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May 23, 2005 10:26 PM   Subscribe

I live in a renovated condo in Chicago. My upstairs neighbors are driving me nuts with the noise.

Nearly every night after 10:00pm, the stereo booms through their floor to my ceiling and is nearly intolerable. I've gone up to ask them to turn it down which they politely do and we repeat this dance on a weekly basis. They are clueless. I'm no prude. I like loud music and play in a band but I like some solace after a reasonable hour (10-11pm).

- Talking to the neighbor. Problem goes away for week then rears it's ugly head.

- Writing letter to Condo association. They sent the offending neighbor a letter which worked for a month.

- I've tried calling the police (they responded both times but couldn't gain entry nor would neighbor answer the door).

I just sent another letter to our association but I know they generally can't do much in this situation. Any advice on this?
posted by KevinSkomsvold to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
Those first two bullets should start with "I tried..."
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:28 PM on May 23, 2005

Talk to them when you're both calm. Schedule a meeting with them over coffee one morning so you can work out a compromise of some sort, but you should make your 'quieter' hours very clear. If face-to-face doesn't work for you, write them a very polite but strong and clear letter. Each and every time it's too loud after a reasonable hour, make it known to them; in my experience, it doesn't work if you aren't consistent.

If your association has quiet hours in the lease (mine does, it's not always followed but it's generally pretty good), remind them that the tenant isn't within bounds of the lease. Document all of the times it happens, and if they refuse to do anything, draft a letter with a lawyer friend, or even just mention that you will need to seek legal help the next time this happens. It's really a PITA, I know; I finally resorted to try to live on top floors because the clomp-clomp-clomp, flush-flush, drag-click-click sounds above me during all hours of the day/night drive me nuts when I'm trying to write from home and the floors are not insulated well. This Revenge CD will at least inject some humour into the situation!
posted by fionab at 11:02 PM on May 23, 2005

What does your agreement with the condo association state in regards to noise violations? IANAL but you might have decent grounds for a nasty letter threatening to hold your maintenance/property fees in escrow until the condo association addresses the issue. The association probably guarantees certain things in return for your fees and smoothing out intra-owner relationships and enforcing respect for others is probably one of them.

Also have you talked with your neighbor's neighbors? Left right and above? They're probably just as pissed off.
posted by nathan_teske at 11:04 PM on May 23, 2005

Condo associations, in my experience, do very little beyond assess your condo fee and maintain the common areas of the building.
The building that I live in has owners and renters. Many of the renters don't rent from the condo assc. but rent from other owners. The most direct way to deal with a problem, I've found, is after (trying) to talk to the tenants about it, get in touch with their landlord.
Almost every condo has noise codes and the landlords are careful to advise their tenants of it if not enforce it in the lease. They're doubtlessly violating that term of their lease and their landlord, I'm sure, would rather make them fix the problem than have to go looking for new renters.
As Nathan (above) pointed out, it's likely that you're not the only person who's bothered by their noise. Get a few people together and complain en masse.

On another note, I have a neighbor horror story that's likely to cheer you up. You won't feel quite so bad about a little noise:

