Update 2/6/2017: After a few 6 year-old tantrums, this neighbor called Child Services, and I am now being investigated. On this same day, I was given the finger on my security system by this neighbor. Who calls Child Services over a couple of tantrums and then flips the bird to a security system on the same day? Gall? Stupidity? Can you even imagine?
Update 10/22/2015: This neighbor is once again complaining, causing me to take time away from work to be called into special meetings with the board officers of Park Terrace Gardens Co-op in New York City. I will document the latest here as it develops.
Update 12/31/2014: My wife was verbally attacked today by a neighbor in the latest in a pattern of escalating incidents Click here to view our latest attempt for board or management response.
This post is about being bullied by a pair of neighbors, and testing the limits I can endure trying to adhere to my own self-image as a good person. I’ve held back on publishing this article after the harassment intensified as I tweeted about my mother’s passing. I’ve held back on publishing it after the lies were exposed and the real motivations revealed. I held back as management ignored our repeated requests to address security issues.
And so, I was forced to install a security system that has captured just a couple of incidents in the pattern of threats and harassment we have endured over the past year here at the Park Terrace Gardens in the Inwood neighborhood of New York City. I can no longer hold back as the threats against my family have become blatant and menacing. And with the belief that there is no better way to cope with a bully than to shine the bright light of accountability on their actions, here it goes.
This was mostly written as I was awaiting the news of my mother’s passing from Hospice right as the pattern of persistent and baseless complaints lodged against us by my neighbors to the building’s management began to intensify anew. It turns out, their strategy was for one neighbor to make an initial fabricated—or at best, egregiously exaggerated—complaint against us, and then for the other to follow-up in such a way as to validate each other.
Soon after, when we were actually threatened with eviction by the board president Mary Fran (loudly, in front of our sick child—after denying us a delay to the meeting to care for her) over offensive odors that did not exist. This “verification” from multiple neighbors was the only reason cited for elevating it to the level of an eviction threat by the board. But after now six surprise walk-in inspections of the “odor-police” (supers, and the building’s manager) that have subsequently invalidated the complaints, we have not yet had acknowledgement of this fact from the board or management, or a retraction of the eviction threat.
The way the two of these neighbors reinforced each other’s lies to the board during my first year at Park Terrace Gardens for the purpose of causing needless grief and hardship was a dark mark on a time period that was otherwise the most wonderful experience of my life as a new daddy getting to know my baby.
How could I sit and write about being bullied by neighbors as my mother was passing away? Well, that’s just how profoundly this affair has affected our family until we came to understand the depths of insecurity and pettiness with which were likely dealing. But we didn’t realize that right away, and when you’re bullied and harassed, even if the culprits are clever enough to use a co-op board as their arms and legs, it can color every aspect of your day—every time you take out the garbage and might see them in the hallway—every time you leave for work in the morning, and come home at night and run an errand. And I can only imagine how bad it is for my dear wife who most often had our 1 year old child (at the time) in tow.
Almost always, the phone-calls of complaints are at 11:30 PM (when one of the neighbors returned home from work) when they know no one from management will want to come out and do the sniff-test for verification. They are on Fridays, after management has gone home for the weekend. They are timed for the maximum impact of hearsay, and the minimization of objective truth.
And so, here is the documentation and accounting of the facts and events as they happened. Odor complaints about my family started almost immediately upon moving into the building. The culprit? Pine-Sol! We learned that a neighbor had been complaining to management about the smell of cleaning supplies without having the courtesy to bring it up with us first. Upon learning of the issue, we immediately switched floor cleaning products, but were taken aback by complaints being lodged against us as fast as we moved in, and so we tweeted something along the lines of one of our neighbors (without naming him or providing any identifying information) of being a pansy—which, I actually stick by to this day.
Someone without the guts or respect to knock on a door and say, hey could you switch cleaning supplies, but instead lodges complaints behind your back with management is… well, a pansy. No names were named, but this triggered off a campaign against us the likes of which is now manifesting as something quite menacing (there is a possibly connected NYPD harassment case). If the neighbor just knocked on our door about his Pine-Sol sensitivity, none of this would have happened. But he didn’t, and we tweeted, and have been feeling what at first was the ridiculous wrath of vengence, but which now is escalating into the early signs of violence.
Yep, a single tweet of an unnamed neighbor has triggered off what has evolved from mere harassment and bullying into a very serious safety concern. But I’m jumping ahead. Let’s roll back the story for a moment to about a year and a half ago.
After half a lifetime of renting, I decided with the encouragement of my wife and with a new baby, to join the ranks of the tax-sheltered and equity-building owners. We decided to buy into a wonderful little co-op up on a hill at the top of Manhattan. Inwood’s got the reputation of being a quiet little escape while still on the island, and we had already lived here three years in rentals before making our decision. The building we bought into is the part of a five building community connected by gates to form a beautiful common garden in the center. We are near two wonderful parks, and at the end of the line of the A-Train and near the One Train. It’s just a great place to commute-from and raise a kid while still being in Manhattan.
