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Dear Flora: Filthy Neighbors and a Lonely Christmas

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Dear Flora, 

My daughter has decided for the holidays this year that she, her husband, and my granddaughter won’t be staying with me, despite doing so every year in the past. I don’t get to spend much time with my granddaughter, and Christmas is my special time of the year to spend with her. I feel it is unfair of my daughter and her husband to change plans because they want to have a quiet holiday at home and because they don’t want to attend church. I have supported them for years, but this year they feel they don’t need to come spend time with me. How do I convince my daughter that it is unfair to take time with her grandmother away from my granddaughter just because she and her husband have religious hang-ups?

- Not-So-Merry Christmas

Dear NSMC,

What an awful feeling it must be to be separated from your family on what is clearly a very special holiday! For many, this season is more than time for family, but a time for special religious traditions, and that includes going to church. It seems as though, despite participating in a church tradition for years, your daughter and her family have decided that a secular holiday suits them better. But it seems to me that the main problem you're having is not with your daughter's lack of religious involvement, but with the lack of motivation to spend with Christmas with you as she has always done.

It seems to me that the root of this comes from a lack of communication. Over the years, clearly your daughter has gotten the impression that attendance in church over the holidays is non-negotiable, and has decided to circumvent this problem by not participating at all. And I do believe you're right: as long as you're not forcing your daughter's family to participate in religious traditions with which they aren't comfortable, it's not fair to exclude you from their Christmas. But it'll take a little flexibility on both of your parts to make this work.

My suggestion to you is to try and develop some secular traditions in which your daughter and her family will feel welcomed. Think about what traditions you already have that might fall into this category, and build around them. For example, you might enjoy decorating the house with your daughter's family, or baking together, or having a movie day full of famous Christmas flicks. I think that it's possible that, if your daughter feels like she won't be forced into a formal church gathering, she'll gladly spend the holidays with you again. It may be after the holidays, but try out some secular traditions throughout the year, and see how she reacts when you invite her to participate!

Dear Flora,

I live in a classic triple decker. A nice family lives on the ground floor, I’m on the second, and the world's filthiest neighbor lives on the third floor. They never seem to take out their trash on time, it piles up for weeks, and smells to high heaven. They recently went out of town and left their bins overflowing and smelling terrible, and our landlord has been calling me to complain about it. Apparently the messy neighbor isn’t answering their phone, and she claims she can't understand the family on the first floor due to language barriers (they’re from India and seem to speak perfect English to me, so I’m not even sure what that is all about). She keeps insisting that I should take out the filthy neighbor's trash, and to be frank, I’m not going to do that. I take out my garbage, the family on the first floor takes out their garbage, so the filthy dude on the third floor should be responsible for his garbage. How do I deal with my landlord demanding I do my neighbors chores and how do I make my neighbor take out his trash?

- Nasty Neighbor

Dear NN,

You've really been put in an awkward position by your landlord. I'm in agreement that you shouldn't have to take out your neighbor's trash, and your landlord asking you and the family on the first floor to do it is extremely unprofessional on her part, not to mention plainly unfair. Since this seems to be an ongoing issue made worse by your neighbor's absence, I can understand your frustration. However, there may be a way to exert a little pressure on your neighbor and landlord --without getting evicted yourself.

First, if at all possible, I'd talk to your neighbor yourself. Express concerns such as the smell, as well as the very real possibility that the trash may attract wildlife and pests. Tell your neighbor that you understand that the trash is their business, but that the pileup could affect the health and safety of the first two floors. If that doesn't work (bad neighbors really do exist!), then research your area's laws and regulations around tenant agreements. Take a look at your rental contract. Does it have a clause regarding cleanliness of the property? Your area may have laws in place requiring particular health and safety concerns, including buildup of garbage. Note some important ones, and approach your landlord. If she refuses to help, then lawyer up. Many times, a notice of intent from a lawyer is enough to scare a bad landlord into fulfilling their contract or following the law.

Good luck, and may your new year be trash-free!


Thank you for your lovely questions, everyone! Don't forget to submit your questions via the link below. Happy New Year, and see you in two weeks!

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