The building that I live in not only has very poor sound insulation, but any liquids will leak through to the apt. below. The only thing that separates the units is a hardwood floor, 6 inches of air, and then the wood ceiling of the lower apartment. On occasion, a toilet upstairs would overflow and I'd have to scramble with pots and pans and towels to contain the disaster area. Fortunately, that's the sort of thing that only happens about once a year and the neighbor who's toilet overflows generally feels really bad about it. But then, a guy who likes fish moved in. As it turns out, he had an enormous 150gal fish tank that's about the size of a bathtub which he built himself. It was a rickety looking thing and, as I discovered, he really cut some corners on some of the water pumping components. At least once or twice a week, I would get a stream of fishy water cascading into my living room (thankfully onto some bare floor) which I'd have to clean up and then run upstairs to tell him that his tank was broken. I felt like I was living under a time bomb. I was certain that, sooner or later, that tank was going to break or fall and there'd be a fishy deluge in my apartment. I made my concerns known. As it turned out, his landlords and the condo assc. were very much against fishtanks due to the leak problems in the building. The leaks stopped. For a little while.
Before I get further into this story, I'd like to let you know that I'm a painter who works out of my apartment (it's got plenty of room). I make tiny paintings with gouache (an extremely water-soluble paint). They're very delicate and take a lot of work.
Anyway, I was never too upset by the fish-leaks because they never did any damage, although they were a serious nuisance. The leaks had not occurred for a couple weeks so I thought nothing of it. Until one day, within 5 minutes of having woken up (I was still brushing my teeth in my underwear), I heard the sound of rain. Inside. In My STUDIO. I scrambled to move everything out of the way of the piscine downpour. In about 3 minutes, I had moved about a years worth of artwork and all of my supplies across my apartment. Stunned, confused, and in a rage, I went upstairs and pounded on the door. My neighbor, who had obviously been sleeping, opens the door. I look inside to see that, not only has he NOT removed the bathtub-sized fishtank, but there were also about a half a dozen smaller tanks, countless buckets of water, and a tangle of clear plastic tubing had been precariously strewn and stacked on nearly every available surface in his apartment. It turned out that some tiny, cheap, pump component had become dislodged and started pumping water all over the floor.
Needless to say, I wrote the meanest, angriest letter that I've ever written. Thank god (for his sake) that nothing got permanently damaged.

So, I can handle a little noise. Loft living will grow you a thick skin.
posted by Jon-o at 12:33 AM on May 24, 2005

Your condo association should be fining the owner of the unit for the noise violations. Your condo association legally must enforce its bylaws.

You should be documenting the issue. You should then attend a council meeting. They should be happening on a monthly basis. They can levy a fine on the owner. Attend the AGM or any other general meetings and bitch about it. If there is a property management company involved, contact them as well.

And if all else fails, jimmy the microwave and aim it at his stereo. And maybe his sofa.

But most of all, make your irritation known to the council. If you irritate them more than the neighbour does, they'll do something.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:47 AM on May 24, 2005

Heheh Fiona. The revenge CD is in the queue as a backup. Nice call. I like the idea of a face to face. That may be workable. Most of my interaction has been in the form of grunts and demands with some softhearted cajoling thrown in here and there.

Nathan - I'm looking into that. As I recall, there really wasn't anything in the original paperwork regarding this. If I remember correctly, it was pretty general in regards to noise.

Jon-o - Wow. Just wow.

I'm pretty thick skinned when it comes to noise. Being a musician and all. It's just the "after 10pm" stuff thats knawing at us right now. Since these tenants are the original owners, I'm pretty much stuck with them for the time being.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:55 AM on May 24, 2005

Once during college, I had a similar situation.

Being a scientist type, living with a musician for a roommate, I decided something had to be done, as talking wasn't getting it. We went to the landlord. He told us, you're just college kids, you should love the music. Not at 4 in the morning I don't.

So, the roommate and I started plotting. We ended up building what I call the "Shiva Rig". A stack of 24 12" subs, and some PA speakers borrowed from musician friends of my roommates. We hooked it up to a PA amp (it's great to have cool musician friends), and connected an Ornette Coleman CD (yikes). We pointed it toward the ceiling, and waited. About midnight, the usual commotion began. We went up, explained this was a Tuesday night, we had class/work, and needed some sleep. We were told to go screw ourselves, but neither of us being that orientation, we decided on another approach. We flipped the switch. Oh my God. Picture more a sensation that actual sound. At least 130 dB. Withing two minutes, there were our neighbors, beating on our door. Seems they were not the fans of free jazz that my roommate was.

An agreement was reached shortly thereafter.

posted by kungfujoe at 4:11 AM on May 24, 2005 [2 favorites]

I would suggest two things. Both should be arranged during the day as far away as possible from the time of frustration.

1) Come up with a physical solution to limit the noise. For example, my neighbour downstairs would complain at the noise from my stereo when I was simply watching TV, not even blasting music. When he came up he noticed that my speakers were on the ground. After I got a decent pair of speaker stands, and some 1 inch rubber matting cut to fit the base of the speakers and a few other components it reduced the sound/vibration greatly from my neighbour's perspective.

2) Arrange in advance to let your neighbours come down next time they are too loud to hear how it sounds from your apartment. I would suggest to first have them verify at what level they have the music at. Then spend 30 minutes adjusting the level of music until it meets a level of agreement for both of you. Have them identify what volume it is at on their stereo and agree that with the exception of parties that were organized in advance, the volume should never be louder than that.

