How do I placate neighbors irritated by noise?
December 15, 2008 1:09 PM   Subscribe

How do I peacefully coexist with irritable, belligerent neighbors?

Behold my tale of woe:

I'm an obsessive pacer, sometimes. In August I got a note on my door addressed to "Upstairs Neighbor" from "Downstairs Neighbor" asking me to stop the pacing because it was so loud. I was really embarassed. I bought slippers, became hyper-sensitive about my footfalls. The soundproofing in the apartment is exceptionally poor between floors -- I've heard the downstairs couple fight many times. But anyway, I became more aware of it and there were no more complaints.

Cut to September. I get a new roommate who waits tables. She comes in late at night, and though I'd warned her about the downstairs neighbors, we received another nasty note (nota bene: they know our names, we know theirs, yet the notes are always addressed to "upstairs neighbors" and signed "downstairs neighbors"). One time, when my roommate was walking around and apparently causing a ruckus, the husband came upstairs and knocked on the door. I opened it, and without so much as hello he started yelling at me. My roommate went down and clarified the situation for him a few minutes later.

Now, once every week or so, we get banging on the ceiling, usually around 9 pm (that's when the husband, who has to wake at 4:30 for work, goes to bed). We don't listen to loud music or TV -- at least, the complaints have never been for that. Once I was petting my dog and her tail was wagging against the floor, and the downstairs neighbors started banging on the ceiling for that. Last night, I can only assume that my roommate and her boyfriend were having sex -- I couldn't hear the sex, but I could hear the downstairs neighbor banging repeatedly (i.e. three separate instances of knocking).

I think people should be allowed to have sex. I think we've made reasonable accommodations to the folks downstairs. I am sure that the noises are loud and annoying for the people downstairs, but at the same time, we live in Chicago and I feel like noise is a fact of apartment living. The downstairs neighbors have treated us with nothing but contempt. The real problem seems to be the soundproofing, not my or my roomate's behavior. Every time the downstairs neighbors knock on the ceiling, I get all angry and riled up . What can we do? Am I being unreasonable? Are they being unreasonable? Should we make a peace offering by baking them cookies and inviting them to our Holiday party on Friday? Should we, as I adolescently fantasize, leave an elegantly wrapped box of earplugs on their doorstep?
posted by HeroZero to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'd write them a note/letter and send a copy to the landlord. Detail as you have done above: you started wearing slippers and try to keep it down, roommate and downstairs neighbor have odd working hours, etc. and state in the letter than coming upstairs and yelling at you as well as banging on the ceiling are not helping the situation.

At this point, if the downstairs neighbors have a problem, they need to ask the landlord to carpet your floors.

And I'd invite them to the party. Otherwise they are going to complain about it.
posted by k8t at 1:15 PM on December 15, 2008

You've already made some reasonable accommodation toward them, and to the best of your knowledge they haven't done the same. Fuck 'em. You can probably put down carpeting or some area rugs if either is within your budget/pain-in-the-ass-tolerance but there's not much else you can do that doesn't involve ridiculous constraints on what normal people do in their apartments. If they really need that much quiet then living in an apartment downtown is not a realistic option for them. Don't go out of your way to either make peace or antagonize them. If they continue to be obnoxious, especially with coming to your door to yell at you about nothing, explain the accommodations you have already make for their hypersensitivity and state that you will not be doing anything further. Close the door in his face if you have to; this guy sounds like an wannabe alpha-male jerkoff and if anyone came to my door and started yelling unprovoked I wouldn't give them another second of my time.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:17 PM on December 15, 2008

I'd take a tack opposite k8t's above: these people are not your friends and there is no reason to suck up to them by inviting them over after they've antagonized you. If you come off as a pushover, they'll continue to badger you and will expect you to make ever-increasing sacrifices for their sake and never give you anything in return. Draw a reasonable line, stick to it, and if the husband gets in your face tell him what he can do with those earplugs.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:19 PM on December 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

I would definitely advise going down and having a little face to face chat. The fact that your neighbors seem to be intentionally depersonalizing these interactions by leaving "unsigned" notes and banging on the ceiling, rather than have a discussion, means that there is a basic neighborly accord that is missing here. I, too, have been on the receiving end of a "you're too loud!" problem and I know it sucks. It made me feel like a trespasser in my own home and would get me all wound up in a place that should be safe and stable. In my case, I also felt that my noise levels were completely reasonable.