Given the challenges of a one-year-old, we are blessed to be able to afford the help provided by a weekly cleaning service. That cleaning service used Pinesol—and in a few weeks of moving in, it got back to me via management that a neighbor was complaining about it. I immediately changed cleaning supplies, confirmed which neighbor it was, and when running into the neighbor in the hallway, apologized and told him he was always welcome to bring up such issues directly with us. I went so far as to tell him I was determined to be a good neighbor.
It turns out that this neighbor’s form of taking it directly up with us that I encouraged him to do took the form of knocking on our door and then literally proceeding to yell at my wife right in front of my baby daughter—for just the dog barking for maybe ten-minutes on a Saturday evening at ~7:00 PM. This was an ominous precursor of things to come. A few weeks later, we got a knock at our door waking the baby. It was once again this neighbor, seemingly intoxicated, stumbling and giggling with with a female friend, and knocking on our door because they said they thought it was the elevator.
And that’s when things really started to get strange. It came to our attention that a rash of odor complaints started being lodged against us. I rolled my eyes thinking could anyone really be this petty? I thought that was settled. We switched cleaners. But we were told it was from multiple sources about different odors—which really shook me, until I found out to be one other neighbor, a friend and professional associate of his. Unfortunately for us, this “bully buddy” turned out to be friends with several members of the board and a real estate agent with New Heights Realty.
Okay, so full disclosure. We were making handmade soap—the vegetable glycerin type—not the fight club type. It’s really not bad, and every smell is pleasant. And we also have some small caged animals like gerbils aside from the dog and cats that were on the co-op board application—effectively all but odorless in their little frequently changed cages.
However, these little facts added credence to the odor complaints, making them sound legitimate. Neither of these are criminal offenses, nor are they terribly out of the ordinary, nor even a source of offensive odors. However, all together with the board’s willingness to take this neighbor seriously, you might say it was the perfect storm of us looking guilty, and my colluding neighbors knew it, and seems to have gone in for the kill—reportedly going for an eviction!
We received letters from management demanding to know what we were going to do about the odors, giving deadlines and such. Remedies were demanded. We provided remedies the best we could, not even knowing what odors they could be talking about. Complaints continued, and remedies demanded, right as we were repeatedly being denied walk-in inspections to verify whether there truly was an offensive odor of any kind.
We didn’t smell it any of the vaguely described odors. Our numerous friends who we have over didn’t smell it. Our pregnant friend with a hypersensitive mommy nose didn’t smell it. But there was something allegedly in the hallway which we did in fact catch an occasional whiff of, and it was being logged in management’s odor log and counted as a strike against us every time. It was a brilliant strategy by terrible people.
Given the letter and the fact that a special session of the board that was called to lay it into us where one board member told us our problem was that we couldn’t smell our own filth, we launched into on a Holy mission to live an odor-free lifestyle—even given our pets—the unreported ones now reported and approved. We gave up making soap at home per the board’s instructions. I put a high-end IQAir air-cleaner into service—rated so highly that it’s reportedly even capable of removing odors and the SARS virus from the air. We did several rounds of deep cleaning, started taking trash out multiple times per day, changing the cat-litter daily (and we were already using a litter-robot). I started my two robot vacuum cleaners—the Neato VX-21 and the Mint Plus—running daily. Basically, in our weak position looking guilty and feeling terrorized, we turned our lives upside down for the board and the bullies.
These were some of the worst episodes of my life during what were otherwise the best as a new daddy and “home-owner”. It haunted my every day. It kept me from being able to concentrate at work. I was receiving phone-calls daily from my wife with updates on the latest. We were scared to open cans of soup for fear of the odor they would emit, and cooking was absolutely out of the question.
But the odor complaints continued unabated. In fact, they were even getting worse, and I got my first inkling that what we were actually dealing with here was vendetta. We were once again called in again for a hand-slapping by the board. During the second special session, we were told by board president Mary Fran that if there was even just one more complaint, that we would be getting a letter from a lawyer and that we shouldn’t plan on being able to live there for the next 20-years like I had just stated—implying that the letter would be the beginning of eviction proceedings. Later in that meeting, we received a more explicit eviction threat. We were told that eviction proceedings were to begin on one more indiscretion.
I only just gave the vaguest suggestion that what we may be encountering here was foul play at work, as my position still felt weak over the few tiny animals we didn’t disclose (at the encouragement of our real estate agent), and the board was clearly much more interested in assuming that the unverified complaints were true and sincere. Our ongoing requests for walk-in verification of the source of the odors were being consistently ignored.
