Dealing with ‘neighbours from hell’


Engagement with neighbours in apartment buildings can be a tricky, fraught business, and while it can be tempting to keep to yourself, diplomatic and respectful engagement is generally better than no engagement at all.

That’s why after purchasing my first apartment in 2014 – a 1920s’ art deco block in St Kilda – I wanted to let my neighbours know personally about my plans to hold a small housewarming party.

When I knocked on the doors of each of the 12 apartments in the building, all but one warmly welcomed me and had no objection to my party plan. My downstairs artist neighbour was the only exception. Her first response was: “No, I can’t go there with you, James.”

When I tried to explain it wouldn’t be a rowdy party, and that it was surely reasonable to have a house warming when you move into your own apartment she said: “Well, its perfectly simple. If it goes past 11pm I will call the police.”

Remain diplomatic

I learnt from that exchange that there is no point persisting in heated arguments with neighbours in the hallways of apartment blocks. The things people say in the heat of the moment are more often than not a reflection of a perceived threat to the peace of their home space than a good indication of their personal opinion.

The party went ahead without a hitch and it was a great night.

When I saw that neighbour a few days later she asked how the party went and commented “it was very well handled”. My reading was that she had gone away and thought about it, perhaps discussed it with her partner, and realised her response had been unreasonable.

Relationships with neighbours are a delicate thing. Giving them the benefit of the doubt to reach reasonable positions through their own reflection, rather than engaging in a combative relationship, can result in a more harmonious environment for everyone.

Try to find a common solution

Some months later, more problems arose when the sensor lights in the stairwell stopped working, meaning residents were now responsible for manually switching them on and off. Over a period of weeks I heard increasingly agitated arguments in the hallway over people leaving the lights on – because the light shone directly into people’s apartments through glass panelled doors and it was a waste of energy.

Then notes started appearing next to the light switch. Eventually someone took the bulbs out of the socket meaning the stairs became a safety issue at night because you couldn’t see where you were walking.

Eventually I called the body corporate, which simply replaced the original sensor light. Problem solved and headaches over for all concerned.

Take it to body corporate

The body corporate AGM is a great impartial place to raise unresolved issues. This is a space where people will generally take reasonable positions because they don’t want to compromise their reputation in the building.

For example, I was aware from my ownership title that my apartment also included a small shed out the back of the building – but the keys to the shed weren’t given to me when I moved in. So I raised the issue under “other business” at the body corporate meeting.

It turned out that my artist neighbour from downstairs was using the shed, as the previous owner of my apartment had given her permission to do so. But once I pointed out my legal entitlement to it she agreed to move her stuff out the following week.

Make friends with your neighbours

Of course not every apartment block is the same and we each have to negotiate our own relationships with difficult neighbours – those who I like to call the “fun police”. Nasty experiences can create a weight to living in a place that never entirely lifts – no matter how diplomatically you manage relations.

Recently a sign appeared outside our apartments that an auction was taking place and my difficult neighbour was selling up. Come auction day I was pleased she got a good price on her apartment. I realised that although our interactions were sometimes infuriating – she was probably the neighbour I communicated with more than anyone else in the building.

When I saw her on the street after the auction we even agreed to have a glass of champagne as a final farewell.

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