Home > Family, Learning, Los Angeles, Parenting, Safety > Scary neighbors. Setting boundaries.

Scary neighbors. Setting boundaries.

When I moved into my new place a few months back, my BFF said, “At that amazing price? In L.A.? There are bodies under the floorboard. Seriously.”

I laughed, but I wondered if she was right that something wasn’t adding up. The property was great; the house, spacious. The landlords were nice, but their niceness seemed almost suspicious in light of my conversation with Mackenzie.

Today I can tell you the problems reside in expectations.

When we moved in, the landlords emphatically stated that the laundry room and driveway were ours. “One of the units in back gets the back parking space, and the other one knows there is no parking space.” Expectations: clear and set, on both fronts.

We told the landlords we were happy to share the laundry room, but the landlords rejected that. They told us it was cleaner to just keep everything separate and distinct. We acceded and came to see the laundry room as ours.

The old tenants moved out within a few weeks of our moving in. Shortly after moving in, one set of new tenants came to us and said, “The landlords told us you’d probably be fine with our using the laundry room. That cool?”

Alarms went off, but I said, “That’s fine, as long as you only use it late in the evening. I already have to negotiate for a living during the day; I don’t want to have to do it at home with my own washer and dryer.”

A few days later, the new tenant and landlord showed up on my porch. “I work late,” said the new tenant, “and I don’t want to have to look for parking late at night. Can I park in front of your driveway sometimes, if I move the car early in the morning?”

I said, all the while marveling at how dramatically different the expectations set with our neighbors were from those set with us, “That’s fine, as long as you understand you’ll have to move the car really early depending on my fiancee’s work schedule.”

Two weekends in a row, I went to do laundry at 5 p.m. and found both my washer and dryer occupied. The second time, I texted the neighbor. “Please do not use the laundry room before 9pm.” Since the spoken boundaries weren’t being respected, I wanted to set clear written ones.

That same weekend, the other neighbor hounded us more than once about using the driveway for parking because she didn’t want to have to walk. My fiancee and I made clear to her that, while we wanted her to be safe at nighttime, we were not going to negotiate the driveway because she didn’t want to walk an extra dozen yards.

I emailed the landlord and expressed frustration at the different expectations that had been set between the three sets of neighbors. She wrote back that she was happy to do a full recant with the neighbors. Regrettably, I rejected the offer and stated I thought we’d gotten things sorted out.

Then, last week happened.


And then, a week to the day after the last encounter, the other neighbor showed up on my porch, interrupting my son’s bedtime to shout at me about a short note I’d left on her car–since I hardly see her–asking her to make sure she closed the gates after coming in or going out. She’d seemed friendly enough before, so when I opened up the door, it was with a friendly, “Oh, hey, how’s it going?” I was startled to be called, among other things, trifling, trivial, and told that I had “messed with the wrong person.”

I told her that sounded like a threat, and that our conversation was over. She got busy calling the landlords; with the door closed, I quickly typed a letter to the landlords and tried returning my attention to my sweet, exhausted little one. I interrupted briefly to step out on the porch and tell my neighbor, “Please take this conversation to your area of the property,” which is separated from mine by a gate.

My sense of safety at this place was, by this point, gone, which made it all the more important for me to reinforce safety-related boundaries.

The police department told me to file restraining orders, which wouldn’t prevent my neighbors from gathering their mail, for example, but would protect me from their harassment.

I said I’d consider it.

In discussions with my landlord, my fiancee learned the neighbors “don’t like the way Deborah talks to them.”

About this I wrote the following:

Two people I had to set boundaries with said they “don’t like the way [I talk] to [them].” Here’s a thought: Come to me without threats, so I can come to you without explicit boundaries. But if you come at me with threats, please expect that I will shut that down as quickly and efficiently as I can . . . and that I will not care what names you call me afterward, because I will have walked away safe, and thus fulfilled my objective.

Maintaining my family’s safety is my first objective, its members’ health my second. After that come my work, my friends, and very, very distantly following that, catering to neighbors’ or acquaintances’ desires.

I have learned in my line of work to set very, very clear boundaries with folks because they’ll set their own for you if you don’t. I’ve also learned that people will often think you’re a jerk for setting them. Here, in the context of the first harassing neighbor, is how I feel about that:

Today I had to set some boundaries. I called the girlfriend of the neighbor I wrote about in my blog and explained to her why I (a) was talking to her, not her boyfriend, and (b) would not be talking to her boyfriend again (specifically, because dialogue is seen as an invitation to more dialogue), and appreciated her communicating the same to him.

