How to Handle Suspicious Neighbors

Ever had your suspicions about the guy next door? Late-night visitors? A lot of people "dropping by" for quick visits? Gunshots?

"At the first place I rented in college, I was pretty sure the guy upstairs had some kind of a business going on out of his apartment," says Dusty Wymon of Dublin, Ohio. "I didn't want to jump to conclusions and say he was dealing drugs, but there were all manner of unsavories coming in and out of his apartment."

The thing about doing-the-right-thing and maintaining a peaceful home is that sometimes there is a fine line. In the same way that a neighbor's barking dog can sometimes lead to a Hatfield-and-McCoy-level conflict that can span years -- you might want to avoid creating some unlivable mess with a person who lives in spitting (or shooting) distance. And when you are dealing with someone who thinks himself or herself above the law, you might be stepping into something that isn't just emotionally trying but is actually dangerous.

So here are tips for successfully dealing with neighbors who have sold their way from pesky to blitzed -- and are wreaking neighborhood havoc in the process:
1. Contact your building management first

See what the building policy is and see what managers can do about the problem. You also might want to find out what your options are. How are you protected? Can you break your lease if you decide in the end that you need to move? If you are uncomfortable calling your management directly, send an anonymous letter. If there are no results, move on to step 5.

2. Don't collect evidence

It is tempting sometimes to cast yourself as the neighborhood super-sleuth in order to
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bring down the bad guy. However, it is not your job (unless you remember graduating from the police academy) to collect evidence to share with the police. They can collect their own evidence. You, on the other hand, can throw the neighborhood block party and not eat his brownies.

3. Also, don't cast someone as a thug just because he drives an El Dorado

Similarly, try not to make a rash judgment about your neighbor just because he or she wears a do-rag. If you see genuine signs that something illicit is going on next door -- people coming in and out at all hours, questionable odors -- your suspicions may be right. But don't stereotype and try not to act out of fear.

4. Be cool

The best thing you can do when you begin to suspect shady goings-on with a neighbor is actually to do nothing. "I would advise you not to be overly interested in your neighbor's dealings," says Sgt. Scott Harvey, a public information officer in Kentucky. "But rather, play the part of the clueless neighbor in the neighborhood."

5. Don't do it yourself

Use your local police force to do the dirty work. "My advice is to call the local police department and ask to speak to their drug unit," says Harvey. "We have people call all the time who want to remain anonymous." Let them advise you, and take their advice.

6. Act without acting

If you are going to suddenly stop saying hello to your neighbors and start averting your eyes like you've done something wrong -- don't narc them out. Have a friend do it. Ask them not to tell you when they are going to make the call so that you can continue to behave normally. And then continue to behave normally!

Remember, you don't live in a movie. The chances that this person has the kind of resources or wherewithal to come after you is highly unlikely. But if they are truly threatening you, consider where else you can go if you need a place to stay for a while.

"I was never afraid of my neighbor," says Wymon, "but I have to admit he had a few friends who came by that I wouldn't have been cool running into in a dark alley. I'm was not sad when I moved."

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