3) Consider the physical location of the source of sound and whether you or they can re-arrange the layout of either/both condos in order to increase the distance of where you'll be and the source of noise will be.
posted by furtive at 4:27 AM on May 24, 2005 [2 favorites]

(not terribly) Terrible revenge ideas I have heard of.

Screw a big woofer speaker to something structural and play deeeep test tones.

Attach an eye bolt to the ceiling and floor, put a nice long piece of line between it and tighten. Proceed to play it with a cello bow. A deep and completely untraceable sound - the whole structure resonates!

Many years ago my father shared a wall with late night party types. He complained, but was told to screw himself, or similar sentiments. Using a reel to reel recorder, he taped about 6 hours of the party, then played it back the next morning, starting at dawn, with the speakers jammed hard against the wall. He then went out for the day.

Not the most helpful, but I felt compelled to share.
posted by tomble at 5:22 AM on May 24, 2005

posted by HuronBob at 5:25 AM on May 24, 2005

You didn't mention (or perhaps I overlooked) whether these neighbors are owners or renters. If they're renters, you should have some advantages -- even though rental-property owners generally don't give a shit what's going on so long as they get paid, these owners get pissed very quickly once they start getting fined for their tenants' activities.

Additionally, if they are renters, they might have a real estate company that manages the property. These people, like the owners, generally don't give a shit either, but if you have another real estate professional on your side (your own property manager?), they usually know all the key phrases to get the other company to come down on their tenants.

For 3 years, I lived with the most loud, obnoxious, and physically violent neighbors above me (two different sets). Both sets were mid-to-late 20s guys who spent their nights bartending, only to return home at 3AM to begin partying. All forms of reasonable requests ceased once the neighbors began putting their cigarettes out on my door and punching the door every time they ascended the stairs.

My advice to you, coming from my Resident Advisor training, is to document everything. One or two complaints are rather weak and won't bring much in terms of results. If you are able to produce a document with such overwhelming evidence that the reader will instantly feel sorry for you, perhaps even guilty, you're on your way to productive results.

The first set of neighbors I had were such scum of the earth that I really didn't feel sorry for them (they caused a lot of trouble with my 90-year-old neighbor lady, so I felt like I had to help both of us out). The second set seemed more reasonable, and even made me question my own sensitivity a few times. But after threats of violence when I confronted them (and thereafter), I didn't feel bad about laying the hammer down.

For the first set, I simply created a neighbor diary (using MacJournal) and went crazy liberal on compiling information. Once it amassed to a huge collection (to the point where I knew I'd have to trim it down for readability), I stuck it into a word doc, wrote a cover letter, and sent it to my condo assn manager (CC-ing my property manager -- a slight chain-of-command violation). My realtor got in touch with the condo assn and the manager of the neighbor's property. The condo assn fined them $50 and banned them from the pool (yawn), but the best news was that the owners got sick of being called by the condo assn and refused to renew the lease -- the timing was perfect in that the neighbors were just getting ready to sign for another year. Instead, they moved out within 3 months.

The second set of neighbors were annoying, but mostly because of the sheer noise coming from their speakers. To remedy this problem, I rigged a video camera and hit record whenever it got loud. This provided me with a ton of footage of general loudness -- which, while good, didn't reflect the overwhelming and dramatic noise that I was complaining about. Therefore, I got creative with the filmmaking and did a few things like filming the plates in my cupboards that would rattle with the bass -- and filming from the ground floor in the stairwell, illustrating that the third-floor stereo was loud enough to hear from the ground outside. Additionally, there were several lucky instances, like the time I had my camera in the stairwell and a neighbor's friend came to visit -- the music was so loud that the neighbor couldn't hear his friend's knocking. Capturing the friend's having to call the neighbor on the phone in order to let him in helped seal the deal.

Naturally, this might not help you if the neighbors are owners. But associations have rules and policies in place for violations like this. You should have a copy of these -- and my strongest recommendation is that you cite these rules in your letter. By speaking in the same language as the contract, you convey intelligence and determination, and it will generally speak well to the assn. Additionally, feel free to invite members of the board over during one of the loud-fests.

