Hopefully, you'll never be put in this situation, but it's important to have domestic violence awareness as a renter.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, “on average, more than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States will experience rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner." The coronavirus pandemic only worsened those statistics: CNN reported that incidents of domestic violence in the U.S. increased by 8.1 percent after lockdown orders were in place.
Such high numbers mean that there is a likelihood that someone you know directly or someone you live near might be a victim of domestic violence. How do you deal with this type of situation, if it's a neighbor in your apartment building?
Here are some ways to educate yourself about the signs of domestic violence and improve your domestic violence awareness.
The signs of domestic violence may come in the form of mental or physical abuse. You might hear one person threaten another with injury or you might hear someone humiliating their partner. But the cycle of abuse sometimes is quieter, more subtle. Domestic violence often is a private form of control by one person over another.
Here are some of the warning signs of an abuser as determined by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
Of course, not everyone with a bad temper is an abuser. Depending on how friendly you are with your neighbors, you will likely not see many of the more intimate forms of partner abuse. These include sabotaging someone's birth control method or forcing sex on an unwilling partner.
If you hear verbal abuse and other aggressive sounds (yelling and screaming, plates breaking, doors slamming) through the walls or you see controlling or stressful interactions on the patio — take note.
According to the NDV Hotline, if you hear suspicious noises that you believe might be an abusive situation, speak with the survivor as soon as possible.
“Make sure to approach them in a safe, private space, listen to them carefully and believe what they have to say," reads the NDVH website. If you were to call the police, the victim might experience blame and face terrible consequences.
Say something like this: “Please forgive me for intruding into your life, but I'm hearing it through the walls. I'm worried for your safety. Here's a number you can call."
Do call the police if you believe your neighbor's life or your own is in danger.
NDV suggests doing the following:
First, if you believe that someone is being harmed, you should absolutely call the police. That said, you can tell the police that you are requesting a “wellness check."
In many municipalities, there are separate domestic violence units — you can request a transfer to speak to someone in that unit. You can also make an anonymous call to 911.
If the police arrive on the scene, they will not tell the abuser who called them.
You can make your landlord aware of what you're hearing or seeing, but it's a secondhand account. Unless the landlord or property manager witnesses something firsthand it is difficult for them to get involved.
However, if you make your landlord aware of possible domestic violence, at least they can monitor the situation. Keep in mind that many property managers do not live on the premises — so it is tricky for them sometimes to know what is going on at all times.
As much as you'd like this to happen, it's not your place to initiate an eviction. It's up to the victim to contact the landlord or property manager. The victim must then provide proof of domestic violence. This often comes in the form of a restraining order, evidence of criminal charges or a letter from a “qualified third party" like a law enforcement officer.
Every state has its own rules regarding how a landlord must respond to instances of domestic abuse. The landlord can let a tenant who is in an abusive situation break their lease without penalty, for example.
As a concerned neighbor, if the noise from next door encroaches on your “right to quiet enjoyment," you might be able to push for eviction.
Keep in mind that it can take anywhere from two weeks to three or more months for an eviction.
Living close to a domestic violence situation is extremely stressful. Verbal and physical disputes can happen at any hour of the day and many tend to occur during evenings, often into early morning hours.
You may find yourself on a work call hoping your colleagues don't hear the neighbors screaming at each other on your end of the line or you may find yourself awake at 3 a.m. by a fight that eventually ends in a 911 call.
Getting rest could start becoming difficult, and you can also begin to feel like you're walking on eggshells — basically, you're living with the ups and downs and unpredictability of abuse by living too close to it.
It's important to maintain your own self-care.
It's difficult to end the cycle of domestic violence, but one step on the way to healing is to ask for help. Victims need to reach out to people that they trust, friends, neighbors, clergy or therapists.
If you suspect that a nearby tenant is having trouble, do what you can to make yourself available and supportive. Keep in mind how important it is for you to remain healthy and strong so that you can stay helpful.