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He leaves out garbage and blocks parking: What can I do about my bully neighbour?

The question

I live in a duplex with a shared laneway and parking area. My partner and I are in our 30s and have lived in harmony with our neighbours for years. This past spring, a guy in his early 20s moved into one of the apartments next door. He has no discernible job, parks in a way that makes parking hard for others, leaves his garbage out for the raccoons, and does passive-aggressive things like leaving garbage in our parking spot. We used to speak directly to him (with no results other than a rude response), but stopped after he sent us a mildly threatening letter this fall. We have also attempted to mediate via the landlord.

Nothing has changed his un-neighbourly behaviour. Now our approach is to avoid him, let him act out, and not react. But recently the parking, garbage and recycling issues have ramped up again, to the point that it is clear he is trying to provoke us. I'm afraid to approach him because it has always escalated issues in the past. Nothing he does is overt enough to engage the police or be used for eviction. I wonder if our current "no response" policy is allowing him to disrespect us on an ongoing basis.

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The answer

I'm afraid that does sound to me like exactly what's going on.

Your situation reminds me a little of the 1990 movie Pacific Heights.

Mathew Modine and Melanie Griffith play a couple named Drake and Patty who rent part of their house out to a very sinister Michael Keaton, playing a man named Hayes who: won't pay rent, changes the locks, doesn't answer the door, and launches a diabolical campaign of impossible-to-prove-in-court torments (e.g. unleashing a horde of cockroaches) aimed at driving his landlord and landlady around the twist.

It works. He eventually provokes a driven-to-drink Drake to attack him in the street – just as the cops, whom Hayes has slyly called in advance, show up. Assault charges are laid, one thing leads to another and Hayes winds up not only owning the house but with a restraining order preventing Drake or Patty from coming anywhere near it.

Your neighbour sounds like a slightly, but only slightly, less sinister version of Hayes.

Let's say, at the very least, he is a bully. I know the impulse, for decent, unaggressive people, from childhood through to adulthood, when confronted with a bully – i.e. someone nastier and more aggressive than we are, who has targeted us for reasons unknown – is to avoid, not engage.

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But, see, that only empowers the bully. That's exactly what the bully wants and expects: to see his prey attempting to take evasive action, trying to avoid him.

It's no more effective than a prairie vole zigzagging around trying to avoid the eagle's gaze. "Target acquired," the bully thinks, and tightens the noose. And that sounds exactly like what's going on here. Unless there's something you're not telling me, the fact this guy has "ramped up" his campaign of bullying and torture to the point where you are convinced he is attempting to provoke you is classic bullying and IMHO directly linked to your policy of non-engagement and non-aggression.

I think your better course of action is to engage this loutish lump on his level: If he puts garbage in your parking spot, pick it up and dump it on his. When you see him, tell him you did it.

And tell him in no uncertain terms you don't appreciate his insolence or his selfishness or threats. Do not attempt to involve third parties, and don't worry about escalation.

But don't be "afraid" of this guy. Why? It's axiomatic that most bullies are cowards. If you stand up to this guy, my bet is he'll back off and slink away whimpering with his tail between his legs.

And if he does do something? If he (say) smashes in your car windows with a baseball bat or writes a letter threatening to eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti?

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Then, of course, you can get the police involved. It pays with characters like this to remember we still live in a civil society, and once you cross a certain line, there can be serious repercussions.

So whether he does something or does nothing in response, I say your best bet here is not to back off, but to stand your ground, and push back.

What am I supposed to do now?

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