How offbeat occupants can challenge their conservative neighbors’ assumptions

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My Fiancee, my roommate and I recently signed a year lease on a condo. It’s only been two weeks since we got the keys to our new place, and we’ve already received a phone call and a visit from members of the Home Owner’s Association claiming that we are having wild parties with loud bass, and that we have way more occupants living in the building than we claim. I am beginning to think that this is just a case of age discrimination. My roommates and all of my friends are in our mid-twenties. We are a blend of artsy, rave-y, nerdy people.

I was really looking forward to getting to know our neighbors. My roommate and I had big plans to go around knocking on doors bearing cookies, but now I am having second thoughts because I feel like it will look like an apology for something we didn’t do. How are we going to survive a year here?

The short answer: Start baking those cookies.

From the print vaultsThe long answer: As someone who spent a chunk of her 20s with rainbow-colored dreadlocks and a raver Ken Doll boyfriend who came with a set of Technics 1200s, hear me when I say this: when you are young and look weird, people WILL have assumptions about who you are and what you do.

Rather than see this as discrimination, I learned to view it as an opportunity to shove people’s expectations up their asses. Oh, you think I’m going to be rude and obnoxious? Well, I’ll show you by being the most disarmingly polite, well-spoken weirdo you’ve ever fucking met! Take THAT, complain-y neighbor!

This is to say, since you can’t get out of that lease, you’re going to have to compensate for your age and offbeatness by being twice the good neighbor people expect. The best way to get away with being a young and weird neighbor in a building full of older, quieter professionals is to be really respectful so that’s what people focus on. Surprise them with how awesome you are — because when you do, you’ll get twice the pay-off.

(Related to this topic: my advice for office-workers with weird hair.)

Is it fair that when you’re visibly/audibly offbeat, you need to overcompensate a bit with more respectful neighbor awesomeness? Probably not, but it’s reality. When you’re living in a condo, the squares with their 10pm bedtimes (I say this as someone who now goes to bed at 10pm) can get away with the odd party and occasional booming speakers. You, 20-something, artsy, rave-y, nerdy type, probably can’t.

Time to kick in Operation Overcompensation. Bake those cookies. Knock on your neighbors doors and let them know when you’re having people over. Be proactive, apologetic, and so beyond polite that you’re deferential. Turn up the charm: smile a lot, duck your head, and say thank you more times than you think you need to.

Then, be surprisingly quiet. Warn your neighbors when your two quiet friends are coming over for dinner. They’ll prepare for the worst, and then be shocked when they hear the tinkling of Mozart and muffled laughter through the walls. The next time you see them, check in: “I hope that was ok. We got carried away with the red wine and next thing we knew it was 9:15!”

I’m sort of kidding here, but I hope you get the idea: you’ve got to overcompensate and be super, incredibly proactive in all your communications with neighbors. Who cares if they see the cookies as an apology: bake even more.

Comments on How offbeat occupants can challenge their conservative neighbors’ assumptions

  1. A big part of the problem is that you are in a community with a homeowner’s association. My husband (then boyfriend) and I were in a similar situation, with an incredibly oppressive HOA. Despite our attempts at building community with the neighbors, they were completely uninterested. What they were interested in was getting rid of us any way possible. Although we weren’t noisy, didn’t have loud parties, etc. they found ways to “bust” us for any minor rule infraction…including leaving our garbage cans out past 5 PM the day of garbage pickup, and for our CAT trespassing on other people’s property. Other people’s cats were allowed outside in the area – just not ours. The people who ran our HOA were only interested in exerting the little power they had, and I have heard from others that this can often be the case. If things don’t improve soon, I suggest that you find a friendlier place to live.

    • HOAs are indeed Satan, but they seem to be unavoidable. Where I live (southern California) stand-alone homes are prohibitively expensive and all the condos come with an HOA that will charge you $300/month to live meekly in their kingdom. The noise restrictions aren’t what bother me as much as their objection to things like hanging laundry and outside plants.

      • I’m Canadian, but have only heard of HOAs online and on American TV. I can’t believe people willingly pay to be told how to live on their own property, how to decorate, etc. It’s completely bizarre and I just can’t wrap my head around it.

