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Ask Amy: Nightly disturbances cause neighbor’s dilemma

Dear Amy: My boyfriend and I just bought a condo.
Most of our neighbors are really nice and have been respectful (for the most part). However, an individual in the unit directly below ours has been doing something that’s unsettling and disturbing to me.

He screams and shouts random words — for reasons unknown to us. Sometimes I can make out what he’s saying, and other times I can’t. I can hear him from every room in my unit, but mostly in my bedroom. This occurs during late-evening hours, but sometimes at other times, too.

We’ve seen this individual before while getting our mail and walking the dog. We have tried to say “hello,” but he just ignores us and looks at the ground before retreating back to his unit.

Maybe he is disabled or suffering from a psychological condition. I’d like to pay him a casual visit to let him know he is disturbing us, but my boyfriend thinks I’m overreacting.

I don’t want to berate him for being loud and disrespectful. I simply want to let him know that we can hear him, in case he is unaware. Part of me wants to believe he’s just really into sports or video games, but I still don’t think we should have to sit back and just deal with it, especially if his screaming is directed at another person living with him and the situation could potentially be dangerous. Please advise!

—Earplugs 24/7

Dear 24/7: If you have a credible belief that your downstairs neighbor is harming someone, you should act on your concern by calling the police.
In the absence of that belief, before politely notifying your neighbor that you can hear him, you could discreetly raise this issue with your condo board — they might be aware of his situation and be able to educate you about what is going on.

There is a brain disorder called Tourette Syndrome (or “Tic Disorder”) that causes people to vocalize in ways like you describe; these are called vocal “tics,” and may also be accompanied by sudden physical movements. This is not a psychological, but a neurological illness.

This is from the website from the Tourette Association of America (Tourette.org): “Tics can be complex. Vocal tics (for example, coughing, sniffing, throat-clearing, or yelling out a word or phrase) and multiple motor tics (for example, blinking or shrugging the shoulders) must both be present for a diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome (TS), although they might not always happen at the same time.”

“Tics may appear to be purposeful. However, tics are neurological in nature. They are often described as urges that must be completed. Even when they seem to be expressed in reaction to a current situation, they are not within the control of the [person] with TS.”
Obviously, you should do whatever you can in your own home to mitigate or muffle the sound. Rugs (or more rugs) might help.

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You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.