So I think you should set aside some time, go down there and say "Hey, I know that you have issues with noise levels coming from our apartment, and I am completely sympathetic to those concerns; however, I feel that we are making significant attempts to minimize your concerns and there is a certain level of noise that is simply unavoidable in the circumstances. The way that you are choosing to communicate to us about the noise is impacting our lives and we need to work this shit out." Or something like that. I don't know what you will be able to work out. I don't know what the neighbor reaction will be. I do think that you should take this face to face, so that at least they think twice about banging away on the ceiling at the slightest provocation. Once they "know" you, they will probably be much less inclined to act like jerks, plus showing that you want to openly discuss it with them may mellow them out.
posted by otolith at 1:24 PM on December 15, 2008

Do you have carpets? A carpet under your roommates bed will help, but they cannot expect you to be absolutely silent. (I say this as someone who has grown to dread the moment when the upstairs neighbor comes home: around 11:30, wearing high heels, no carpet to speak of, and apparently in a mood to move furniture around every single night right above our bed.) I know carpets would totally take the edge of that noise, but I wouldn't expect it to completely go away. So get more carpets, if your roommates bedroom is over theirs maybe you could switch with her, but there not much else you can do. Get the landlord involved so they know you are trying to do your best.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:51 PM on December 15, 2008

They knock on the ceiling? You knock on the floor.

They leave a note? You leave them earplugs.

You've already met them more than halfway.
posted by adamrice at 1:54 PM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Dear Downstairs Neighbor,

Please stop banging on the ceiling, It is very loud and obnoxious, especially during hours when we are courteous enough to keep our noise to a minimum out of respect to the lack of soundproofing between our apartments.

If you continue banging on the ceiling I will have no choice but to involve the landlord. I suggest you do the same, should you ever feel that we are making noise in excess of what one should reasonably expect from an upstairs neighbor.


Upstairs Neighbor."
posted by bondcliff at 1:55 PM on December 15, 2008 [10 favorites]

don't know if you could do much about this. i'd probably ask them to stop pounding on the ceiling. if they don't, i'd start pounding back.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 1:57 PM on December 15, 2008

Just to expand a bit after reading Inspector.Gadget's response, I do think that you are being perfectly reasonable and that your neighbors are being unreasonable. However, being in the right in this case may not get you much of anything. I don't know how long you plan to live in this apartment, but these folks could theoretically be your neighbors for a long time. I'd rather have some kind of accord with shitty neighbors than a constantly waged war of passive-aggression. So I'm not saying you should negotiate away your right to make noise, just that you should could present yourself as reasonable and sympathetic, which may alter their behavior. If they aren't receptive, well, yeah, then fuck 'em.
posted by otolith at 2:01 PM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with k8t, document your efforts to date in a letter to the landlord, and CC the neighbors.

The conflict arises because your neighbor is confused about who is responsible for their discomfort. They have become angry and frustrated because they feel that their (misdirected) complaints are being ignored.

In fact, you've modified your behavior to a reasonable extent based on their input, but because they still complain and you have no way to correct the situation further, it becomes highly frustrating to you.

The missing person in this scenario is the one who is really responsible, the landlord.

The landlord has certain responsibilities for maintaining livability, and noise control is one of them. It should be possible for you and your roommate to have normal lifestyles without affecting your neighbors, otherwise it should have been written into the lease. By making this clear to all parties, it redirects your neighbor's aggression away from you and onto the person who has some power to deal with the situation.

