with a yard. These children don't. And all children need exercise and loving attention. Even 11 year olds. Concerned Mama
Just treat this person as a new neighbor. Don't bring all the other history into it. Say hi if you catch her eye, if not just hold your head high and act no differently around her. You solved the real issue before, now time will let things play out. If you are a normal, decent person, this neighbor will have no ammunition against you and may even question the other neighbor's stories. Or at least, she may temper your benign actions against what the other neighbor says about you.

Overall, I think this falls squarely in the corner of ''her problem.'' You did the right thing before. Let it go, feel no guilt, and do not let any of them intimidate you. Take the High Road


Elderly neighbor needs assistance

Nov 2007

Would it be presumptuous of me to provide my elderly neighbor that lives alone with information about some of the various assisted living options in the area? My first resource of information is the BPN. There are some great suggestions around Lake Merritt, El Sobrante, El Cerrito, etc. But she has over the years expressed how she does not want to live in those convelescent home type places where there is no privacy, etc. I believe that she is not aware of the nice assisted living options that are now the modern way for seniors to maintain independence and privacy yet have the benefits of companionship, comradry, and services like in-house beauty shop and trips to the doctor's office and grocery stores. This neighbor is a woman approaching 90. I think she is 87. She gets around her house OK. She uses a walker to get around. But she cannot leave the house without assistance because there are stairs to get down to the driveway/sidewalk, about 7 stairs. For the 2nd time in about 4 months she requested I help her get to a hair appointment but I could not due to prior engagements that I could not cancel. She relies on our other neighbor to take her, usually, but the last time he was out of town, and this time more recently he had something come up. In both cases, she called me the night before the appointment. She has a daughter-by-marriage in the area and daughters by birth in TX and one in AZ. (She has an assistant come to her home to help about 4 hours per day, M-F but this person does not assist her on getting to appointments, only to help around the house.) I believe she could afford a nice assisted living situation due to the equity in her home that was purchased in 1950. I know that her income tax was about $26,000 last year because she needed help from me to read something from her accountant. If anyone has suggestions and opions about this it would be great to hear about your experiences. I would also like to ask about what questions to ask the assisted living places, like: what is a good ratio of residents to staff, etc. ? Is this an appropriate question to ask? Any interview questions would be great. I will of course ask her step daughter and her daugher in TX about what they think. But I worry that they have a conflict of interest. Any funds that the woman spends will eat into any inheiritance that the relatives will get. I also wonder if our other neighbor is getting tired of being the person for the beauty appointments but just doesn't want to tell her ''no, why can't your step daughter take you?''. I feel that I am an objective observer in all this. anon


You say you are an objective observer, yet you sound pretty subjective and involved. I don't think your interest in this matter would be met well. We have several widowed men and women in their 80's and 90's living on our street, and while their mobility has decreased over the years, they are happy and functional and cherish their independence. Neighbors do help when needed and they don't feel put out at all. I hope my neighbors are the same in my old age. I am really grateful that we have so many older neighbors for our small children to get to know. Actually, the woman who lived in our own home lived here well into her 90's and passed away peacefully in her sleep. She had no children at all, but a ''family'' of neigbors who loved and supported her. I'm sure this was preferable to an anonymous assisted living facility. I wouldn't understimate this woman who sounds perfectly capable of living on her own. Why do you care so much if she's happy and not bothering you, except the 2 occasions when she asked for a ride to her salon and you weren't able to anyway? If I were her, I would question YOUR motives. butt out
If the only problems facing your neighbor are missing an occasional hair appointment and too many stairs, butt out. You aren't a family member and she has family. Her financial situation and her family's inheritance issues are none of your business. Your neighbor who provides rides is fully capable of saying ''no'' when necessary--after all you've been asked to help out when this neighbor can't. If you are concerned about the woman's physical/mental health or her safety, then talk to a family member. If you think her family members are abusing or neglecting her or stealing her money, call Social Services. Unless her health, safety, or family neglect & abuse are issues, mind your own business and let her live her life as she chooses. Don't interfere
Lots of people feel very strongly about remaining at home. Unless money is no object, Assisted Living is VERY expensive. You can easily run through your savings and be stuck. If your neighbor needs help, there are resources to help her remain at home. Each county has a ''linkages'' program and an ''IHSS'' program. Both provide help with chores, shopping, and IHSS offers medical care as well. The info number for Contra Costa Co is (800)510-2020, but every county has these programs. They can offer more help if she's low-income, but are great resources and can help even if she doesn't qualify financially. I encourage you to call them and get more information about what's available in your community, and then give your neighbor that information. Good luck!
How kind of you to be so concerned. There are geriatric case workers of different sorts who could help your neighbor. But I think that the initial contacts and all of the decisions need to come from your neighbor and her family. Perhaps you could find out from one of the Berkeley senior centers if there is a listing of the different retirement communities in the area, and then send a copy to each of the daughters. Alternately, there are people who could come in to help your neighbor who do things like take her to appointments and check on her general health and well being. You might be able to find a list of these resources as well. But if it were me, I'd not go any further than that. You mean well, that is very clear. But the issue of what a family will do with their aging parents is very difficult and the family needs to make the decisions. Also a neighbor

Neighbor is sabotaging our condo sale

Oct 2007

I suspect my neighbor is sabotaging our efforts to sell our home.

I am sure all of you know that it is taking a little longer to sell your home nowadays. In our condo complex, there are 3 other units that are for sale. One is for sale by the owner, and those people are playing dirty to try to get their condo sold and prevent us from even having buyers come and see ours.

I just found out today from my realtor, after an open house attendee told her, that the for-sale-by-owner lady is telling people who visit her condo that our condo is 400 sq ft smaller than hers and not upgraded. Since we are listed at similar prices, she tells them that her unit is a better deal.

