Abusive Neighbor

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Downstairs tenant's abusive tirades -- when do I call the police?

We recently leased our (legal) in-law unit to a couple just renting their first apartment together. Within a week, we heard loud, raging arguments with cursing, name calling and other abusive behavior. This has happened on 3 other occasions since August 1. I recently learned that the renter was arrested and released for domestic violence the same night they signed the lease. Till now/then, everything else checked out fine.

The rental unit is in the basement of the home we reside with our children (7 & 10). The tenant has use of our laundry facilities, which are in a shared basement. Last night, after a particularly loud and abusive tirade, I went down and explained that the level of rage was unacceptable and disturbing. I asked that if they were to have discussions of such veracity that they leave the premises to have them as the potential of exposing my children to that level of abuse was unhealthy and intolerable. He was very defensive (girlfriend never came out of bedroom). He yelled and said he didn't like my approach, so I calmly explained that I would not be approaching him again -- if there was a next time the police would take on that role.

We are one month into a one-year lease, which we will break if they wish. They have been presented that option. There is an established pattern of abuse. I am concerned about exposing my children. I am concerned about potential retaliation to our property, pets or his girlfriend. I'm just fearful that it could develop into an uglier and more violent situation. The thought of this behavior escalating to the next level is sickening.

Is there a standard for when you call the police if there is an abusive argument? Do you call at the first raised voice? Do you wait for five minutes of yelling? Two door slams? Because these folks live downstairs and it is likely we're stuck with them for the near future, I want to be judicious but informed as to when to call the police. I don't want to raise any more unbearable stress than currently exists. We share a side gate and see each other fairly regularly because the kids play outside.

I just want to protect my family, pets and property. Of course we want to help the girlfriend, but that's a separate issue and hopefully managing this situation appropriately will give her the out she needs (both make good incomes). I am grateful for any advice on how to deal with this.

Stressed Oakland Landlord

Greetings, In a case like this I would be inclined to ask around about what is usually done in such cases -- I would ask the police (before actually reporting), ask landlord advisers (if such exist -- tenant advisers if not), ask an agency that deals with spousal abuse. This would give you info from several angles, i.e. what do the police consider report-worthy (what will they respond to, how will they respond), what rights do you have as a landlord and what rights do your tenants have, and what dangers are implied in what you have witnessed thus far, both for your tenant and for your kids. Then I would in your place continue to act on your principles -- that you don't want this kind of behavior in your home. You have made that clear (very bravely, I might add) and you just need more info to back you up in the future. also not a passive witness

The tenants stated they would be happy to break the lease. Get rid of them. You do not need to ask anyone's advice about the health and safety of your family. anon

This is a hard one for me, as I was nearly murdered in an abusive relationship many, many years ago. Let me tell you this: that woman is in danger, and yes, you could be in danger as well. don't hesitate, right away, to call the police the minute things start to escalate beyond a normal argument. Tell them what you have told us. Call them EVERY SINGLE TIME the level intensifies. I think it's fair to say that many people have loud arguments -- some louder than seems justified -- on the other hand, if it's alarming YOU then it's abusive, no matter the decibel level. The girlfriend may suffer as a result of your calls to the police, and she may well deny any abuse as well, to be honest, but you have to keep you and your family safe. If this guy gets arrested, this woman as the opportunity to flee the situation. Calling the police every time things get out of hand is the only way to handle it. And by the way, when the police intercede, there are two possible outcomes: He will silently abuse her and force her to be quiet (which is what happened in my case) OR the violence will come to an end, at least for that evening. Either way, you've done something. There are things you can do to help her out, as well, but I'd be low-key about that until this guy is dealt with. You could pay a high price for your involvement if the guy finds out you're pulling her away from him. I'm sure you'll hear others with similar experiences, but if you want any additional input from me, you can get my email from the moderator. Anon for sure!