It may be that the landlord has no intention of fixing the problem. In that case, he/she should release the downstairs neighbors from their lease and make it clear that since you have made reasonable accommodations, they need to stop complaining or move out.
posted by Araucaria at 2:08 PM on December 15, 2008

I've been on the other end of this, and I just think it's worth mentioning that it's possible you have no idea how loud even lighter footfalls etc may sound from below. My neighbors clearly didn't. It's not necessarily hypersensitivity, even if their manner of responding is kinda bad tempered. There may well be a serious soundproofing issue that you need your landlord to address.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:19 PM on December 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

I have an upstairs neighbor that does "something" in the dining room 2-3 times a day, for no more than 15 seconds, that causes my ceiling to visibly flex up and down, while making squeaking sounds. I suspect no amount of after-construction soundproofing would ever stop that noise, nor do I think carpeting would help. Apartment construction is rarely the highest quality.
posted by nomisxid at 2:29 PM on December 15, 2008

My downstairs neighbors blasted music and fought at all hours. We dealt with it for months, until one night while my boyfriend and I were having relations they pounded on the ceiling. That was my breaking point as then no matter what time of day we moved furniture or had sex, or even the cats playing around they pounded.
Then the jerks started pounding when we just walked through the living room. I picked up my ottoman and I threw it down onto the floor and I yelled at the top of my voice towards the floor to shut the f up. It was a long time before I heard a peep out of them.
Yes, this was an inappropriate reaction, but I tell you that they were rude to the core and waking me up weekly with the fighting and smashing was ridiculous. They didn't care about anyone but themselves, and they chose to live downstairs. If you are in an apartment, and you don't like noise, then live upstairs! You owe nothing to these people!! Report the incidences to the landlord and let him deal with it. If you go about your daily life and they can't handle it, they will eventually move out.
posted by phytage at 2:47 PM on December 15, 2008

They do need to accept that living in apartments is not going to give them a noise-free lifestyle. They may, in fact, need to find a place with less noise, like a top-floor, duplex, or townhouse arrangement. But, you can't do anything about that, so nevermind.

The landlord does need to be brought in. Since you've already made a lot of concessions for the neighbours, it's high time to put what you've attempted so far in writing, let the landlord know about the neighbour's way of dealing with things, and request intervention.

In the meantime (since if you write and send that letter off today - definitely use registered mail, btw - it'll probably take a few days at best for a response), you may well want to put buffering layers on the floor in the form of rugs, but only if it fits your budget, decor, and future intentions. Laying out crazy amounts of money, introducing allergen traps, and changing your decor that drastically goes beyond reasonable accommodation.

I don't think I'd invite "downstairs neighbor" to a party. Not with the yelling and hyper-sensitivity. That could get very awkward very quickly for all parties.

Having been on the side of the neighbour having to put up with unexpected (or even woefully anticipated) noises from other apartments due to poor construction and actual thoughtlessness, I empathise with their situation, but they need to accept this is one of the many unadvertised tolls of renting. It's especially burdensome when you work non-standard hours. The good news for them is they can look around for a different arrangement and aren't hampered by a mortgage or massive sale operation in order to do so.

Luck and happier living to all involved.
posted by batmonkey at 2:56 PM on December 15, 2008

1) Never live below someone else. If you do, you need to accept that your upstairs neighbors live above you. If you don't like it, when they leave, you move upstairs.

2) Once you've made one concession, it's over. People like that will take your once concession and use it to presume that you are at fault for everything. Tell them to see rule #1.

3) If you have hard wood floors, pace on a carpet. Outside of that, screw 'em...nothing you can do to make people happy about the fact that you live above them.