In actuality, my condo is on the 2nd floor, has high-end upgrades, fairly new paint, and a better view, and is only 15 (FIFTEEN) sq ft smaller that her condo. All the units in our complex have approximately the same square footage - and everyone who lives here knows it. I CANNOT BELIEVE that my neighbor is blatently lying to people. I've seen pictures of her unit and I am not impressed. I am pretty sure that some people look at her place and think, ''Well, this place kind of sucks and is 1950 sq ft, and if the other place (mine) is 400 sq ft smaller (which it is not) and worse, then there's no point to see it because it is the same price. Why walk to the next building?'' Unfortunately, she is on the first floor in an adjacent building so everyone goes to her place first. She conveniently has open houses the same day and time that we do.

Is there anything I can do about this? Since I didn't hear her directly, this is all hearsay. Why not just let people see for themselves and make their own opinion? Maybe I am paranoid, but I think she may also be telling buyers that we are desparate to sell, or making up some other situation, because one buyer came up today and offered to assume our loan payments and close within 24 hrs to relieve us of our burden! Hello??? This is not the case at all, and I know that anyone who steps foot into my condo will see in a second that my unit is 10 times better than hers.

Are these the games that realtors play? I wonder what the other realtors who have listings in this complex are saying about us when potential buyers come and visit. Isn't there a code of ethics? I know my realtor provides potential buyers with a list of other units in the area and encourages them to check them out. She never says anything negative about other people's listings and always verifies her information. Homeowner who distrusts neighbor


I wouldn't worry that much about a neighbor. What, if any, impact such a person can have would be really insignificant. Buyers are a lot more sophisticated and will more likely check out your place to see if they are really getting a ''Deal''. Buyers basically go off of an MLS to find homes and maybe the neighbor can add a little poison during open house but not for the several other avenues to people finding out about your place. Actually, your neighbor is helping you. That person is actually generating more interest in your place. All this sounds like a desperate attempt of a FSBO (For Sale By Owner) to get his or her place off the market. If it is any consolation, I see over 300 hundred real estate transactions each year, I rarely see a FSBO transaction go well for the seller. What will happen is that a buyer will come in with their agent (a good one likely as this area tends to have a higher standard of care in regards to real estate agents in this area), they will make a great offer, then they will get a home inspector and find problems, then they will bring up other transaction problems, and ultimately whittle down the offer to a ridiculous amount and that seller will not have an agent to negotiate on her behalf. Also, be careful about hearsay. Often things are said to psych out a seller. If the same information about the neighbor came from the ultraistic individual who offered taking over payments, then your neighbor problem likely does not exist. Even if the neighbor said something, it may have been grossly exaggerated by the time it got to you. Correspondence in real estate is like a game of ''telephone'' on steroids. With out revealing my identity too much, my profession puts me at a viewpoint where I watch agents and clients interact on both sides of the transaction. Especially buyers at an open house often retell things, in extremely exaggerated terms. Selling a place is very emotional. That's why we have agents. If that neighbor gets a little power by culling the open house herd, then don't give that neighbor free rent in your head by worrying about it. I assure you; the impact is just not there. Mr. KnowItAll
It sounds like your neighbor is freaking out about not selling her condo - keep in mind that her's hasn't sold yet either, so it is not like her tactic is working. It likely isn't hurting you, it just feels crappy & triggers your fears. Stay positive, keep your place looking great, and respond to even the predatory buyers in a calm and measured fashion. There are a lot of buyers who want to believe they can pick off property at a firesale, but wanting it doesn't make it so - they will however play to your fears, so don't let yourself go to fear, just brush those comments aside. If you can, treat this neighbor with kindness whenever you see her, and say good things about her and her unit. If she has any feelings at all, she'll ultimately feel terrible. If not, you'll still feel better about yourself, and people will notice the difference. Trust your realtor's advice about how to stay competitive. You could ask your realtor to position someone at the curb on Open house day to POSITively direct people to all three units. Buyers want to move into a Positive community! Wanda
Oh come now come now. If someone is serious about moving into your complex, they will visit both places. You will both sell your places one day. Get one of those flyer boxes and put the square footage prominently. Also make sure all those nice things about your place are in all advertising/listings about your place. Your realtor is a professional, they should be able to deal. anon
I can't imagine any realtor doing this. It seems to be an issue with the neighbor, acting out of fear (which I detect a bit of in you?). I say, confront her - not about the facts of how your condos compare, but with the badmouthing. Tell her that you have friends who pop by these open houses, tell her what you've heard, and ask her please don't do it any more. Look her in the eye quietly and wait for a response. Do try to wander into her open houses and just wave and say hi, and if you hear anything else, confront her again. I'll bet she she'll stop after the first confrontation though. Anon
Take some color photos of the nicest rooms of the condo. Make a flier to advertise your condo, put 2 or 3 photos on the flier, put the square footage in large type, also any other info you'd like prospective buyers to have. Ask a friend (or your realtor) to stand out at the street at the entrance to the walkway of the two buildings and hand out the flyer (don't do it yourself, better to appear to remain neutral, less inflamanatory). Have them hand one to every person that comes by. Have them point to your building and say ''It's over there''. Important: don't just leave a stack out there, have a warm body handing them out to make sure they get handed out and not stolen by you-know-who. I'm surprised your realtor hasn't made this flier for you already and handed it out this way. Are you sure you have a good realtor? sick and tired of bad behavior
There are issues around recording conversations (so check what the law allows, e.g., if a hidden video or tape recorder is permissible), but it would be ideal to get solid evidence of the neighbor disparaging your condo; with that in hand you can demand good behavior or you'll sue them out of house and home, so to speak. Homeowner

Neighbor's fireplace is smoking up the neighborhood

July 2007

Our neighbor across the street lights a fire in his fireplace every evening, without fail -- even on the hottest days of the year. Since it's summer, we want to keep our windows open, but then our house fills with the smell of smoke. It's annoying, and I'm kind of worried that breathing all this smoke every day can't be good for our lungs.