        • I can weigh in here as a condo owner: Our HOA pays for a shitload of stuff that we used to have to pay for when we owned our home: stuff like our monthly water bill, plus landscaping, roofing, painting, parking lot maintenance, etc etc etc. Basically, when you live in a condo, there’s a lot of shit you don’t have to worry about because the HOA takes care of it… but the trade-off is that you have to follow some HOA rules.

          …rules that I appreciate. I’m glad that my neighbor across the courtyard can’t hang a GOD HATES FAGS sign in his window, for instance.

        • Canadian have HOA; They are Condo Boards (COA)
          We lived in a Condo where you couldn’t fart without getting a letter from the condo board; however, yes, the condo board did everything for us outside of the home (cut grass, shoveled snow, gardening, etc) which was nice.

  2. This rang so true on so many levels for me. When we got our place, not only were the only white folks in the neighborhood, we were the only ones not part of the family. We played nice, offered veggies from the garden to the neighbors, informed them of any parties, even INVITED some of them over. Still unwelcome. One time, the neighbors called the cops on us for a noise problem, but the cops went to their party instead (effectively, where they could hear loud noise). The neighbors have tried calling animal control on my dogs – the only dogs in the neighborhood who don’t roam about without the confines of a fence. Of course, I ended up marrying a huge, blonde, rockstar of a man and around the time he moved in, the neighbors have calmed down.

  3. My husband and I are a bit striking as a couple. I am white as a sheet and wear loads of black, my husband is tall and gorgeous with an overgrown mowhawk and tattoos. We are actually very nice people!
    I am a pseudo-professional-ish cook and I love making things for friends. I have been wanting to get to know my neighbors for a while instead of being the “ones who have loud sex, listen to angry music and walk their cats on leashes”. I am thinking they might forgive the weirdness for a heaping pile of chocolate chip cookies.

    We had neighbors move in to a condo a few doors down from us, and they left a notice on everyone in the hall’s doorstep informing them of a moving in party, and had a pair of earplugs attached. I thought that was an extremely clever idea, and I had no choice but to stop by and introduce myself.

    • That is totally my next question to send to OffbeatHome:

      How do you look your neighbors in the eye when you know that you were way too loud during sex last night?

      My method so far has been the sheepish smile and friendly good morning and the look down and pretend I don’t see them (depends on the neighbor!). Are you supposed to apologize for something like that lol?

        • That is beyond hilarious! If my neighbors were passive aggressive like this, the first thing I would do is bring them a pie from my favorite bakery, just because I totally LOLed!

      • My husband and I have no shame. Luckily the walls in our new home are quite thick, but it wasn’t the case at our previous home. All our neighbors knew about our sex life, and quite honestly, I believe it’s something to be proud of. I can’t excuse myself for having a loving, happy marriage.

        • Personally, I don’t mind the occasional, um, volume, of neighbors. To me, it means that they are having fun, and hopefully someone knows what they are doing up there. If it was constant and interrupted my daily activities, I would send a congrats card: “It’s awesome you’re getting what sounds like really great sex. I don’t mean to embarrass you, but we can hear it from upstairs/downstairs/next door. Thanks.”

          • That reminds me of a suggestion I once read for dealing with loud sex in university dorms – everyone hold up score cards (based on volume and duration) whenever they come out. Gets the point across pretty darn quickly, but in a fun way.

  4. Ours calmed down a bit when I called them and offered to pick up groceries for them during a hugenormous ice storm. Noone could get out – I had to leave so I checked with everyone….now they are supernice.

    • Seriously, nothing like catastrophe to bring neighbors together! In 2005, we were hit with three hurricanes in a row–no major damage, but we were out of power for more than a week–and it turned into one huge, complex-wide barbecue. Everyone shared food, batteries, ice, etc. We all went from passive-agressive strangers to smile and wave at the mailbox buddies overnight. Of course, you can’t exactly orchestrate this kind of a fix, but I think the lesson is be observant and helpful when you can.

  5. Oh, neighbors. We have alot of “kids” in our building that are a few years younger than me, but also an older lady across the hall who doesn’t seem to care if we make a little noise, she’s super friendly when I meet her on her way for a smoke. The family upstairs are cool, they have a rambunctious 7year old. Then the guy above us…we heard him pound the floor once when we weren’t being loud, just talking at normal levels, but he makes these weird coughing/pukey noises EVERY night that are VERY loud and other strange things too. I do intend to let neighbors know when we have parties though. Can’t be too careful when we’re the nerdy, musician/artist, pierced, tattooed neighbors.

