Neighbors: Hit or Miss?

Have the days of “borrowing a cup of sugar” from your neighbor officially gone by the wayside?

Should we attach a permanent “do not disturb” sign to our front door handles?

Unless you live in a cave in Siberia, you’re going to have neighbors.  Better to make friends than enemies…


When I was growing up, it was a common sight to see a “BLOCK PARENT” sign in the window of every house in my neighborhood.  The idea behind the “block parent” program was that the parent in that house was a parent in general; a parent to all.  If you were a child and you felt scared, threatened, or lost, you would simply look for a Block Parent sign and knock on the door.  The idea was to provide a safe haven for children in need, but also to provide a sense of security and peace of mind.

I can’t imagine having a Block Parent program today.

The world has changed, and the idea of encouraging your children to approach strangers wouldn’t go over very well.  And it would make it easier for the psycho’s of the world to find their prey—just join the block parent program and put a sign in your window!

I’m not going to say that all traditional neighborhoods and communities have ceased to exist, but surely the society we live in today is more apprehensive and on-guard than ever before.

However, it’s not uncommon to see people taking down their fences in sub-divisions north of the city.  In fact, my uncle’s house in Richmond Hill never had any fences in the backyards when we were kids!  Children were free to roam back and forth and it encouraged interraction between neighbors and households.

So how does this apply to condominiums?

Usually the only interaction you have with your fellow condominium neighbors is in the elevators…..and you all learned how I feel about awkward elevator rides in this post.

But just because your have no adjoining backyards or no shared driveways doesn’t mean you can’t interact with neighbors in your condominium!

Take last Halloween, for example.  I had a few people over to my condo, and the party was a-rockin’.  Before I knew it, there were 20 people in my modest 585 sqft condo, and we spilled out onto the patio.  I went inside to get another beer, and I heard raucous laughter from inside.  I discovered this unfamiliar guy holding court and entertaining a few other people who I had just met that night.  I assumed this guy just came with somebody else, but evidently, he was my neighbor!  He later introduced himself and told me that the sound coming from my apartment was too good to not investigate!

Okay, so he essentially confessed to breaking-and-entering, but you get the idea.  In the right building, with the right mix of people, you can re-create that friendly-neighbor atmosphere that is generally reserved for block-parties and street-sales in residential neighborhoods.

Of course, having neighbors doesn’t always work to your advantage…

The girl who occupies the unit next to me is very….um…..unique.  I’m not sure what she does for a living, but for a while there I thought she was a professional marijuana smoker.  After a some investigating, I discovered that this occupation did not exist.  Nevertheless, she sits on her patio and blows smoke-o’s with pot probably ten hours a day.  And I’m down-wind of this…

When I built my large cedar planter boxes, she stood and watched (while smoking pot) and told me how great they looked.  But the very next day, she said, “Hey dude, I like, um, never thought of this last night, but your planters are going to block out my sun.”

Block out her sun.

This has become a comedic verse amongst my friends and I.

She decided that she had some magical right to a certain allotment of the suns rays on her patio, and that my planter box was depriving her plants of the light she so-deserved.  I was as nice as I could have possibly been, given that I spent $1200 on these gorgeous cedar planters and that it’s MY patio and I can do with it whatever I see fit.

But she didn’t stop there.  She actually wrote up a petition and asked my neighbor on the other side to sign it!  Egad!

She complained to the condo board, but it was to no avail.  She rents her unit anyways, so I’m not even sure what rights she has since she doesn’t own a unit in the building.  Meanwhile, the girl living on the other side of me told me what a great job I did on the planters and has actually built a matching one on the other side of her patio as well!

The largest issue with neighbors in condominiums is undoubtedly noise.  Now this doesn’t apply to me, since I lead the life of a modest priest.  But imagine an older condo with thinner walls where your neighbor listens to loud music, stays up late at night, parties a lot, or does all of the above.  This isn’t an apartment building where you can be kicked out—this is a condo!  You own your unit!  The worst that can happen is you get a phone call from concierge/security asking you to “please keep it down.”

Well, I suppose somebody could call the police, but this is usually threatened, and almost never put into action.

Your name could be put on the “naughty list” and perhaps you could be mentioned at the annual condo board meeting, but again, that is extremely rare.

If you have a loud neighbor in your condominium, your recourse is unfortunately slim.

If you happen to own a patio which sits below many other balconies, you are going to fall victim to cigarette butts, no doubt.  After all, when enjoying a delicious cancer-stick on a blistery winter’s night, why not just throw the discarded butt end over the edge of your balcony?  Who is this going to affect?  I picked up about 200 cigarette buts this spring when I cleaned off my patio for the first time.  It’s amazing how many jerks can congregate directly above me, all living in tobacco-harmony…

In larger, newer condominiums with all the fixin’s such as swimming pools, hot tubs, billiard rooms, exercise facilities, and other kind perks, it’s essential that you get along with your neighbors since you’ll undoubtedly run into them more than you would had you decided to live in an older building where the “gym” is an exercise bike from 1971 and a set of 5, 10, and 15 lb free weights.

Many buildings actually hold social events or “mixers,” (not all that different from the “box-socials” of the 1930’s and the “sock-hops” of the 1950’s….) where neighbors can mix and mingle, usually held on the top floor of the building if there is a party room or BBQ area.  I have personally never been to one of these at my building, but friends of mine have attended these in their buildings, and have only good things to report.  Perhaps I consider knowing my neighbors to be a social liability whereby I have to make three seconds of small talk each time I ride in the same elevator with them, but I digress…

As I sit on my patio and type this at 10PM on Thursday evening, I can’t help but feel surrounded by my neighbors.  The girl on the left is smoking pot at an alarming rate, and making a point to be noisy since she is clearly upset with my music of choice (RHCP “Universally Speaking”).  My neighbor to the left is also diligently working away on her laptop, and the new couple that moved into the unit directly above me are yakking away and watching a movie on their Mac while drinking wine on their small balcony.

No matter where you live, you’re going to have neighbors.  Like it….or not.

The dynamics of neighbors in an actual neighborhood or residential community versus that of neighbors in a condominium are very different, but essentially the same at the root.

You catch more bees with honey, and this is something I have yet to master.  Perhaps next time I find myself dumping trash in the refuse room at the same time as my neighbor-to-the-left, I’ll offer, “No, you first….I insist.”  That should make up for my sun-blocker….

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