Get them out NOW!!! A tenant who starts out terrible will only get worse, and it is too scary of a situation with your children in the house. Oakland's tenant laws are theoretically a little less restrictive for owner-occupied buildings that have less than three units. However, in practice, the longer you let them stay, the harder & more expensive it will be to get them out. Look online at Oakland's Measure EE. Read all of it & contact attorney Clifford Fried in Oakland (510)625-0100, Jeff Wu, or another attorney who specializes in tenant evictions in Oakland. You could try evicting them yourself, but I recommend an attorney in this situation--consider it an investment in the safety & security of your house & family. Look into joining RHANAC (Rental Housing Association of Northern California). Litigation & eviction are ugly & expensive, but so are terrible tenants. Oakland Duplex Owner who's been there

Having worked in the field of domestic violence for years, I think it is wise that you are asking these questions and seeking advice. As you may know, domestic violence generally occurs in cycles: tension-building, actual abuse, and then often a honeymoon phase. It also tends to progress in severity, so the fact that there has already been an arrest tells me this is a potentially dangerous situation for all involved. I would call the police anytime you are in fear for your own/your families' safety or the safety of the female tenant. You may want to talk directly with an officer about when you should call. The Family Violence Law Center has advocates that work within the Oakland Police Department who could probably help you make a plan for when/how to call and keep yourself and your family safe. Check out their website at FVLC.org for more info. anon

I don't have advice but this couple sounds so similar to ones that lived next to us in Berkeley several years ago. There would be loud shouting matches with lots of obscenities. What sounded like furniture being thrown around and doors were always slamming. It was very disturbing. It got so bad that we eventually decided to move. We contacted the landlord but nothing could be done since they were in their apartment. We called the police and the same thing and of course they lied to the police about their arguments. The guy was a tall, skinny white man with balding hair and the woman was a white woman with frizzy brown/blond hair. Not sure if they are the same people. But this is not something you want your kids around. Perhaps you should contact an attorney for advice? I wish you luck. Anon

Oh my gosh, I had neighbors like that in the apartment right below mine. It was sickening. (Literally. It triggered my PTSD like crazy, and I had anxiety attacks.) First of all, don't confront this guy directly. He could snap on you, and he's also going to take it out on his girlfriend -- he'll blame her for ''making'' him yell at her. And don't try to make her your ally: her job right now is surviving, and to do that she has to defend him to the death (and I do mean that literally). Be really careful. I would just call the police on them when this guy acts up. As for your legal recourse, I don't know, but I'm sure you'll get great advice from others. I only know the stuff from the abuse standpoint. BE REALLY CAREFUL. This guy doesn't think ''oh no, people don't like the way I behave, I should change.'' His mind doesn't work like yours and mine. He thinks ''oh, now the landlord is out to get me, too.'' Normal methods of communicating don't work with abusers. One more thing, and I'm really sorry to be the copy-editor of BPN, but you said ''if they are going to have arguments of this veracity.'' ''Veracity'' means truth. I think you meant ''ferocity'' or ''vehemence,'' both of which work in this context.

I haven't been in your situation before, but for your children's sake, I would get out of this lease and get them out ASAP. Contact the police now and ask for their advice on when you should call them. Contact the rent board to see your rights as a landlord to terminate a lease in this situation. You could also potentially contact a domestic abuse center and ask for advice and for information your could give the girlfriend when the boyfriend isn't home. (Or you could get advice from them anyway.) Good luck!

Call the cops. You can report anonymously. You may save the girlfriend's life. sorry

Hi. What an awful situation. I suggest you look up an landlord/tenant lawyer and see what remedies you can follow. I sort of had a similar problem. I'm a homeowner but my backyard faces the backyard of an apartment complex. In this complex, a particular tenant and her outrageous abusive children were causing tons of mayhem to my children, e.g, throwing rocks, glass, garbage, and calling them foul names...anyway, to make a long story short, I reported the landlord to the local councilman and they remedied the situation for the most part seeking sanctions and warning the tenant either to shape up or ship out. If all else fails, I wonder out loud if you can get a restraining order against this man coming to your property. You're in a very delicate and sticky situation esp if the girlfriend does not want to speak up. She's obviously a victim in an abusive relationship. You don't mention a husband or a boyfriend so I wonder if that's makes it even easier for this man to intimidate you. It's too bad you didn't know this problem before you rented the unit to them...but the saying is true, you don't know someone until you live with them...good luck. If all else fails, speak to an atty and see what you can do...hope it works out to your favor and quickly! anon

I would call the police if I heard that kind of fight on the street, definitely if it was in my house. Don't worry, the police will tell you if you overreacted. Call 911 if he is hitting her or threatening to. Call the non-emergency number if they are just making noise, or if you talk to them and he is threatening to you. anon