      • My old neighbors did this. There were also 7 of them living in a 2 bedroom apartment. They were kicked out eventually between noise complaints, cops visiting the complex over other illegal activities, and other such stuff. What’s even more amusing to me is that somehow, the mother of this family manages to hold down a job within the police department. Really makes me wonder what kind of safety we actually have when someone known to break laws and generally be a bad neighbor is a police officer.

  6. I am one of those quiet, 30-somethings living in an apartment (like a condo minus the HOA–shared walls and ceilings and floors and all that jazz). I understand that not everyone is as quiet and square as my husband and I are; the loudest thing you hear from our apartment is me practicing my ukulele after work (my neighbors can’t hear it–I checked). A bass player lived below us for a year and had no qualms plugging in the amp while I was studying, despite my kindest attempts to personally ask him to keep it quiet. I even invited his roommate up to our apartment so he could hear what we hear when the bass is being amped up (he declined and felt the bass wasn’t loud so he didn’t need to hear it).

    I do encourage you to make the first move and talk to your neighbors. Kill them with your kindness. Passive-aggressive doesn’t work well. If they have issues with your noise, ask them to be specific about what is bothering them, and when and why. If the bass is an issue (say, if you are a bass player), you may want to go up and hear what they are hearing. Perhaps you can compromise. Maybe there are locations where you can play music or practice in a different room of the house (when our neighbor practiced in the dining room instead of the living room, we could actually hear our TV!). Being proactive is good. If there are small children in your building, perhaps you can ask when the children nap so you can be cognizant of their sleep time.

    You may also want to write down if and when someone comes to speak to you or complain, so you can keep a log, so nobody says “I told you so many times…blah, blah, blah”…for your own protection.

    Sharing walls can be tough no matter the situation Best of luck to you!

    • I love this advice! I personally don’t mind music playing until pretty late. Especially since my neighbors always play it on the side of the apartment that I can’t hear. I don’t mind parties either, as long as they are Friday or Saturday nights. My biggest problem has been a neighbor who smokes pot… we tried to compromise (Smoke it on your balcony instead of in your suite, as it causes major medical problems for my husband which is costing us an arm and a leg, plus it gets on my work clothes as it comes through out laundry room) but since they didn’t think that was fair, now I am totally unreasonable, and the moment I smell it I complain.

      Bitchy? Yup. But if they had just compromised in the beginning I would have been totally cool about it. Compromise is sooo key!

      • I hate to be THAT one here… but if I were you and was facing medical bills and walking into work smelling like I partake in illegal activities, I’d either complain to the landlord or the cops about what they do. Landlord first, maybe – they’d simply be kicked out. Or, cops if you’re feeling especially bitchy.

        • I was totally IN this situation, and my neighbors refused to cooperate and the more I complained to the landlord (who was about useless) the more parties they’d start throwing all night, right above where I was trying to sleep. In the end, the cops would ask them to keep it down, be back an hour later, they’d get a ticket, and this kept continuing. Moved out – best decision ever.

  7. Ariel, you and Andreas look great! I would love to have neighbours like you! The neighbours usually get bored after a while and find someone else to complain about. In our current house we have been very well behaved for the past three years and have had no complaints. However for years during and after college we had problems with landlords and neighbours. Apparently people don’t take well to hearing metallica at three in the morning!

  8. yes, we’ve experienced this a time or two ourselves…although not so much in the housing area as much as work, grocery stores, etc, etc. as soon as they talk to us face-to-face and see that – although we look like badasses – we’re sweet as could be, respectful and friendly. i’ve learned that when you kill ’em with kindness, they’ll eventually calm down (at least a little).

