Amateur investigations are a hobby I hope to turn into a useful tool to help others.
There is no situation more uncomfortable for a tenant to face than being threatened by a neighbor, and not knowing how to handle such threats. Do you tell your landlord? Should you call the police and file a report? Is it safe and legal for you to approach them and try to discuss the situation like mature adults?
The vast array of options for you to choose from can be daunting, but they don't have to be. I have a step-by-step process for dealing with threats of any nature that I have developed over years of dealing with some of the most threatening situations a human can face—including being threatened by neighbors—and I'd like to share it with you!
Step 1. Deescalate the Situation
When receiving a threat from a neighbor—a threat of any nature—the first thing you need to do is deescalate the situation. Now, I don't mean you need to be intimidating and scare your neighbor. In fact, your first thought should be to deescalate whatever negative feelings you have toward the neighbor and their threat if you are not in immediate physical danger.
It is upon you at the point of receiving the threat, a threat such as them wanting to fight you, to assess yourself and the level of seriousness for the threat. I say this because it isn't a good idea to take every poorly worded exchange, blow it out of proportion, and get law enforcement involved if your neighbor did not make a real threat against you. If walking away from the neighbor is what you need to do to deescalate the situation, then walk away and return to your apartment; you can always revisit the situation with the neighbor later once you have cooled off.
Should you feel that the threat isn't a real threat, and simply a heat of the moment mistake, then your first move should be to ask what it is you did wrong. Notice that I said what it is you did wrong, and not what is wrong in general; this is a crucial part of solving the issue that caused the threat to begin with. Hopefully the neighbor who threatened you is placated by such a question and offers you a coherent answer, at which point you can take their claim in earnest, reassess the situation, and resolve the issue.
What if your neighbor threatens you and there was no way to deescalate the situation, though? In such a situation where de-escalation is not possible, and you feel that your neighbor has intentions to act upon their threat at some point in the future, you need to contact the non-emergency line of your local law enforcement agency. At no point should you take these situations into your own hands.
Step 2. Report the Threat Through a Law Enforcement Non-Emergency Line
Though there are many who would disagree with this step due to the reputation of law enforcement, it is a necessary step to go through as soon as possible if the situation cannot be resolved in step one. The purpose of this step is not to cause any damages to your neighbor, nor is it to seek justice against your neighbor's threats; it is important to report a neighbor's threat of physical violence to a non-emergency line because you cannot determine whether a threat is serious or not if a matter is not fully resolved.
It is important to realize that there is a difference between threats and real threats, and that you cannot determine whether a neighbor plans to take hostile action against you or not without resolving the issue. Now, the non-emergency line is your best option for this because they will eventually send an officer out to investigate, but also because you will request that they take a written report on the incident in question. Making a written report with law enforcement through their non-emergency line allows you to show a judge in the future—should such an event arise—that you made every effort to resolve the problem through proper channels.
Whether or not this step resolves the situation can only be determined by you, and observing the behavior of your neighbor so as to avoid any further conflict. However, you still have two more steps to go regardless of your neighbor's ongoing actions or lack thereof. Next in the process will be contacting your landlord with a written statement.
Step 3. Notify Your Landlord/Property Manger of the Situation
I only advise you to follow this step if your landlord/property manager is not involved in the threats being made against you. In many cases the landlord/property manager is a tenant in your apartment complex, and offers special privileges to the neighbor who has threatened you; heck, sometimes the landlord/property manager themselves are the ones who are physically threatening you. Know that you are not required to interact with individuals that represent a conflict of interests, but you do need to seek legal counsel as soon as possible.
That being said—if you feel it is safe to do so—it is time to inform your landlord/property manager of the threat that was made against you, your report to law enforcement, and your desire for their support in the matter. Though many landlords/property managers include a clause in their lease to legally separate themselves from tenant disputes, they will usually support the side that is in the right and assist in any ongoing investigation. Essentially, you don't want your landlord/property manager to feel completely blindsided by tenant disputes; this is especially true if/when law enforcement becomes involved.
Now that you have followed steps one through three you have most likely resolved the situation, but some people don't let up even after all these steps have been followed. Should you still feel as if your neighbor's threat is putting you in danger it is time for you to get an attorney consultation, or even hire an attorney to prepare litigation against the offender(s).