Really? Just one more complaint and we’re evicted? It was obviously inevitable that complaint would occur, and THAT was the conditions we we living under for months. Can you imagine? A one-year-old child going on two. Getting your first mortgage, and being told that you would be kicked out without any trial, and on top of that prevented from selling your home. So you would be responsible for continuing to pay the mortgage plus maintenance, but not allowed to live there. We were being threatened with nothing less than financial ruin—all over something for which there was not yet one solid bit of evidence that we were at fault.
We also learned by this point that it wasn’t widespread complaints. It was really just the one bully and one bully-buddy—and you know how in the movies the bully has a buddy? That was consistently the other complainant. As far as we’ve been told, no one else ever registered a complaint. Just these two on their tweet-vendetta.
Now, under threat of eviction—reportedly a hair’s breadth away— we started demanding the knock-on-the-door walk-in odor inspections that we had been asking for from the beginning. That would definitively determine whether or not we were the source of the odors—if, which I was doubting by this time were even genuine complaints.
And guess what? Every walk-in inspection, which eventually got up to six occasions—consistently cleared us. Get it? For this entire harrowing ordeal that caused emotional hardship and grief during these critical formative years of our child could have been totally avoided if management just took the time to verify! And verification is not the silly “sniff-at-the-door” test that could create false positives due to odors from another door, ventilation problems, things tracked in on shoes from the elevator, and a whole host of other possibilities. Instead, all they had was a recording of whatever they happened to smell in the hallway, categorized as offensive even if it wasn’t, and automatically attributed to us.
If you ever want to get someone in trouble at a co-op, that’s the formula. Smell is subjective, and management is obliged to create a smell-log, which the supers and porters have to make an entry whenever they’re in the area. So here’s the insidious part. The smell-log is tied to the person being complained about. So anything that goes into that log amounts to automatic guilt-by-association. Supers and porters think they have to record something to be doing their job, little knowing they’re playing into an eviction-scam. There’s always some little odor or another in apartment living. That’s just apartment living.
But now, these are getting logged, and in the minds of everyone looking at the log gets attributed to the person who the log was created about, and amplified into an offense—even if the odor was inoffensive and just part of everyday apartment living. See? It’s a formula for transforming the subjective sniff-tests of employees just trying to do a good job into seemingly objective damnation of your mark. Subsequently, we have learned from supers and porters talking to us in confidence that the neighbor hid in waiting for the hallway sniff-tests to ambush them to intimidate them into reporting non-present smells.
Okay, so what about an objective fresh nose? What about a disinterested third party? Well, our neighbor gave us that chance when he went on what sounded like a mad rage in the hallway one midnight, yelling at a super (who came to our hallway to investigate a complaint and told our neighbor that he didn’t smell anything) at our door, waking us up and the baby and giving another whole dimension to our neighbor troubles—safety! We were being raged-at (indirectly, as we have since learned) from the hallway at midnight! I called the co-op emergency number to seek advice. They told us that if we felt unsafe, we had better not risk it, and should call 911. The police arrived, and couldn’t even detect the odor that warranted a mad, threatening rage in front of our door at midnight. The police who we had to now call over this ordeal couldn’t smell any of these odors, which were at best frivolous, and at worst fabricated and malicious.
Now on top of a developing harassment case, this had also been elevated to a safety issue. Clearly, my way to handle things now was to demand the walk-in inspections upon EVERY SINGLE complaint (that we are fortunate enough to become aware-of—another whole tragic comedy there), which consistently come up empty, vindicate us, and strengthen our legal case. I wrote a letter saying as much, and we got the first and so-far only lawyer letter back, demanding that WE stay vigilant in our measures against OUR odors (more harassment) and failed to even acknowledge our now-safety concerns with our neighbor that were management’s to deal with—so says the police. And that’s the status we’re at today.
Whenever I run into either of these neighbors now in the hallway, I can feel their gaze on my back like daggers. After a few such encounters, I become aware that complaints were being registered again. Making matters worse, I can occasionally smell an unidentifiable odor in the hallway that immediately goes away upon entering our apartment. Now it’s not really offensive except by virtue of its very unidentifiable-ness, and it’s almost beneath notice, but given our harassed, beleaguered and heightened sensitivity now to such issues, I was taken aback to see that one of these neighbors consistently left his wet umbrella in the hallway to drain fresh rainwater into the carpet. I took photos on two occasions and reported it to management. After all this time, the very neighbor complaining of odors in the hallways was a documented mold offender!