She made a bunch of excuses for him. He was abused. He’s lonely. He’d had some drinks. He only does this every six months or so (!). I plowed through the excuses and said, “Look, I’m glad he came to apologize. Apology accepted. But that’s it. I’m not saying he’s a bad guy. I’m not saying he would have or will hurt us. But I’m not taking a single risk with myself or my family. Where he went because I said ‘no’ was not OK, and I am not interested in seeing how well or poorly he takes it if I ever have to say ‘no’ again.”

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? I know. But the truth is, I get one body and one life. I want to make the best choices I can to be able to hug my sweet little man for many, many decades to come.

Setting boundaries is hard at first. A lot of people think you’re a jerk, because frankly it’s much more beneficial to them when you acquiesce. 

With time it gets easier, so that “setting boundaries” is no longer a terrible but inspiring thing. It’s like telling yourself, “I am worth it.” 

And, hey. Here’s the thing. You are.

I am going to keep setting clear boundaries and expectations, as calmly as I am able in light of circumstances. And I am going to continue being invigorated in my convictions about the importance of this when folks get vocally angry about those boundaries. Their anger informs me that those boundaries are especially important, for as I have seen the world, the kindest and gentlest of hearts don’t become enraged at the setting of boundaries. They say, “I respect where you are coming from, and will try to abide by that.”

If you don't respect my boundaries, maybe you'll respect my LIGHT SABER!

If you don’t respect my boundaries, maybe you’ll respect my LIGHT SABER!

Right now, I do not feel especially safe in my home. What I also do not feel is guilty about not talking to my aggressive neighbors to their preferences, because what they would like is me to crumble in the face of their shouting.

Though I may not feel safe in my own place right now thanks to aggressive, boundary-disregarding neighbors, I do feel strong. It’s impossible to know how strong we are until we are tested. Once more, thanks–this time–to neighbors, I know I am strong, and that it is not only right but essential for me to continue setting clear boundaries, especially with my son watching and learning.

I am worth set boundaries, and having those boundaries respected.

We all are.

How do you deal with conflict?

Have you ever had conflicts with neighbors? How did you resolve them?

Do you practice boundary and expectation setting? How did you feel about it at the beginning? How do you feel about it now, if you’ve been at it for a long time? How do you take other peoples’ setting boundaries and expectations?

  1. OneHotMess
    July 21, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    I think that we are living parallel lives. Same landlords, but my backyard neighbor is getting to work off his security deposit. My new upstairs neighbor got new flooring, paint and bathroom fixtures. I was told I would have to make due, even when I offered to paint were they to supply the paint.

    • July 21, 2013 at 5:25 pm

      Ugh to all of that!

      In this case, I feel like we wouldn’t have a lot of these problems if the landlords had not created two different sets of expectations: “yes, you’ll get this” and “no, you won’t have to give this.” We then had three sets of people with competing expectations. If the expectation was either that parking and laundry would be shared across the board or that it would not, we wouldn’t have any of us felt like we’d lost something.

      And yet, the base expectation problems are obviously only a part of it. I’ve got to say I’m really thankful for A right now, getting ready to meet with the landlord and the neighbors in the hopes of getting them to observe the boundaries whether or not they believe they’re reasonable or understand that safety is at the core of them.


  2. July 21, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Keep your light saber close and handy. You are doing all the right things, but I am sorry you have to at your home–where you should just be able to be. I hate conflict, but have not had to deal with matters like you are attending to. That you are being sane, assertive, logical, direct does not mean the crazy neighbors will be. Take good care. Mackenzie might have been right–something is certainly going on under the surface.

    • July 21, 2013 at 5:26 pm

      I feel like I should seek Mackenzie’s counsel in all things now! “Hey, Mack, [x] sounds like a great idea–what do you think?!” I do not have a good track record these past few months, so the results certainly couldn’t be worse!

  3. July 21, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    oh wow, I missed the post with the last issue so will have to go back to that. I’m so sorry. I’m would be a wimp I’m certain about things like this and am really impressed by you setting the boundaries. We waste too much time dealing with others, and when these “others” aren’t even important to us, even worse. I hope everything else gets worked out w/out much more aggravation..

    • July 21, 2013 at 5:29 pm

      We waste too much time dealing with others, and when these “others” aren’t even important to us, even worse.
      Amen! I’m definitely for being polite (until circumstance says it’s time to stop being polite), but that is it. We are all too busy with lives already full of obligations to fulfill acquaintances’ desires, or expect them to fulfill ours. That’s not mean. That’s practical, and resource-saving in a world of increasingly scare time resources.