  9. two things. one, if it’s an option *join* your neighborhood association. yes, sometimes you will want to scream about what *f—ing bigots* they are being, but if you can contain that, it’s really important to have someone around to push back on some of the stupid things they do. oh, and don’t forget to be enthusiastic about the non-stupid stuff they do. i think most organization’s do some of both =)

    also, i just wanted to share that we had some (like, 9) frat boys from the local U move in next door – and we totally did the square neighbor “oh shit” thing. well, they were awesome. they had one rowdy, gross party the day they moved in and were, basically, never disruptive again. they returned every tool we ever lent them, helped us move the *huge tree limb* that fell in our yard, and were always sure to invite us the any party they had. granted, we aren’t the “calling in complaints” sort, but i suspect similar things would work with pickier neighbors.

  10. As soon as I read this I thought of this article. If you’re not family with Robin Finck Google Images will tell you pretty much all you need to know. If even he can persuade people he’s not the neighbour from hell I’m pretty sure anyone can.

    Personally I’m suprised we haven’t had to deal with this, considering my boyfriend apparently looks scary enough to freak out a certified bad-ass, but it seems we’ve been lucky so far (or rather mostly lived around people who are never home enough for us to even know their names). But the few times there have been issues killing the stereotypes with kindness has definately worked. It sucks sometimes when people are being completely rediculous but to be honest I think a lot of them are just looking for a reaction because the issues tend to dissapear when they don’t get one, even when we’re still doing the stuff they complained about.

  11. I agree with the killing with kindness. In high school I wore clothes from Hot Topic (Shh! Sorry. I’m sorry. Sometimes, they still have good earrings.) My 80-year-old southern grandmother loved to go to Hot Topic because the mohawked, pierced, dyed punks and goths were very polite, and always eager to help. My grandmother certainly was wary the first time she entered the plasticed entrance, but she was quite pleased afterwards.

    You represent an ambassador to strangeness for many people. Be polite, try not to step on their toes, and if they’re unreasonable, the lease is only a year.

      • I was just distracted on that site for the past four hours. I’m not even goth, but I couldn’t… stop… reading it. Why must you direct me to interesting things?!

        I say this with as much love as possible, of course. If it wasn’t for you, I’d still being trying to justify not getting married in white.

    • I had the exact same thing happen with my mom when I was young. Hot topic scared her, then the cashier was beyond-sweet. Suddenly mom really liked Hot Topic and told all the other moms how nice the workers were. With my sister (who hit 13 right at the hight of emo) she had all her favorites picked out that she would have regular conversations with.

    • Total side note: We don’t have Hot Topic in Canada, so whenever I buy stuff from there, people up here are all, “WHOA where did you get that awesome [Fill in Blank, likely with cool T-shirt]” followed by, “You only paid [Insert cheap commercial prices here]?!?!” as most of our comic and collectible stores overprice the items (And why not? No one else sells them!)

  12. Ah, we actually have the opposite problem. My husband is a police officer and I’m a housewife, so people assume we’re pretty mainstream when we aren’t. The looks on people’s faces when I’m out building things in the yard! The tentative “Is that yours?” when they notice our motorcycle! The confusion when my giant of a husband plays in the yard affectionately with our Jack Russel mix! Although I must admit it’s probably easier to have people assume you’re like them and then find out that you aren’t than for people to assume you aren’t like them and then find out that you are.

    • We’re the same way. The only way the neighbors might think something is weird about us is if they catch us going to a party on the rare occasions we park our cars outside. Now if they could see into our backyard when we’re working on our con costumes we might get a few more raised eye brows.

      • Agreed! I have five tattoos and several piercings – but they’re all hidden – and I look very normal – just a short girl with glasses. It takes a while for people to figure out how weird I actually am, lol – I usually get called a badass about that time. 😀

        I still love this post even though it’s 8 months old at this point. 😀

  13. We had the same/opposite thing happen to us! We moved into our place, but it took a ton of effort to convince the landlord that I was not going to be a problem. I was young, and I was below the age limit. He kept turning to my husband and going, “You are over 25 right? I guess that might work.”

    Guess what… we are now the quiet, conservative ones (and I am still under 25). Last time I had to complain about some people (partied until 4 am…. on a weekday… and then started pouring stuff off their balcony onto mine… At least I think they were pouring stuff, it might have been just um, leaking stuff) I even had to say, “Maybe you should do better reference checks rather than basing tenancy on age. Obviously us early twenty-somethings aren’t so bad all of the time!”