We don't feel we can discuss this fruitfully with our neighbor. He's kind of weird, and we're not on friendly terms (though we're not enemies either -- we just don't interact at all). He tends to hold himself aloof, and in 15 years of him living across the street from my husband, the one and only interaction they've ever had was a negative one.

It doesn't seem appropriate for him to be polluting the neighborhood like this on a regular basis. Are there health concerns in breathing so much smoke? Is this just one of those little neighborhood annoyances that we'll have to put up with, or do we have some recourse? Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Smoke getting in my eyes


You say ''It doesn't seem appropriate for him to be polluting the neighborhood like this on a regular basis. Are there health concerns in breathing so much smoke?''

In a word, YES. An alarmist but scientific site is: http://burningissues.org

My spouse is a combustion chemist working with particulates and free radicals, and when we remodeled our house, he insisted we remove all three fireplaces. It's dangerous for people AND the environment to create smoke by burning wood. It should be outlawed. -- Put That in Your Prius and Smoke It


Conservative Neighbors

June 2007

I have very kind, loving conservative neighbors. I am usualy very vocal about my opinions but I feel like I am being judged and so will my sons. I have not put them into any organizations that I feel are discrimanatory, religious, or sexist. My neighbors have remarked how this is too bad and sad for my sons. The boys do not seem to miss out to me. I feel like moving to a more liberal area or trying to find more like minded liberals in my own neighborhood, but how ? I fear that the majority of people around me will judge my family for being anti war, pro gay marriage, agnostic and non- conformists in general. How do I teach my sons my values when they seem like unpopular values? Liberal Parent


I think the best way to truly teach the value of open-mindedness (which is what non-discrimination is all about- right?) is to accept all people, whether their opinions are the same as yours or not. Your kids will learn a much higher value than any specific political point of view by seeing that you respect your neighbors as equals, whether they are liberal or conservative.

It may be a challenge, but that's what peace is- co-existence with our neighbors. You may not feel that your present neighbors give you the respect you'd like when it comes to politics, but try to let that be their problem. Kind and loving neighbors of any political persuasion are not a dime a dozen! anon


First off, when it comes to neighbors, my goal is to be on good terms with them. And that sometimes means keeping my opinions to myself. I don't want to create a situation where differences of opinion puts a wall between them and me. I have to live with these folks 24X7. I talk politics only to close friends that I know won't be offended by my opinions, or where I know we can have a spirited debate, but we know the differences won't get in the way of our friendship. With people I don't know well, that's always a risk. Secondly, regarding my children and values, I want to teach my children how to think, not what to think, and sometimes the teaching of values tends to be what to think. Anon
Dear fellow Liberal-Progressive, I grew up in a very conservative part of the country, and I was one of about three liberals I knew living within a hundred-mile radius. My first academic job was in a city where Bible-belt and conservative sentiments also reigned. It was challenging to be in those situations, but I think that it is a good thing for some liberals to live among conservatives and vice versa. The Balkanization of our country into ''red'' and ''blue'' states (or even counties, when it comes to California) is not healthy. People begin to demonize the ''other side'' and lose sight of the fact that most people are decent, like your conservative neighbors. It would be much more valuable for your boys, in my opinion, to learn how to disagree politely and to argue a point convincingly than it is for them to have their views stand unchallenged. I cringe when my young son comes home from school parroting the slams against George W. that he's heard on the playground. I didn't vote for W, can't stand him, but I would like for there to be more dialogue and less diatribe. We won't achieve it through isolation. If you don't want for them to belong to the local Scout troop because of the BSA's position on homosexuality, for instance, don't shrink from saying so. Say that you're sorry that the Scouts are missing out on great potential members like your boys, but that you don't think your boys are missing anything essential by protesting against that policy. I had discussions like this throughout my youth and I still have them when I go home. Yes, I am ridiculed and considered fuzzy and misguided by some, and I let them laugh. They'll laugh at you, too. But if you hold your views and ALSO act as a good neighbor, an active member of the community, a loyal friend, a good mom etc., you will have given them an example of a liberal who is also a good person. As they have shown you that conservatives can be good neighbors. hang in... dialogue is better than flight
My two cents? You have to ignore your neighbors and trust in the validity of your own values. Just because they don't fit into traditional labels, YOU know they're true for you, right? You will never be defined from outside anyway. And if they can't agree to disagree or not talk about politics, religion, whatever it is, then maybe they're not people you'd be really close with. They are only neighbors, so it should be easy to find many other things to talk about. Trust Yourself
Well, maybe it will be easier to teach your values *with* conservative neighbors.

Here's what I mean. Let's say neighbor says to you & kids, ''why aren't you a boy scout?'' When you get home, you can explain to your kids why you have made the decision you did, why you feel it's important to not support that organization. It might even foster a discussion of what your family might do to change the boy scouts or find a similar organization you can support. Would you have this discussion if you didn't have these neighbors?

Essentially, if these are good, kind neighbors who care about you and your children, then this is an opportunity to expose them to the kind of diversity of viewpoints that we liberals should embrace....right?

I think that surrounding yourself with people just like you will only teach your children to be conservative. Diversity of all kinds is important.


actually your neighbors are right. It is sad for your boys. kids need to be a part of their surroundings and peer groups, no matter what those peer groups are about. it sucks to feel different from the other kids because of your parents politics. It makes you want to become super-conservatives later in life just so that you can define yourself in opposition to your parents. It's the natural way for kids. Let them join the Boy Scouts, or the golf team or whatever. At least let them know they can if they want to. They'll learn almost everything they know from you, and a lot, too, from the rest of the world. and they'll pick and choose what makes sense to them as they become adults. That's what makes a well-rounded well-informed person. Or else, move to a place where your kids won't have to deal with competing viewpoints. But either way, let them be involved in their community. Don't be conservative with your liberalism. Alex
Let them talk. Be open to what the have to say. Then when you have to respond you can say something like, ''Wow, there are so many activities for kids these days, we just have to put a limit otherwise Sam just gets burnt out.'' If pushed, you can also say ''Morals and ethics are very important to us. We work with our daughter in everyday situations to help her think about the moral implications of each situation.'' Then talk about unfairness at the park or an injustice such as a child being hit or left out of a group.