And then my mother passed. On the day she passed we received an email from management stating that there were complaints of “fumes” coming from our apartment. About a week later when I was still sitting Shiva (part of the traditional Jewish funeral and mourning process), I was approached by one of the board members on the street to discuss matters—us, now apparently worth talking to now that the walk-in inspections were consistently coming up empty. And astoundingly this board member told us that as a lesbian, she took offense to our use of the word “pansy” in the tweet about the unnamed neighbor who complained about us behind our back to management. And so, the reason a personal vendetta was so amplified was suddenly clear! Our ordeal has taken on a new light ever since.
More than anything, my mother’s passing snapped into focus the pettiness with which two neighbors, enabled by co-op board members, have taken up as their mission against my family regarding a thing so minor which is beneath the notice of most any Manhattanite. I was soon after cornered on a crowded subway car by that board member who said we couldn’t smell our own stink in order to tell me we brought this on ourselves. The implication was clear. We ran afoul of a powerful clique within the board, leaving me scratching my head as to whether this was typical of board behavior or if I was stuck with one of the worst co-op boards in NYC.
And so the the everyday odors in the hallway from people cooking, unidentifiable at times, and yes—even sometimes animal odors (there are a few other people on our floor with animals) was turned into a very powerful weapon against us. My mother dying just about emboldened me to tell the story, but I held back. We have accommodated every request of the board up until an unofficial call from a sympathetic board member told us their lawyer advised they do three more surprise walk-in inspections before they would start to ignore the neighbor’s complaints. I told her that was unacceptable and should have been done three inspections ago and reminded her the real issues here—the security of my family—had yet to be addressed, though we were promised a response.
And so, after management repeatedly refused to address our repeated security concerns, I took matters into my own hands and installed a security system, which immediately began capturing one of their dogs consistently off-leash in the hallway in front of our door, despite co-op rules. In fact, a notice was posted in the elevator over this specific issue, and we ourselves were baselessly accused of this violation by the co-op board’s lawyers (by quoting that rule to us). And so, we decided to register a complaint with management over the persistently off-leash dog—a very real safety threat, given the door could open with our child caught between two dogs.
After a week of being ignored, we started to demand the courtesy of a reply, and started making known some small parts of this larger ordeal on Facebook and in social media. Before you know it, one of the neighbors posted an actual threat in Facebook and our security system captured menacing gestures and tampering with the Mezuzah on our door.
When you combine the year-and-a-half ordeal of unsubstantiated odor complaints resulting in an eviction threat with hallway rages of anger that make us call the police for our safety with intimidation of supers to comply with falsifying management records with blatant disregard of the very co-op rules that we were being accused of violating and finally a violent response to us even just asserting ourselves once, you have the picture of why I must act now to secure the safety of my family.
UPDATE: Since writing this article, the thug shown in the video above was sent to quietly enter the hallway from the stairwell and stand outside the door of our apartment, with my wife and 2 year old baby right on the other side of the door, and for nearly a minute stand still enough to make our security system’s motion detector stop recording. It then popped back on recording when he started making threatening “I’m watching you” gestures. We showed this to the police who opened a harassment case, and reported it to management. If anyone knows the identity of this thug, you can send me the tip using the web form on this page. Use it anonymously if you like by filling in a fake return email address.
UPDATE 2: (4/4/2014)
Dear Park Terrace Gardens management and the board,
[omitted] from [omitted] just knocked on our door at about 1:00 PM during the day to complain about our three year old child who had been having a temper tantrum for about 10 minutes. [omitted] demanded that my wife leave the apartment with my child, and accompanied it with what came off as a threat to “call someone” if she didn’t.
Should we be concerned?
Following the incident of his raging in the hallway and the thug who was sent to our door to threaten us, we have been on alert. I feel that management and the board needs to be immediately notified of all such incidents. Please use the same rules designed to protect the peace in our homes that was used to threaten us with eviction over discredited complaints in order to deal with this much more serious, ongoing, and never adequately addressed danger. We have been bringing up with the board for some time now.
This is an official request for a remedy. A 3-year-old child having a tantrum in the middle of the day should not bring down the wrath of a full grown man. Please bring this up at the coming board meeting, and I look forward to the courtesy of your reply. Thank you.
To board, Kathy
At approximately 4pm on 12/31/14 [omitted] of [omitted] just verbally attacked me in the downstairs hallway outside the laundry room. He screamed about alleged odors in the hallway and threatened to call the police. He did this in front of my now very upset 4 year old child and [name omitted for privacy]. I’m sure you understand how unacceptable this is. I’m now consoling a 4 year old girl who is afraid of the police coming.
There was a second exchange (in front of Max the super and a porter) maybe half an hour later upstairs outside of my apartment door.
His harassment of us has been going on for two years now and I would like to know what’s going to be done about it. This is the first time he has crossed the line with regards to my child. This is unacceptable and I would like to prevent any further escalation. Please advise us as to your proposed remedies.