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Neighbors Drive Each Other to Distraction--and Sometimes Court


Hostilities erupted between Manhattan co-op dwellers Leigh and Gene Edelstein and their next-door neighbors in 1995--the year their Maltese pooch, Bogey, arrived on the scene. There's been no letup since.

Apparently, an arf or two from Bogey is enough to send the neighbors--who share a common wall with the Edelsteins--into combat mode.

"One time my neighbor came out with a baseball bat," says Gene, adding, "She was in a backswing position like Scott Brosius. But her husband came out and grabbed her kicking and screaming back into the apartment." Unfortunately, the rift doesn't end with Bogey.

Recently, there was a moment of panic when the Edelsteins' cat, Tigressa, followed Leigh into the hallway, then disappeared into the apartment of their neighbors, who left their door ajar.

"I was sure she was going to cook Tigressa for dinner at the minimum," says Gene. "My neighbor mouthed a string of obscenities, then threw the cat into the hallway back at Leigh. That was lucky. I thought we'd never see Tigressa again."

In an effort to keep the peace, the Edelsteins recently bought a special anti-bark dog collar that releases a citronella spray that dogs don't like when Bogey gets a bit noisy.

Says Gene, "We try not to use it often because we may 'de-dogize' the dog." But when all is said and done, he observes, "The neighbor barks more than the dog."

Always awkward and often ugly, discord between neighbors is not that unusual, according to Norwalk, Conn., attorney Sheri Paige. What's more, sometimes the solution is as nettlesome as the problem.

"Neighbor against neighbor is a frequent case [in my office] and sometimes homeowner against homeowner," says Paige, who claims that homeowners are usually more civilized and "don't come to blows" while, in her experience, renters "seem to be a little more supercharged."

For example, Paige is currently handling the case of a landlord who rented a two-bedroom apartment in his home to a couple who subsequently moved in 13 relatives.

"There are 15 people who are very happy, but my clients are miserable," she says, commenting that every time they turn around, something else happens.

No sooner had her clients bought a backyard swing set for their child, then one of the renters' relatives started hanging underwear and bras all over it.

It's being used "as a giant clothesline," Paige says.

The solution? After the police were called to the scene four times, the tenant promised to clear out his relatives, she says. If he doesn't keep his promise, the situation will be referred to housing court, and they'll be evicted.

"It's not easy to evict somebody," Paige says. "You give them time to find an apartment, probably three or four months," and in the process, she adds, the landlord has to spend a lot of money in legal fees.

Take it a step further, and if one of the parties breaks the law, an arrest can follow. "[The defendant] generally has to pay a criminal defense lawyer because [he's] been arrested and has to come to court and clear the charges," she says.

According to Paige, the attorney will try to get the involved parties to deal with each other, while social workers in the criminal court system attempt to get the individuals to mediate.

"Most of the time they are very successful," she says. "But if no one forgives and forgets, it becomes difficult. A lot of people pay us to deal with this kind of stuff to keep their records clean."

As to why such problems flare up in the first place, Stamford, Conn., psychologist Steven Spitz says people regard home, property, family and pets as "personal territory" and an extension of themselves. "When those things are threatened by something a neighbor might do, it gets taken in a very personal way, and people sometimes have these very strong responses. They feel threatened, which could lead to an escalation of the problem."

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