Liberal people also need to understand that other people who are conservative, even narrow-minded, want their kids and yours to turn out to be good people. The definition of good is just different. Liberal Mom too


Hmm, how do you teach your children values when they seem like unpopular values? Well, I assume you hold your values because they seem right to you, not just because they are ''popular''. So explain to your children your reasons. At the same time, of course other people will judge your values. You are judging your neighbor's values and there is nothing wrong with that. Not everyone agrees! You will never move somewhere where everyone agrees! You need to learn and then you need to teach your children how to get along with people you don't completely agree with, especially when they are ''kind and loving''. Is it really necessary to be outspoken on every issue with your neighbors who you know don't agree? I can't recall anytime I've discussed gay marriage with my neighbors. If they say it's too bad your sons don't do boy scouts (I assume that is what you are referring to), just say they have lots of other activities and let it drop! Many people of all philosophies find it easiest to never discuss religion or politics in casual conversation. anon
Having read so many posts on BPN in which people describe horrendous problems with their neighbors - noise, crime, vicious dogs - I think it would be a huge mistake to move over something like this. You could easily end up living next door to a like-minded person who has an unfortunately predilection for playing the trombone at 2 am. I'm as left as they come, but I'd rather live next to a quiet GWB supporter than a loud liberal any day. Fran
Hi, where on earth do you live? It can't be in Berkeley. I can't even imagine what you describe in the Bay Area at large, unless you are very far east. Anit-war, pro-gay marriage, agnostic? Not unusual at all. I'm a liberal by almost everyone's definition, but I sometimes feel too conservative for Berkeley because I don't think every business in the city should be a non-profit. Anyway, finding like-minded neighbors in Berkeley or surrounding cities shouldn't be a problem for you. rb
How do you know that the ''conservative'' organizations in your area haven't changed with the times and have like-minded parents and kids involved in them these days? Your neighbors should keep their nose out of your parenting business, but still, most organizations, like Boy Scouts, and others, are comprised of parents like yourself----there are plenty of gay parents of Boy Scouts, etc. These organizations serve as a social contact for your children, too----being around and doing things with other kids is important. Even if your son has a mohawk, he'd be welcome in most organizations today----maybe with a mohawk he'd be of even more interest than the other kids. It sounds like you are making judgments without first checking these organizations out. You and your boys should only join organizations you feel comfortable with, but you should attend a meeting to check it out first before making judgments. Then, when your neighbors inquire again, you can tell them you attended one of the meetings with your sons and it just wasn't a good fit.

Good luck----theres's so much for kids in this area, it's hard to imagine not finding something that fits your categories. Anon


Do you choose your values on the basis of what's popular or not? Of course not. Teach them to stand up for what they believe in. CC
Stay the course. It sounds like you are already doing a great job of teaching your values to your children. Who cares what people think of your beliefs.

That said, I fear that you being 'very vocal' about your opinions may be coming across as strident. What you may be perceiving as 'judgment,' may actually be dislike. (Though from your posting, my impression is that you are a thinking, kind person) Personally, I hate being lectured by people -- unasked -- on their opinions, even if I agree. If you volunteered that 'the war is stupid' or even that you are 'anti-war' simply because I mentioned in passing that my husband was out of town for his Navy Reserve weekend, then I would probably be a bit put off. However, if we were having an interesting conversation, the topic of Iraq came up and we sensed that we were simpatico in some of our beliefs, I would hope that you would mention that you took the kids to an anti-war rally and I may mention in return that I think that every person in America who drives a vehicle getting less than 25 MPG freeway needs to look in the mirror every morning and say, ''today a GI is gong to die so that I can fill my gas tank.'' Would I say that to anyone who I didn't sense already agreed with me (and, yes, my husband of ten years active duty and thus far, five years navy reserve service does agree with my statement, though he phrases it a bit more diplomatically)? Heck no! That would be rude. Additionally, he or she would think that I am a freak and probably dangerous.

Also, no matter where you live, you are going to find that you hold some unpopular beliefs and that you will have battles to fight. Right now I live in a town where everyone eagerly recycles, composts, commutes on bicycles, derives wardrobes from REI's offerings, buys hormone free milk (delivered by a milkman, no less) and eats organic. We are a liberal stronghold in one of the red-est/politically scariest of states. Sounds like nirvana, UNTIL YOU HEAR that the median home price is way over a million dollars. All of the kids go to public school, but the parking lot is filled with Range Rovers and Hummers. How do you explain that Daddy's $200,000/year isn't 'poor?' How am I going to teach my children about reasonable expectations? The value of a dollar? -anon


You stated that, ''I am usualy very vocal about my opinions but I feel like I am being judged...'' It does go with the territory. If you are vocal about your opinions you will be judged. No matter what, we all make judgements and are judged each and every day, it's unavoidable. You do have control over when to express your opinion and when to stick with non-controversial chitchat.

You didn't mention how you feel about the issue of diversity, and this, as uncomfortable as it may feel for you, is about diversity. To segregate your family from others with varying opinions is to isolate yourself and your family from true diversity. The ability to have these differences of opinions and yet coexist nonviolently in the same community is a wonderful thing. One of my most enduring friendships is with someone whose opinions could not be more different than my own. We have had some wonderful and heartfelt debates, with the security of knowing that we long ago agreed to disagree and be respectful with each other about it. Would you really want to live in a bubble where everyone thinks exactly alike?