4) Tell them that you're going to buy a hyperactive dog with long nails to help you stop pacing if they don't stop complaining.
posted by Chuffy at 3:22 PM on December 15, 2008

Please resist the urge to be an asshole back to them. Earplugs will not help them. Here are the two things you should do to know that you have made your best effort to make peace:
1) Always take your shoes off before walking around the apartment
2) Put down rugs everywhere you walk

Your downstairs neighbors are being assholes. But your roommate is almost certainly making their lives hell. The reason they don't complain about tv or music is because unless your speakers are on the floor and it is turned up loud, those two things do not cause the problem that footsteps, sex, and dog tails do: vibration. I live in a building with poor floor to floor insulation, and any time my upstairs neighbor decides to walk around his bedroom with shoes on, it causes my whole bedroom to vibrate. Earplugs do nothing for this sort of disturbance. I can sleep through loud noise but the startle effect caused by the vibration of footfalls upstairs will shake me out of all but the deepest (or drunkest) sleep.

It is really incredibly hellish to know that your sleep can and probably will be interrupted night after night by your upstairs neighbors doing things that you know they can't help doing. There may really be nothing you can do, the building is probably crappily built and I really doubt the landlord is going to go put in soundproofing. But if you don't have rugs down and you wear your shoes indoors, you are greatly contributing to their very real misery. So on behalf of all of us poor downstairs neighbors (who do not have the luxury of just picking up and moving), please stop!
posted by ch1x0r at 3:49 PM on December 15, 2008

Write all of this to your landlord and cc the neighbor. Make sure to document their constant knocking on the ceiling. Make sure to mention you are willing to put down carpets and or rugs, but not to pay for them. Your landlord or neighbors can do that. Request your neighbors no longer contact you, but rather contact the landlord with their complaints. If they keep knocking on your ceiling write your landlord. If they keep it up, call the police and say you are being harassed. Do not communicate with them, except by cc' to your landlord, etc. and always keep a record of any communication.

Honestly, they should be kissing your ass, because you have absolutely no obligation to do anything. I sympathize with them, but, seriously, you can't walk around your house or have sex? That's their tough. They want to do something about it, they can buy you a rug or carpeting, or they can move out. Coming up to your door and yelling at you? These people are tools and have really stepped way over the line.
posted by xammerboy at 4:13 PM on December 15, 2008

Best answer: 1) Always take your shoes off before walking around the apartment
2) Put down rugs everywhere you walk

3) If you have hard wood floors, pace on a carpet. Outside of that, screw 'em...nothing you can do to make people happy about the fact that you live above them.

Word. This is exactly what I came in to offer. Maybe talk to your landlord, but this is probably what s/he will say anyhow.

I had a downstairs neighbor who complained not only of my noise *in* the apartment, but that my shoes were too loud on the stairs when I came home from work at 10PM. It got to the point where I was taking my shoes off right inside the doorway and freaking out when I had friends over, telling them they had to take of *their* shoes right away and getting some pretty odd looks about it.

I eventually moved and immediately felt a huge sigh of relief when no one was living below me. I can accept that a reasonable amount of noise (footsteps, the odd techno music my upstairs neighbor listens to - at a just barely noticeable volume) is part of living in an apartment building, it boggles my mind that other people can't get used to his. Your home is your castle, sure, but your castle doesn't always come with a moat.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:23 PM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was a downstairs neighbor for several months. It was hell. Absolute hell. It wasn't the upstairs neighbors' fault -- the building wasn't built well. My new condo is built better -- plus, I live above a lobby, which is fantastic. I rarely hear my upstairs neighbor. I heard him doing the nasty once in the past four months, and my boyfriend and I looked at each other, and went, "good on him!" Obviously, we'd be much less tolerant if this was a nightly thing.

Your neighbors need to suck it up and you might want to invest in some rugs.
posted by bondgirl53001 at 4:33 PM on December 15, 2008

Best answer: and without so much as hello he started yelling at me.

I've had bad neighbors - loud sex neighbors, basketball dribbling children upstairs, parking spot stealers and drug dealers. Never have I gone to their house and started yelling at them.