      Thank you for your well wishes! My fingers are crossed–and my boundaries ready to be reinforced, if necessary! (Please, please, do not let it be necessary.)

  4. July 21, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    I think you are awesome. I am sorry you don’t feel safe, I suspect it is just the opposite; I suspect you are extremely safe. Your neighbors tested your resolve, as did your landlord. You established the lines in the sand and stuck to them.

    Good on you!!

    You are a warrior queen.

    I am in awe.

    • July 21, 2013 at 5:31 pm

      Oh my gosh. I love you so, so much for this comment.

      This reminds me of a boundary-setting conversation I had maybe a year ago. I felt terrible about it, but my friend Jane said, roughly, “No way, man! When someone attacks like that, it very rarely has anything to do with you. They want a safe outlet, and you’re a safe outlet. Even when you’re mad, you’re safe.” It was so heartening to hear that then, and even more heartening to read your words now.

      Warrior queen. I like that. And I love, love, love you.

  5. July 21, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Ugh, conflict. Sorry you have to deal with it, but glad you at least have a light saber.

    When they say they don’t like the way you talk to them, it reminds me of how my four-year-old responds to when I set boundaries. He wants to snack too close to dinner? I say no. He tells me that he’s so frustrated at me and that he’s not going to be my friend. Okay, still no snack, buddy.

    It seems like your neighbors are doing the adult (and scary) version of this. They wanted something (use of the laundry, parking), you were nice enough to acquiesce, they didn’t respect your request, you called them on it, they had a tantrum.

    Again, I’m sorry that you’re dealing with this, but you are totally being the adult here. Boundaries are a normal and necessary part of life, and you standing up for yourself is a wonderful example for your little guy. I’ll be saying some prayers over here for a smooth resolution for your neighbor troubles. Hang in there!

  6. July 22, 2013 at 6:00 am

    The funny thing I’ve found again and again about people who lose it when you set clear boundaries is that they are generally the kinds of people who are used to getting their way from being pushy. My ex-MIL was this way. I recall the first time I said to her that if she was going to come to our house, she needed to call first, and not just walk in our front door with her key. She was so angry!

    “But I was in the neighborhood and wanted to say hi!”

    “That’s fine. Call first and let us know you’re stopping by. Then when you’re here, knock.”

    “That’s ridiculous, I have a key, I can just come in.”

    “You won’t have the privilege of a key for long if this doesn’t stop.”

    Oh she ranted and raved, over this and any time I stood my ground following. Took about 10 years for her to realize when I said something, I meant it, and wasn’t going to change my mind just because she didn’t like it, and kept yelling at me. She didn’t like the way I talked to her, either. 😉

  7. July 22, 2013 at 6:18 am

    I tend to practice conflict avoidance. I tend not to stand up for myself, or to just let things slide. Honestly a lot of times I don’t care about the outcome because it’s usually something petty and I just let the other person have their way. This might explain some of my bitter, cynical tendencies, haha. I tend to be a people pleaser. It’s how I survived school as the chubby asthmatic nerd. For some reason I’m thinking you might find this surprising, haha.

  8. July 22, 2013 at 10:09 am

    I admire your ability to recognize and deal with the conflict as you have. I think I would probably be inclined to take the low road and throw back some passive aggression at my neighbors.

  9. July 22, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. It’s great that you’re standing your ground and setting those boundaries though. Hopefully your neighbors can respect them.
    I also walk away as soon as I am threatened or called a name. I deserve to be spoken to with respect and in a calm manner. If someone is incapable of that, then I will not speak to them. This causes some problems when the conflict is with a loved-one, but so be it.
    I hope things get better there for you guys soon! Lots of love and light from Michigan to you and your boys! xoxoxo

  10. August 4, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    WoW! You are my hero!! wish I would have had you with my upstairs neighbours last year! Being too nice is NOT good, you are so right, you must set boundaries from the get go. Being assertive is not aggressive but you did show strength with pushed…wow! Good on you! I also had a landlord that acted like a mom who doesn’t know how to discipline her children…he actually once said “Can’ t everyone just get along?” translation: play nice now because it interferes with Me, myself and I …I just collect the rent.

  11. Laurie
    October 20, 2013 at 9:44 am

    I am glad for you and your son that you read “The Gift of Fear”…what a great book. I hope that in similar circumstances I will have the strength to respond to that neighbor the way you did.

  1. September 10, 2014 at 8:16 pm
  2. June 7, 2015 at 6:34 pm
  3. January 3, 2016 at 3:34 am

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