Your children will learn your values by virtue of being your children. When they are older, they will use what you taught them to establish their own values, just as you did (whether similar or different from your own parents). If you protect them from different points of view, they might be a bit shocked when they have to function in the real world later. Another Liberal Parent


We moved to a conservative area from a much more liberal one a few years ago. Don't assume anyone is judging you. You will get more respect by sticking to your ethics and not judging anyone for theirs. For example, Boy Scouting is HUGE where I live. Seriously, we crank out 8 to 10 Eagle Scouts a year in our very small community. When we moved here, some neighbors encouraged my son to join their troop, and we declined. I tried to just say no thank you, but they pushed it very slightly. I finally replied that I didn't agree with the organization's position on gays. They replied that at that young age, no one really cares about that stuff. I replied that I didn't want my son to invest energy and emotion into an organization that might one day kick him or his friends out for just being who they've always been. I added that my son does other activities that give him some of the same things he might get from scouts. That was the end of it. We're still friendly and all. We are liberal, pro-gay marriage, etc., and we have met people like us and different from us. Again, just chill, and continue to be yourself and emit a positive image for your beliefs. Who knows? Maybe your neighbors actually think, ''Hey that new family is so liberal, but their positions are well considered and they aren't preachy.'' That's how I think of some of my conservative neighbors.

Nosy Neighbor

Sept 2006

My next door neighbor is extremely nosy. She is the landlord to an apartment and we live in a residential home. When we purchased the home, after introducing herself, she asked if she could come into my home because she said she is extremely curious and has always wanted to see the inside of ''that home.'' I declined her request. We have had renovations made to our home as we are in the process of remodeling it for ourselves and our sons, and upon completion, she will ask me or my husband how much we paid to have such renovation made to the point that I feel extremely uncomfortable and hesitantly will answer something in the ''ball range'' figure and she will run to her husband, speak in her language, (she is trilingual, speaks English, Spanish, and Chinese) and will ask me in English or my husband in Spanish, and through her body language and pointing at us, of course we know she's speaking about us, and exasperate that we paid SO MUCH money to fix ''that old house!'' We just had our roof replaced and she without my knowledge tried to seek info out of my husband in front of the roofer! He didn't respond to her request, and unbeknownst to me, when she saw me, she came running to me and asked me how much we paid. I didn't want to answer her but she kept insisting. When I finally told her some amount, she stated OMG that's so much and ran to her husband and then ran across the street to the neighbors who were outside and stared, kept pointing, and of course spoke in the language that I can't understand. I don't want to be rude to her because she is my next door neighbor but at the same time when I heard her speaking, I immediately regretted having uttered an answer. I try to avoid her as much as I can but it's hard when I stay home and she sees me. Any suggestions would be great. My husband deals with it better than I do and simply ignores her but it's hard when she literally comes to my face and bears her noziness! Please advise anon


Different cultures have different standards regarding what kinds of questions are appropriate -- in Anglo-influenced European/American culture questions about how much money one earns, how much one weighs, how old one is, etc. are often considered out of line. When I studied Chinese in college, I had a teacher from Taiwan who used the language-learning situation to ask how much each person in the class weighed, how much our fathers/mothers earned, how much our houses cost, etc. I don't know if her ''nosiness'' is typical in China, but I learned over time that talking about certain subjects in various cultures is not as taboo as in ours. By the same token, when I lived in Scandinavia I found that one only discussed personal/emotional issues with very intimate friends and family, and even then a lot of self-censorship went on. Americans can seem ''nosy'' or too intimate too. Having said that, I don't think that you need to give up your cultural norms in this case. I think it would perhaps even be a service to point out, ''I'm sorry, but I was raised by my parents not to discuss financial matters with people who are not in my family. It's just how our culture works. Please don't ask me about money.'' Of course, this direct approach might also be culturally aggravating. But I think it helps when living in a very diverse culture to try to explain ourselves sometimes nosier than some, not as nosy as others
Why not find a phrase that you feel comfortable with, practice it in front of the mirror so you can say it to her even if she keeps pestering and use that? Something like, ''We got a fair price but I don't want to share the exact amount.'' That should shut her up but if necessary you can just keep repeating the phrase. She sounds like a real pain. Sorry you have to deal with her Jennifer
How about answering ''None of your business'' Or ''I don't want to talk about it'' from now on? She may bad-mouth you behind your back about it in Spanish or Chinese, but who cares? She's probably just as irritating to everyone else in the neighborhood. Others probably aren't that interested in your personal business anyway. Follow your husband's lead. Ignore her -Anon
My grandmother had very good advice about when people ask a question that is really none of their business. She said to respond with ''Why do you ask?'' Their response is generally something that comes across sounding pretty pathetic (e.g. ''I just wanted to know.'') because there's really no true answer (unless they're planning to have the same work done, are going through the same thing, etc.) other than essentially ''I'm nosy''. And when they respond with the ''I just wanted to know.'' Just give thema perplexed look like you can't imagine why it'd be interesting, nod to yourself, and say ''oh''. And go about your own business. If they're rude enough to persist and keep at you about it, you're well within your right to just flat out say, ''It's a private matter and I don't want to discuss it.'' If that's taken as rude, then that person should consider their own rude behavior in asking such questions in the first place No one's business but your own
I must commend you for not wanting to be rude when that is all this person is doing to you-well done! So, depending on how to- the-point you want to be, I've come up with a few suggestions and I hope they help. Whenever she asks you a question you don't want to answer you can say, I'm sorry I can't help you with that.'' Or, what about ignoring her question altogehter and saying only ''It was nice talking to you, but I have to get back''. Or say ''That's a personal matter and I'm uncomfortable saying anything more''. She may persist even after you've non- answered her. If she does, just smile and say nothing, or repeat that you have to go, and then go. However you decide to handle this, be strong. She's accustomed to getting answers from you so it might take several attempts before she gets the message Jen
The wife of my husband's buddy is like this. She would ask me point blank how much I paid for this or that. At first I thought she just honestly needed the information -- she met her husband overseas and had only recently come to live in the US, so I thought I was helping her, and gave her the info. However, it turned out that the real reason she wanted to know dollar amounts was so she could let me know how much cheaper she was able to get it for. Example: ''I see you have Ecco shoes - do you like them?'' I fell for it. Next up: ''Where did you get them? How much did you pay?'' After she had her information, she would drop her bomb: ''oh! don't you know about zappos.com? I got three pairs of Eccos there for only [some really cheap amount, one tenth what I paid]''