Step 4. Seek Consultation With and/or Retain Attorney Services
Seeking consultation with an attorney—in this case you may need a real estate attorney, a criminal threat attorney, or both—is never a fun process, but it is a necessary one the second you feel the situation is beyond your control. There is nothing worse than not realizing that you are digging your own grave with your actions, and as such you could replace any step in this article with this one. Luckily there are a plethora of attorneys who will offer free consultations, and you needn't worry about the costs if your claims are legitimate.
Typically speaking, you will be able to find an attorney who offers free consultations relatively easily, and you need to contact every attorney that offers such services as soon as you can to seek their advice. Some attorneys will take all the information you offer them, deliberate with themselves quickly, and let you know that you may have a case; at which point, you may then be told prices for the options available to you for their services. Other attorneys may offer you advice for free, and these are the attorneys you want to hold out for during the initial seeking of legal help.
If all roads lead to you needing a paid consultation then you need to go through with it regardless of cost, because this is for your legal and physical safety. Most consultations won't cost you any more than $350.00, and that is a price for high litigation rate attorneys. Always remember that if your case is legitimate, you can request damages—such as attorney's fees—and your attorney will do their best to get you the maximum amount of damages paid back to you.
Everything after consulting an attorney is really a mystery, as different situations require different actions to be taken. In some cases you may only be justified in having your attorney send a letter on your behalf, and in others you may need to press criminal charges and take everyone involved to court. It is up to you to seek out resolution for your conflict, and do so in a calm and structured manner; rest easy knowing that an attorney will offer you effective resources to utilize in lieu of you having a case.
I Wish You the Best of Luck—Stay Strong!
Should you be reading this and are facing a serious situation that carries you through each and every one of these steps, then I wish you the best of luck. I know what it is like to be physically threatened by a neighbor, and I know how confusing, scary, and lifechanging such a scenario can be. Equally so, I know how ridiculous you may feel taking more extreme actions like contacting law enforcement and attorneys, and I'd like to address those feelings in this last section with my own story of neighbors threatening me.
Recently I was threatened by a neighbor because my son stepped on a plant, subsequently breaking a branch off, and they decided it was worth wanting to fight me over it. I tried to discuss the incident with them, offering to pay for any damages that may arise from the event, and even making peace offerings of food, drink, and other goodies to try to deescalate the situation. Their treatment of us only got worse as time went on.
From a threat against me, to insulting my two-year-old son as he walked by, and then onto utilizing the property manger against us; the harassment and threatening actions wouldn't stop. You see, I got into that rare situation where the property manager is a tenant on the property and is best friends with the neighbor who threatened me. Luckily I'm always prepared for situations like this, and things have gone quite smoothly if all things are considered relatively.
I'm in contact with attorneys, the neighbors have been required to avoid us, and we have been nearly-assured that we are completely within our rights. Despite being in the right, however, it is difficult to remain strong when it feels like the world is against you. The emotional aspect of all this, keeping personal feelings away from my interactions, is what I'm never fully prepared for.
Should you find yourself in a situation like mine, ever for any reason, please know that you need to remain strong and stick to your guns. No one deserves to be threatened, and there is nothing wrong with standing up to your aggressors!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Kyler J Falk (author) from California on November 19, 2020:
I hope you never have to deal with threatening neighbors either, Meg, as it is never a fun situation to feel unsafe in your own home. It is good to hear that your neighbors are all great people, and I hope to find a place to plant roots where I can be surrounded by great people as well.
Thanks for reading!
DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on November 18, 2020:
I am glad to say that all our neighbours are great, some we have known for 40 years and all very kind and helpful. I hope we never have to deal with threatening neighbours but these points are useful.
Kyler J Falk (author) from California on November 18, 2020:
Most people don't experience threats from neighbors, because most individuals are civil and non-violent. However, in places like California where the population is becoming increasingly confined, undocumented, and/or economically disparaged, these sorts of occurrences are becoming more frequent. Having been given some time to relax I figured I'd throw this out there, because my neighbors are what most could accurately describe as, "trash."
People tend to try to brush things aside and try to ignore such, "trash," so as not to clutter their life with drama, not realizing that trash builds up if you don't throw it in the dumpster where it belongs. Hopefully this article reaches someone who feels like they're being unreasonable in their pursuit of proper resolutions.
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on November 17, 2020:
Thanks for sharing this information, Kyler. I am sure any people may find this advice helpful. I have had nosy and annoying neighbours, but never felt physically threatened by a neighbour.