I'm linking three MS Word documents here that might help you with some ideas and language:
posted by Hankins at 6:40 AM on May 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone. Some great directions to go in here!
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:45 AM on May 24, 2005

Revenge is probably a bad idea. At least, that's the take home lesson I got from watching "Kung Fu Hustle", the Pilgrim's Progress of our generation. Nevertheless, inexpensive guitar amps that can be bolted to your ceiling are available at most pawn shops or music stores for $30. And a soundtrack of a wailing infant will access parts of their lizard brain that they didn't even know they possessed.

When I lived in old Louisville I used to have to walk across the street to ask the kids at the Dairy Mart to turn down their thumper stereos. The thing is, they did it, so I was lucky and no random shootings took place.
posted by mecran01 at 7:38 AM on May 24, 2005

I agree with Hankins - document everything. I would also suggest that if you have a sit down meeting with your neighbors, you invite the association people as well. It will be helpful to have a neutral 3rd party present.
posted by geeky at 7:57 AM on May 24, 2005

Once upon a time I had a similar problem. I live in a very old and non-soundproof apartment building. All day long I would hear my upstairs neighbors clomping around like ponies. It was so damn loud I was sure that they were cross-dressing Sumo wrestlers prancing incessantly in their high heels. And they had a child who apparently liked to run from room to room to room bouncing a basketball.

But as we kept very different schedules, I never actually saw my neighbors. Finally I decided I would write them a letter and ask them to keep the noise down. I figured writing a letter to them would avoid confrontation and give them a chance to mend their stomping, clomping ways before I brought it to the landlord. Somewhere in the course of the letter I said, a little indelicately, that from our apartment it sounded like a herd of elephants. Next day I came home to an eviction notice on MY door.

It turns out that my neighbors were Nepalese. The elephant is a sacred animal to them. They told the landlord that I had harassed them with racist comments and that I was insulting their culture. Mind you, I had never even seen the people and had no clue that they were from Nepal. Even if I had, I certainly wouldn't have purposely insulted their culture.

In the end, it got straightened out and I didn't get evicted. However, we did have to live with their heavy-footed ways for another two years. I was convinced that they were just loud, flat-footed bastards. My fiance was convinced that the floors were just too thin. I took to banging the ceiling with a huge bamboo stick. This would quiet them down for a little while.

After they moved out, we got new upstairs neighbors. I haven't even heard a creak in the 6 months that they've been there. Turns out I was right all along.

Be careful that you don't say anything they can use against you.
posted by crapulent at 9:37 AM on May 24, 2005

I recommend that you don't act like Hunter S Thompson unless you're the type to back it up! I had a next door neighbor who started raising pit bulls in the 10 foot space between our houses. The puppies would bark all night and early AM, waking me up.

Several polite conversations accomplished nothing. I came up with the scheme to tape the barking and replay it (loudly) at an hour that would bother THEM. Before doing actually pushing "play", I went over for one last talk.

I told them I just couldn't take it anymore. The husband offered to shoot me if it would help. When he went to get his gun, I left in a hurry! Decided not to do the tape thing...

Luckily, they moved the next week, one step ahead of the IRS. This was in a nice middle-class neighborhood too...
posted by Instrumental at 11:23 AM on May 24, 2005

my personal favorite for revenge CDs

though, I just have the mp3s.
posted by angry modem at 12:09 PM on May 24, 2005

Chiming in on the documentation suggestion. We have to do that to get any results from our HOA, I also live in a renovated old building of condos.

I don't have much tolerance for neighbor noise, so when I bought the place, I gave up the existing wood ceilings and installed Homesote soundboard, metal studs and another layer of 5/8" gyp board. Looking back, I should also have foamed it in, but it was an expensive additional thing to do, so I opted out of it. It cut out about 80% of the noise - not necessarily loud music, but things like high heels, dog nails, tinkle hitting toilet water, and silverware scraping across plates - yep it was that clear. If I wanted to hear all that I'd live with the damn people.

Having good quiet neighbors helps too (we're really lucky, since the other end of the building is nonstop complaints). So if you own, be glad you're on the 1st floor, b/c soundproofing a ceiling is at least doable. If you were upstairs you'd be SOL.
posted by yoga at 12:44 PM on May 24, 2005

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