I realize this is a self-esteem thing - she wants to show me how clever she is - but it was really pissing me off. So, now I tell her nothing. I turn it into a funny joke. She says ''I love your new refrigerator. How much did you pay for it?'' I say ''Oh, it cost a LOT! A WHOLE lot!'' and laugh. Then she will say ''Well, how much? More than $500?'' and I say ''It cost so much my husband had to go out and get a second job!'' She says ''No, really, how much was it?'' And I say ''Really! I hardly ever see him anymore!'' and so on. It's actually kind of entertaining. She sees me laughing, we both know what's going on. She might even laugh too. But she stopped asking me nosy questions. So her new tactic became ''Ask the Husband''. My husband is such a softie. He was glad to hand over all sorts of information including what we owe on our house and how much we paid for infertility treatments! So we had to spend several ''counselling'' sessions together where I reminded him over and over not to do this, and also (important!) suggested wording he could use when she asked him one of her questions. Next, she began having her husband ask my husband. This was even worse, since the two guys are good friends. I told my husband to say ''My wife doesn't want me to discuss our finances, really sorry, she's just hypersensitive, blah blah blah.'' So finally we got it solved. G.


It might be too late, but you might try befriending her... like ''what do you think? it's a lot, huh?'' kind of questions. I also have a neighbor who shakes his head whenever we have work done. He's from a culture different than mine, and he always wants to see it and then shakes his head, saying 'so much money'. But he also brings me lemons from his tree, and tomatoes in the summer. I think his world view is very different from mine, his life experiences very different, what he does with his money is very different than what we do, and how we express it is also different. I guess I'm saying don't take it so personally. To her she may be being culturally appropriate, but no sense in getting your feelings hurt. I always believe in being proactive: 'Hi, Mrs.So&so, how are you? Your garden is growing nicely, are you well? how are the kids? ...'sorry, not trying to be condescending, of course you know how to make friends, but try killing her with kindness and smalltalk. Just a thought. (smile) anon

Angry, hostile neighbor

June 2006

Three years ago a man moved into our apartment complex. From the very beginning there was a lot of fighting in his unit. Once when a car was blocking our parking space we had to go from apartment to apartment to find out who was blocking our space. When we knocked on his door and asked him if he knew, he yelled at us and slammed the door in our face. Ever since then, we've avoided him completely.

In our building, we have large garbage and recycling dumpsters which we all share. Two years ago, the owner of our building started missing payments for the garbage and recycling. In any event, when the garbage and recycling dumpsters are emptied, they don't always get put back. On the days when they aren't put back, we put back the recycling dumpsters since we are the biggest users of the recycling. The other neighbors usually put the garbage dumpsters back since they use them every day.

This all stopped three months ago when somebody started moving the garbage dumpsters into strange places early in the morning after they had been emptied. One dumpster would be placed in our parking space behind our car and another dumpster would be put behind some blackberry vines growing out back. None of our neighbors said anything. We didn't know who was doing it until we got up very early and saw it was the man who had slammed the door in our face.

We really don't know what to do about this situation. We wish we could talk to our neighbors since they also are being affected and have to deal with the blackberry vines on a daily basis. While they are friendly and smile at us and say hello, we can't talk to them because they speak very little English. Also, we definitely don't want to talk to this man because we are afraid of him. Ignoring the problem isn't helping since he is doing this on an almost weekly basis. Asking the owner of the building to pay to put the garbage and recycling dumpsters back, let alone make payments on time for garbage and recycling pickup isn't a solution either. The owner doesn't like to be bothered and pays only as much as she wants. We are worried that this might escalate into something worse. Any advice that might help us would be greatly appreciated Anon


Given what you said, it seems like it's time to move. It doesn't seem like anything will change in the foreseeable future. There's no reason to have neighbors you can't talk to and deal with on a reasonable basis. Yes, this is the Bay Area and housing is tight, and it might take some time to find a better situation, but it will be worth it. Lori
Just put the garbage can and recycling cans back where they belong, and don't expect anybody else to do it for you, and don't expect any ''fairness'' out of it. This sounds like the least stressful option. The guy sounds psycho,and apparently is looking for negative attention. If you ignore it, and just help out yourself and your other neighbors, maybe he'll grow up a little. Figure that you'll build up some good karma and are making donations into the goodwill bank. You may need to draw from it some day. You might also consider moving
I would move. I think you are right to be scared because it does sound like things are escalating. Ideally, the property owner would make the angry neighbor move, but it sounds like she is not very responsible. Sounds like a bad situation all around, and I hope you can get out of it soon. anon

Neighbor seems to be running a business out of his garage

Dec 2005

We have new neighbors on our (formerly) quiet residential Oakland street. A few months ago we noticed that they seem to be running a business in their garage, invoving the near continuous use of power tools(sometimes used outside,in the driveway) and frequent pickups and deliveries that block the street with large trucks on a daily basis. Also, they have converted their home from a single family dwelling into a two- family home,with two house numbers. How can I find out if what they are doing is legal? Who can I call? If anyone has experience with this sort of problem,please advise. neighbor in distress


Call the department that you would call if you wanted to inquire about getting a business license for yourself. There's probably a listing in the phone book's government pages, or you can call the main number for city offices and ask where to call. Call the zoning office to find out about the duplex conversion.

Just ask the business license department if home businesses are permittable in your neighborhood, and if so what kinds. This way, you are not immediately ''turning in'' your neighbor and possibly creating unneccessary bad feelings.