  14. When my fiance and I got our first apartment, him, his brother, and his cousin, (all tattooed guys 6+’ tall in their early 20’s) moved some of my fiance’s stuff in before our official moving day while I was at work… I get a phone call from the rental agent later that day telling me that other tennants were complaining that my boys were smoking pot in the hallway. I found that REALLY funny considering NONE of us had smoked pot since we were teenagers. Meanwhile, fast forward through the year and my fiance is the only person in the building helping women with strollers carry their strollers up the stairs and he and I were the only one’s who could unlock our crazy old neighbors door for her when she’d be locked out for 30 minutes because no one else would stop to help… Yet she still gave us dirty looks every time we’d pass by her sitting outside… Sometimes you just can’t win.

  15. Honestly, living in a building where the 3 other tenants are older ladies has been awesome for my fiance and me. The two downstairs are both deaf as posts, and the woman next door has a teenager so her place is usually just as loud as ours. We still make sure to let everyone know when we’ll be having a lot of people over or doing something that makes a lot of noise. We’ve never had a bad encounter.

  16. It’s not much more than an ice breaker but letting them know some of the more “normal” things about you can also help persuade people to give you a chance.

    At least I’ve found that Tony the Sales Executive and Katy the Animal Carer get better reactions than that scary huge ‘biker without a bike’ guy and his tattooed rock chick girlfriend.

  17. My husband and I are the youngest people on our street (late 20s/early 30s). Everyone else is retired. We have a chain-link fence, so our neighbors can see everything we do in the backyard. We “look normal”, but definitely do our own thing. I’ve been known to get bored and like to play dress up and take photos in the backyard. I’m sure our neighbors wonder what the heck we’re doing sometimes in our backyard.


    As much as I’m not a “talk to your neighbor every time you’re both in the backyard” kind of person, it has its pluses. For one, they’re usually home during the day, meaning they look out for us. One neighbor even tells my dogs to “leave it” when they’re chewing on something they shouldn’t be in the backyard.

    We do have parties sometimes, and that usually involves people being in the backyard. We do our neighbors on either side of us a favor, and let them know we’re having people over. They’ve always seemed appreciative of us telling them, and have never had any complaints/problems with us.

    I think in situations where you’re the odd man out, whether it’s age/looks/etc… it’s always best to just suck it up and get to know your neighbors. They’ll be less likely to complain if they know more about you. One of ours even mowed our lawn while we were on our honeymoon!

    • Yep – it’s that good old “fear of the unknown.” If you can get rid of that, you’re probably okay. In some cases, it probably doesn’t matter what you look like, etc. it’s just “you haven’t lived next to me for the last 5 years, you’re probably gonna be trouble” 😉

  18. My boyfriend and I are the youngest people in our building. One morning we got woken up, apparently someone called the police complaining that we were smoking weed, even though we weren’t. It was ridiculous.

  19. “Nicing” (I forget where I read that) is good advice, in general, for dealing with people. . . I enjoyed the article & comments, just wanted to add: you can’t judge just from appearances whether people are A)conservative, onbeat, whatever you want to call it, or not — and B)easy to get along with. I’ve had lots of experience going in both directions. What I don’t get is when people who play music out of stereos as big as refridgerators then turn around and complain about your alarm clock ringing early in the morning . . . .

  20. Agh. I am the offbeat weirdo with tattoos and funny colored hair that is secretly a crotchety old lady who bakes cookies and knits. My landlord lives upstairs and he is a loud music, pot smoking suit that has loud fights/sex with his drunken harlot girlfriend. I had to do a lot of convincing and had a letter writing campaign of former neighbors to attest to my good neighborliness in order to move in.

  21. I thought I’d just mention that as nice as you think bringing people cookies is, not everyone would really appreciate the gesture. If someone is dieting for instance, or they have allergies. Myself I have Celiac and while I understand people are being nice, it’s still kind of irritating to be offered food I can’t eat.

  22. I was on the other end of the stick, as it were. I had new neighbors move in (she is Caucasian and he is Hispanic) and I am the weird one (friends with lots of tats,piercings and have pagan rituals in the backyard) with a professional job.

    We live in Townhouses and have no HOA (Thank God). however, they were playing music to vibrate the walls until almost midnight every night for a week when moving in. This was a bit much for me. I knocked on the door and said, ” Hi, I’m the bitch from next door and I would like it if you would keep the music down after 10PM. My husband and I both get up between 4-5AM for work. Thanks.” smiling all the while.