Your neighbors are being asshats. That doesn't mean that you get to be a loud, retaliatory asshat. Try to be quiet, but don't cower to these people. When they bang on the ceiling, take a second and observe. Is the noise preventable within reason? Prevent it. If the noise is unpreventable but reasonable. Then ignore them.

Also, check the Chicago Noise Ordinance. You seem to be well within your rights to walk inside your own home at 9 p.m.

Oh, and if he ever shows up at your door and starts screaming - file a complaint with the landlord. No one gets to bully you in your own home.
posted by 26.2 at 5:06 PM on December 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

I had this problem before, and eventually concluded that the place was so poorly constructed that it could not possibly accommodate two different households living on top of each other without them ending up hating each other. The only real solution is to move.
posted by tomcooke at 5:29 PM on December 15, 2008

Make sure that you're in compliance with your lease (including any floor covering requirements), not because your neighbors yelled at you, but because you signed the lease and you should do the things you promised to do.

Reflect as impartially as you can on your own behavior, and try to figure out ways to minimize the amount of noise you make without undue trouble or expense and without disrupting your life excessively, not because your neighbors yelled at you, but because it's the right thing to do when you live in an apartment building.

Beyond that, ignore them. It's only once a week, and if they're just being unreasonable, you can't help that. If they show up yelling at you again, or start banging more frequently, talk to your landlord.

I've been in your neighbors shoes, and it's horrible. Home turns into a nightmare, and you feel constantly on edge, with never a moment of respite. But that's not your fault. If their unit isn't fit for occupation when the unit above is occupied by reasonable, considerate people, then they simply need to move.

I don't know how much luck you'll have reasoning with them, though, because (speaking from experience) living downstairs in a badly soundproofed building basically drives some people insane. The lesson, of course, is to always live on the top floor.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:20 PM on December 15, 2008

Fight fire with fire.

First semester of my junior year I lived alone. The neighbor next banged on the wall constantly. He even banged on the wall when I listened to music WITH HEADPHONES ON. After that point I started smacking the wall back. After a couple days of that the neighbor knocked on my door to complain and I told him to fuck off. It worked.

I should point out that I'm 6'4" 300lbs and have been mistaken for a pro wrestler on more than one occasion so intimidating random assholes comes easily to me.
posted by valadil at 8:28 PM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like maybe your neighbor is just sensitive.

I once had a neighbor who lived above me complain about noise. The first time she sent her husband down and he CLEARLY did not want to have the conversation. He said he didn't really hear me but she could hear me closing cupboard doors. Even she admitted I wasn't loud but she was very sensitive and any amount of sound was a problem for her.

A couple of weeks later they both came down and she was polite but insisted that my cupboard closing was driving her nuts. I told her as politely as I could that some amount of noise is part of living in an apartment building and there really wasn't anything I could do. However I told her that after 9pm I would make an effort to gently close any doors I opened.

So before going to war with these guys maybe you and your roommate could try one polite conversation and clue them into the reality of apartment living but assure them that you will make reasonable efforts. Then make it clear that pounding on the ceiling isn't going to help and to please stop. It might work.
posted by Bonzai at 9:04 PM on December 15, 2008

Be sure to check your lease for carpeting requirements, especially before involving the landlord in this dispute. Also reflect on the fact that landlords are under no obligation to offer a renewal at the time of lease expiration.
posted by paulg at 12:09 PM on December 16, 2008

Response by poster: FOLLOW-UP:

Thanks for all of your advice. I had started composing an email to my landlord when I received a phone call from him saying that the downstairs folks had complained to him about our late-night partying. (Um, right.) I told him about the belligerence and the rudeness while also of course confirming that my roommate and I would continue to be conscious of the noise we make. He responded that the downstairs neighbor's behavior has been ridiculous, and that the husband has in fact "gotten nasty" with him on occasion. He has asked me to document the behaviors for him so that he can use the evidence to help my downstairs neighbor "shut up." It's all good! Happy Holidays!
posted by HeroZero at 7:43 PM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

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