But have you talked with them, introduced yourself, and let them know nicely that the noise is becoming a problem for you? It sounds like you know little about them or what they are actually doing. It's possible that they are working on their own house, and in that case there will eventually be an end to it. You don't mention seeing things going out, only things coming in, and any business needs to send their product out!

Just for your info, I have a home business in North Berkeley and my activities are limited to ''mail and phone''. I do very occasionally get deliveries by truck, but it's not frequent, and not loud or a nuisance to my neighbors. anon


You can contact the City of Oakland Revenue Division to determine if your neighbors have registered their business with the City (required of all business entities and rental properties in the city). If the business hasn't been registered, the owner will probably be liable for the annual fee for any years in business in Oakland plus penalties and interest if they are delinquent. This link has phone numbers: http://www.oaklandnet.com/government/fwawebsite/revenue/revenue_biztaxcontact.htm.

You can contact the City of Oakland Code Enforcement division to determine if the business use is compliant with your neighborhood's zoning, and to determine if the addition of the second unit was done with permits. Call 238 3381 and leave your questions along with the property address; you can remain anonymous. Be sure to get a case number and the name of the inspector to whom it is assigned (if they can give it to you) so you can follow up and see what transpires. Usually an inspector is assigned and visits the property within a few days, though resolution can take weeks, months, years. Good luck. local govt bureaucrat


Sounds like they may be violating the City's zoning code (both the home-based business and the two units). Go to www.oaklandnet.com and look up the contact information for Oakland's Planning and Zoning Dept. (within Community and Economic Development). There may be info on the zoning code on the website, but it may be easier to simply call the Planning and Zoning office and report the suspected violation. anon
To the person worried about a neighbor possibly operating a business from his/her home. The best thing for you to do is to visit the Building Official at City Hall. First you can determine if the house is permitted for two units. YOu can also check to see what the neighborhood's zoning is. Perhaps that block allows that type of business. Or maybe your neighbor has a home occupation permit. Usually one must prove that they will not negatively impact the neighborhood in order to get one of the those. Lots of people don't know they need this type of permit or don't care to find out and pay the fee. Oakland probably has some type of noise ordinance so you could also get at the problem from that aspect although violations are harder to prove (a city employee needs to use a noise meter thing) Once you determine if your neighbor is violating some type of City code (whether a building code or a zoming issue, you can submit a formal complaint (it's best to do this via letter with a copy to the City Administrator.) When a city recieves a formal complaint it becomes a code enforcement issue and a City is required to investigate. Most cities don't have the staff to practively enforce codes so they react to complaints. Squeaky wheels usually get the most attention. And of course, life safety problems always get the quickest action. You should give the Building Official a chance to respond and it takes a long time. If worse comes to worse, the best thing to do is to show up a Council meeting and speak under the public comment section on the agenda and submit copies to the City Council at the time of the steps you have taken to get the City to address the problem. Good luck. anon

NOT nice neighbor!

Oct 2005

We have a neighbor lady that well to say it nicely is difficult to deal with ( just very nosy and unpleasant) but she has had 2 different late, large, loud parties at her home in the last few months. One was late- July and one was just this last Saturday night. Our problem is; the loud music, loud yelling and carrying on, many many cars parked out front, cigarette butts thrown into the grass area next to our home and around ( middle of our houses ) and the first party lasted till after 2 AM and this last weekends party was about the same. She lives alone. We have not spoken to her about either of the parties nor plan to as we want NO trouble but we are annoyed and like I said; she has just come off to my husband and I as being very rude, unfriendly and just not nice. We have done or said nothing to make her feel that way but apparently her uncle told us once that she just thinks the neighborhood in general dislikes her and has had “hate mail” sent to her before we moved here last May. What do we do if anything? Any ideas or suggestions that you might have we would appreciate. We have never had troubles with neighbors before and like all our other neighbors just fine and hate having a unpleasant situation living right next door but do not want to start waves either! We live in the Oakland Hills. Please help someone...anyone? annoyed family!


This woman needs a lot of compassion. Try to understand that if she is used to people disliking her, she probably has her defenses up rather than being open, so that it won't hurt again when she finds out that yet another set of neighbors dislikes her.

I personally think you should befriend her and expect it to take a LONG time before she opens up to you and lets her defenses down. She needs someone on her side.

Also, if she's only had a couple parties in a few months, well, that's not so bad. She sorta has a right to do so. Instead of complaining, in the meantime, build a strong rapport with her, and far down the road as you get closer, ask her to give you a heads up when she's planning an event, so you can make sure to not plan anything for early the next day. Good luck.


Sounds like you have tried to be reasonable, and they are not.

The law is on your side, but only if you are willing to use it. California Civil Code defines Public Nusiance Laws (more than one neighbor complaining), and Private Nusiance Laws, (if it only bothers one neighbor).

Cal Civ Code § 3479. What constitutes a nuisance

Anything which is injurious to health,including, but not limited to, the illegal sale of controlled substances, or is indecent or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property, or unlawfully obstructs the free passage or use, in the customary manner, of any navigable lake, or river, bay, stream, canal, or basin, or any public park, square, street, or highway, is a nuisance.

Cal Civ Code § 3480. Public nuisance

A public nuisance is one which affects at the same time an entire community or neighborhood, or any considerable number of persons, although the extent of the annoyance or damage inflicted upon individuals may be unequal.

The police will not get involved until you take action first. You get get a restraining order, it takes an hour or two. Once obtainined you have something the police can enforce immediatly.

You can also take them to small calims court using the nusiance laws asking for $5,000 per person per residence. If you can get other neighbors involved they too can request $5,000 in damages using the Public Nusance Laws.

Your other option is to take a holiday the next time they have a party.

I had a similar problem with a bunch of drunks who would have loud parties late into the morning. The neighborhood tried to reason with them to no avail. We tried using the police, but they said no laws were being violated.

