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Being Neighborly Doesn't Mean You Have to Answer Neighbors' Every Knock

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Adapted from Apartment Life, Sara Gebhardt's online discussion about rental issues.

Q: Virginia: I'm a woman living by myself in an apartment complex. Recently, a couple of neighbors came by (at different times) to ask for sugar, milk, etc. I tried being neighborly, but this escalated to people knocking on my door every week. I don't want to be rude, but I'm busy and don't feel comfortable answering the door all the time for people I don't know. Can I ignore the knocking, even if they can hear my television? Most of my friends have said that because I'm a woman living alone, I can ignore them.

A: I think you're fine to ignore your neighbors. Occasional requests for sugar and milk (people still do this?) are okay, but if you're busy and don't want to bother, don't bother. I always encourage neighborly behavior, but frequent requests and disruptions aren't very neighborly. As a single woman concerned about safety, and an apartment dweller who values privacy, you have every right to ignore the knocking. If it's someone you know and want to see, they'll know your phone number and give you warning before they knock.

Q: Arlington: What are the chances that my landlord is single? He seems to be around my age and is very accommodating to my needs. This is a good sign for pursuing something more, right? He owns the house, which is divided into four apartments and lives on the top floor. I've been trying to monitor his personal life to no avail. Any advice?

A: Rather than stalk him, you could ask him or other neighbors whether he's single. Or you could decide it doesn't matter because you are in a business relationship with him and don't want to risk that with weird and potentially damaging behavior. Remember, when people are nice to you, that doesn't necessarily mean they are hitting on you.

Of course, I could be wrong, and this might be the greatest love story yet to be written.

Q: Portland, Maine: I live in a four-unit apartment building. All of our neighbors are healthy young people. This winter they never -- and I mean never -- helped with clearing the snow from our steps or salting the parking lot. If we didn't do it, it just didn't get done. My husband has a bad back, and he had to do all the shoveling. I want to put up a sign, but my husband says that would be passive-aggressive. Is it really? I would make it polite.

A: Perhaps putting up a sign is passive-aggressive, but there are other things you can do to get your neighbors to help. Ask them in person to chip in. Another option is to ask your landlord to send out a note about it so that you don't look like the bad guy, though your neighbors would probably figure out who complained. In any case, you should work to devise a system in which each unit takes turns. Ask your landlord to help do this before next winter.

Sara Gebhardt's Apartment Life column appears biweekly in this section, and her Web chat appears monthly on http://www.washingtonpost.com. Her next chat is April 3 at 2 p.m.

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