For eight years, my husband and I lived in the top-floor unit of an uptown condominium. Previously, we had lived as students in a string of rental apartments and basement suites, where interacting with our neighbours was a rare occurrence.
The thing about renting is that most people aren’t generally interested in the welfare of their building and the other people living inside of it. Tenants come and go, and any issues with the building are typically handled by a landlord or property manager. It’s easy, as a renter, to remain relatively anonymous.
When it comes to the residents of condo buildings, however, the majority have purchased their units themselves. For many — us included — buying a condo is an introduction to the official world of owning 800 square feet or so of actual real estate.
As renters, we never had to be responsible for the condition of our surroundings. As homeowners, we suddenly became aware of the need to protect our investment, to make sure that all the money we borrowed from the bank and slowly began paying back in bimonthly instalments (with interest on the principal!) was going towards a sound cause as we started to build some kind of equity.
It’s for this reason that condo dwellers aren’t only perpetually concerned about the state of the building (“the garden looks like shit”, “the elevator’s filthy”, “the front door’s not latching shut again”), they’re prone to being downright nosey about the various goings-on of the people sharing the same roof as them (and they have an opinion about it, you better believe).
I wish I could say my husband and I resisted falling prey to this nosiness, because it’s not like we didn’t try. We avoided certain neighbours in the hallway, tried to stay practical when contentious issues flared among strata members and, for the most part, endeavoured to keep our heads down and live a quiet existence from the privacy of our unit.
The thing about privacy when it comes to condo-living, however, is that it proves largely impossible.
It’s not that I’m averse to interacting with my neighbours. I mean, sure, my introverted-ness tends to make these interactions painfully awkward for everyone involved (I showed R. my “polite passerby” face recently, and he responded by saying I looked to be in pain!), but I do stand by the importance of community and being kind to thy neighbour.
It’s just…living alongside neighbours is an strangely intimate affair. Living alongside neighbours in a 90s-era wood-frame condominium is an unending exercise in trying to maintain at least some semblance of privacy.
There was the fact I could hear our next door neighbour peeing (and that he could hear me doing the same, no doubt) anytime we happened to occupy our en suite bathrooms at the same time.
And the fact that on the rare occasion we forgot to switch our audio settings to “night mode” when watching a movie after 9 p.m., the neighbour below would briskly knock on our door and emphatically complain the noise was “reverberating” through his unit. (This is the same neighbour whose bed springs once woke us in the dead of night, the creaking growing in fervor alongside the moans of the lady he was apparently entertaining.)
And then there was the woman who lived down the hall who constantly cornered us to air her list of grievances about the building, the gold caps on her teeth a distracting contrast against her otherwise homely appearance. Her complaints were always long-winded, nonsensical diatribes that instigated our sprinting up five flights of stairs just to avoid the possibility of coming face-to-face with her.
There is simply no privacy when it comes to being a condo-dweller.
I watched from my window when my next door neighbour had his new sofa set delivered, quietly judging his taste in furniture. I once watched this same neighbour argue with his girlfriend so heatedly, he hurled a single-serving milk jug at her off his fourth-floor balcony, the contents exploding in the parking lot below.
I came to inadvertently learn the exercise regime of the neighbour living below because it involved lunging up and down the same stairwell that shared a wall with part of our unit for the better part of an hour, just as I figured out it was the daughter of the neighbour at the end of the hall that barfed all over the back exit after I’d spotted she and a friend slugging red wine from the bottle in the exact same spot hours earlier.
It’s not that we were necessarily nosey, we were simply observing our surroundings (and wondering who, exactly, was responsible for cleaning up the neighbour-daughter’s barf).
The lack of privacy was fine for the most part, until tensions started mounting with our next door neighbour.
I wrote previously how in the last year before we moved, we were constantly subjected to music that blared so loudly from his unit beside us, the pictures hanging on the wall literally buzzed in their frames.
We tried dealing with the situation as tactfully as possible, asking him on multiple occasions to turn down the volume. The first few times he apologized, but the issue persisted, and when we asked again if he could turn it down, he became belligerent, drunkenly yelling and pounding on our unit door late at night.
We submitted complaint after complaint to the strata council, documenting and even attempting to record the nightly occurrences.
Our neighbour didn’t take too kindly to this, retaliating by complaining to the council that our “constant domestics” regularly disturbed him (a laughable allegation for anyone who knows us, made moreso absurd by the fact it was he who launched a bottle of milk at his girlfriend’s head during an argument).
The situation grew increasingly hostile over the course of several months, resulting in us enduring an awkward “mediation” session with him, his landlady, our property management company and the members of our strata council.
Unsurprisingly, the mediation didn’t amount to any kind of punitive action — he was the epitome of a slimy salesman and had apparently cast his spell on his landlady, who stood by his assertions he couldn’t possibly be the one to blame.
He wasn’t the singular reason we listed the condo for sale, but he certainly had a big part to play in motivating us to move faster than we might have otherwise. His constant bullying and childish antics also sadly deprived us of the sentimentality of enjoying our final months at our first grown-up dwelling, an unfair outcome after the many years of memories we’d built in the space.