(An officer then took me aside and muttered you know there are civil ways you can solve the problem.) One restraining order and a small claims action is all it took and the problem was solved. (The restraining order is in effect for three years.) If they should ever have a loud party, one call to the police and off to jail with them. Very easy solution to a frustrating problem. Anon


I can understand that your situation is difficult, but it is possible to call the police and lodge a complaint anonymously when these parties are going on. There was a similar situation in our neighbhorhood with loud parties, I called the police many times to complain, as did other neighbors. At a certain point, the dispatcher asked me if I wanted to file a formal complaint in which case I would have to register my name, but until that time, I was always given the option of complaining anonymously. Good luck. anonymous
Have you heard about East Bay Community Mediation? Its a local non-profit organization that uses trained community volunteer mediators to help bring about peaceful resolution of neighborhood concerns just like the one you describe. You can do no harm by finding out a little more about how mediation works -- the process helps promote communication (often the very thing that is lacking when problems like you're experience arise). EBCM charges a very low administrative fee for the service and often waive the fee if people cannot afford to pay. It's a great resource serving Oakland and other east bay residents. Check it out at www.ebcm.org or call 548-2377. I hope this helps.
It sounds like you are a bit harsh on your neighbor. Two parties since July isn't exactly a lot. Isn't she allowed to have a party now and then ? Also, having an unpleasant and nosy neighbor doesn't sound like the worst possible situation. She just sounds annoying. Why not ignore her personal traits and call the police when the parties go into the wee hours ? -anon

I think my neighbor is watching me and my daughter

Feb 1999

I think a man in my apartment building is watching me and my daughter when we play outside. Should I be worried? Should I stop playing outside? I was out in the yard of my huge apartment building with my dog and my daughter and noticed a man leaning on his window sill watching us for about half an hour. He definitely had no shirt on, though the weather here is well below freezing, and I think may have been completely naked, although he could possibly have been wearing low-rider pants. A couple of evenings later, as we were entering the building and walking up the stairs, an apartment door opened, and a man--I think the same fellow, but I can't be sure--was crouching down and stuck just his face through the door and says hello to my 18-month-old daughter. His apartment was completely dark behind him, and he was sort of hiding his body behind the door. I got scared and scooped up my daughter and walked away fast. I had the feeling that he's been watching us for who knows how long, and with who knows what level of interest. Since then, I have spoken with one neighbor who has lived here a long time (we just moved here two months ago), and she says she knows everyone on that floor and there are no weirdos there. I've been basically avoiding the yard for the past few days and am feeling less frightened than I did a few nights ago, but I wondered whether people had information to the effect that peepers usually are or are not dangerous, etc. Meg


If I had a neighbor like that one, I would call the police. The guy might be a registered sex offender - he sounds weird enough. If the police go and talk to him, it might be enough to keep him from staring at you, etc. Good luck!
All I have to say is that when I read your description of this weirdo, my stomach turned with fear for your safety. Please do not let your guard down and perhaps find out (from the police if possible) if this person has a record of any kind. Get a name and an exact address so if you ever should have to call the police, you know where to direct them. Remember that your gut instincts are ususlly right!
The neighbor could be dangerous or possibly not. I wouldn't take any chances. Trust your gut. It seems odd that a person would stand outside in below freezing weather without a shirt for one-half hour. If you're more comfortable playing elsewhere, then do that. If you play in your yard keep notes on what you observe. Then, if you need the facts later for any reason you'll have it. If his behavior continues and you're still concerned, I'd avoid him and find another place to play. Don't just take one person's word that the building has no weirdos. This guy could be new to the building; perhaps your friend doesn't know of him. I don't think one can generalize that all peepers are dangerous or that they are all harmless. The situation needs to be evaluated in light of all the information you have. Especially pay attention to your feelings about it. I believe that mothers usually have an instinctive sense of when they or their children are in danger.
Two thoughts about the neighbor who is watching you as you and your daughter play... Aren't you the list member who has moved from Berkeley to Russia? I would suggest that this might have some bearing on your situation. For example: - different cultures have different ideas about what's acceptable; this could account for your other neighbor saying there are no weird people on that floor. Staring at people out the window may not be considered weird within his own culture. - maybe your neighbor is just very curious about a U.S. family and is staring at you the way kids stare at unusual people. I personally would probably chalk it up to cultural differences unless I had something more concrete to go on.
From: Claire (2/99)

I was interested to read all the responses to the dangerous neighbor query. I was the unfortunate object of a "peeping tom"when I was 18, and it was a fairly hardcore and terrifying experience. The episode lasted about 2 months (as far as I know). After various incidents that are too creepy to go into here, the person was apprehended and it was, in fact, a neighbor in my apartment house. This man acted strangely to me in person, too, not just secretly. Once the whole debacle was sorted out, I had to ask myself why I never confronted him about his behavior (I am not especially timid in that respect) but something about him simply creeped me out altogether and I avoided him. So, the moral of my story is this: If a person is of another culture than yours and doesn't understand that his behavior threatens you, you need to firmly explain that to him. Ask a friend (male or not, if it makes you feel more comfortable) to accompany you, go to their door and explain it to them in civil terms. If they are innocent, they will learn something from you; if they are malicious, they will understand that you are not afraid to call them on their behavior. Confront the behavior when it happens, so the person understands that you are going to defend yourself in every situation. For example, when someone is standing partially-hidden in the doorway: pick up your daughter, stop where you are, and ask very loudly and firmly, "What are you doing? Are you trying to scare us?" The person will have to respond, and judging from that response you will know whether or not to make a report to the police.

I think my situation lasted as long as it did because the person threatening me thought I was too scared to do anything about it. Trying to catch him was a lot of work and summoned a lot of fear in me. If you can get your fear out first, then you can deal with the behavior from a position of the clear limits you have set for yourself, and communicated to the person threatening you.


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