When you hear your next door neighbors yelling or causing some sort of commotion on a regular basis, it can be hard to know what to do. You might feel confused about your role in the situation, or whether or not you should get involved at all. As a tenant, you probably live in close proximity to several others in the building with whom you’re only somewhat acquainted. Because of this, it’s absolutely normal to feel awkward about taking action — especially when you aren’t quite sure what’s going on and don’t want things to backfire. Thankfully, there are ways to report such behavior in a way that won’t compromise your safety.
The Duty of Law Enforcement
Maybe you suspect domestic violence and are considering calling the police. If you have reason to believe that there is some kind of physical altercation happening, you are completely justified in phoning 911. Whatever you do, resist the urge to confront these neighbors directly. Unless you know them well or have established some kind of relationship with them, it’s best to let those in a position of authority handle this, as you may never know who opens the door. After all, they might have a weapon and could very well become violent towards you. When speaking with the dispatcher, it’s best to not disclose your identity, either, leaving only an anonymous tip instead. Just stating that you are a concerned neighbor will be more than enough.
Contacting Your Landlord
Once alerted to the disturbance, the police are supposed to visit the apartment and perform a wellness check, in which they will determine if there is any danger present. Although getting the police to show up can certainly be an appropriate way to handle it, there are other, less drastic measures you can take to put a stop to it. Perhaps the fighting seems to be a recent development, or it’s the first time you’ve ever heard anything out of the ordinary. When you hear what sounds like raised voices or heated arguments, you probably have sufficient grounds to make a noise complaint. At the very least, your landlord will follow up on your complaint and let the neighbors know that they are bothering other tenants with their fighting.
Safety is Key
The bottom line is that you should always exercise caution when dealing with angry neighbors, as each scenario is different. Trust your instincts — there is always the chance that genuine abuse is going on rather than just drunken bickering. Whether you decide to call 911 straightaway or leave it up to your landlord to deal with, keeping any personal information confidential is the smart thing to do. Any professional investigating the complaint will be discreet and respect your wish to remain anonymous. One of the duties of management is to ensure the safety of all tenants in the building, so when they communicate with the offending party, they’ll withhold any details as to which neighbor made the complaint, protecting your right to privacy.
Approaching the Neighbor Directly
If someone is being victimized, it’s quite likely that their abuser may blame them when law enforcement responds to a call or management gets involved. Unfortunately, those experiencing violence from a partner or family member are sometimes in denial, failing to recognize that they are actually an unsafe or toxic environment. The person may lie and insist to the authorities or the landlord that everything is fine, with promises that the incident won’t happen again. If there are no visible cuts, bruises, or other apparent signs of an assault, it can be hard to substantiate domestic violence (and often, bruises can be concealed through clothing or makeup), especially when the person being abused refuses to admit to it. That being said, even if the police don’t find anything incriminating, they’ll still take down a report.
If it sounds like someone is being physically harmed, your call may have the opposite effect. Instead of the abuse relenting, it’s quite likely that it may actually escalate, endangering the person further. A third party “meddling” into their affairs may cause an abuser to feel unjustly targeted and take out their anger on the victim. Knowing that they’re under increased scrutiny, they could become more calculated and ramp up their behavior in a way that puts the person on the receiving end of it in more danger than before. That’s why treating this kind of situation delicately is so important. The next time you see your neighbor, even if you barely know them, you can introduce yourself and politely let them know that you’re there if they should ever need anything. It’s best to approach them when they’re unaccompanied and in a safe place, such as the laundry room.
You don’t have to directly mention any fights you may have heard through the walls. Understand that the person may be experiencing isolation or intimidation on a daily basis, believing that it’s somehow their fault and that they are helpless to do anything. They may not see any viable way out of their current living situation. In time, your neighbor may start to see you as someone they can trust. If they confide any fears to you regarding their safety, you can non-judgmentally express your concern and pass along numbers to domestic violence hotlines that they can call. There are many groups that offer resources and support to those wanting out of an unsafe environment. Just letting a neighbor know that help is available, and that there is hope, can empower them to exit the abusive relationship.