    After that they kept offering us food around dinner time almost on a nightly basis. The problem, It was platters of meat and I am vegetarian. LOL I would politely refuse and that just added to me being a bitch in their eyes. They would not speak to me for about a year until I yelled at one of the other neighbors for speeding while their child was outside playing. 🙂

  23. when i moved into a neighborhood with an HOA i didnt expect any problems (live and learn). i’m offbeat lite so all my offbeatness is internalized. i was 20 and i looked very plain and normal, much like the college student kids of the families in the neighborhood. i had the same experiences most everyone has described. apparently just being young is the crime. technically i was a renter… but my parents were the landlords which made me even more responsible for the house and property so i mean… come on!

  24. I work for HOAs and I live in one. In fact, I’m the president of the HOA where I live. The vast majority of HOAs are run by normal people who have normal lives and normal expectations. Most of the time the people in charge aren’t the ones who are your problems. It’s one neighbor. One complainer who is unreasonable. Unfortunately, the HOA has to deal with each complaint it receives. If you get violation letters, talk to the manager and attend the Board meeting. Even if you’re a renter, participate in the running of the community. Don’t assume they are out to get you. Boards are just volunteers who are doing everything in their power to makes sure the community is home for lots of different people. When you into a conflict with the HOA find out what the rules are and why those rules exist. A perfect example: at one HOA I work with there was a woman whose home was next to the grass the HOA was responsible for. Her kids kept leaving TONS of toys in the grass. They paid for lawn mowing by the hour and the workers had to take an extra 20 minutes each time they mowed to clean up after her kids. That means every other homeowner had to pay for that through their dues. She came to a meeting with a huge chip on her shoulder. Rather than trying to solve the problem, she came in with the assumption that the HOA was “picking on her for having pink hair and tattoos.” That argument didn’t hold water with the Board since I wrote the letters, and at the time I had blue and purple hair. Because she came in angry and self-righteous, they got defensive, and were less inclined to find a solution that didn’t end with her paying fines.

    • Yep — this in a nutshell. We sold our condo last year, and my husband had been on the board for several years (in his own defense, previous crazy people ON board trying to rule their world)– there was always at least one nutjob resident in each building. The two I was most familiar with were the one in our building and the one across the parking lot, and the latter was absolutely bonkers. Examples of the crazy lady: a) she claimed that the neighbors came and stole her new Washer/drier set and replaced them with old ones b) claimed that the neighbors had tapped into her electricity and it fried her xbox/microwave (wanted condo to replace it) Then there was the one we were part of. She backed her car into the post and my car — obviously put it in reverse and nailed the gas, the post was super damaged. She claimed that it moved on its own, someone had tried to steal it and ran, etc. The cop had obviously dealt with her before and was NOT amused.

  25. I don’t know that I fully support this theory. Sure, being extra nice when you first move in and the neighbors are on the fence about you may indeed influence their perception, but we gotta keep in mind that try as we may, not everyone can be pleased. And if after the bushels of cookies and tiptoeing on the most fragile of eggshells still doesn’t do the trick, let it go. There are infinitely better ways to spend your energy than trying to get people to like you. Would it be nice to be buddies with your neighbors? Sure, why not. But if they’re going to be calling the cops, HOA, or city zoning on you anyway then why bother? It’s up to you to decide if you want to wait it out or high-tail it out of there. Personally I would’ve left my home long ago, but circumstances being what they are I’ve decided it best to stick around for now. We’ve had the city called on us numerous times and we’ve dealt with it, and there was one ridiculous encounter with an over-inflated ego that resulted in a screwing match, but you know what? I’m still here. And I think the neighbors finally got the hint. They’re still testy verging on passive aggressive hostility, but other than that, they’ve got no power over me. And I just meditate and take it as the perfect life (skin-thickening) lesson that it is. I’m a beautiful, kind, generous person and I don’t need their approval. It’s still pretty hillarious when the gardeners, mailmen, and other various neighborhood visitors make a point to wave a friendly hello anytime they see me. Despite the neighbors’ best efforts, seem some people still like me afterall 😉

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