What's the best way to deal with my annoying neighbors?
April 15, 2009 7:41 PM   Subscribe

My upstairs neighbors and I have had small battles throughout the course of the year, but it's been getting worse as of late. Recently they've taken to stomping around at odd hours of the night, and it's driving us crazy. What's the best way to defuse the situation with them?

Here's the story. I live on the second floor of a four story apartment building in Queens, NY. There are between 8 and 15 people living in the apartment above me, three of whom are little kids. I've had to talk to the head of the household several times, and he's been nothing but cold, brusque and nasty.

We've had our spats with them over the past year or two. In the second half of last year, someone upstairs was routinely pouring a liquid out the window at 1 AM that was urine occasionally mixed with lemon soap detergent. Only after I repeatedly talked to my sup and showed him both pictures and physical evidence outside of the window did he actually go up and talk to them - and even then, they denied pouring anything out the window, though it stopped after that.

But recently it's been worse. Their kids run around the house from around 4 PM to as late as 11:30 PM. My girlfriend and I have to be up fairly early for work, so it's really awful - not to mention that most of the light fixtures start to rattle around, which will probably not end well. We've taken to banging the ceiling with a pole when it's particularly bad, but they just started stomping around in response.

So things are getting worse, and I don't know how to deal with it. I should probably talk to my sup again, but he sort of likes the people upstairs and tends to be protective of them. I don't do well with confrontations, and I don't want to have to go up there and talk to them.

What should I do? What are the most constructive ways of dealing with this?
posted by gchucky to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly? Move. It's not worth it, especially when the super is on their side.
posted by youcancallmeal at 7:43 PM on April 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

yeah, I don't know, kids run around after 4 pm. It's what they do. It'll be hard to negotiate out of that one.
posted by sweetkid at 7:45 PM on April 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

If I were you, I'd also stop banging the ceiling with a pole.
posted by box at 7:47 PM on April 15, 2009 [10 favorites]

Document everything. This way, regardless of your decision, you have evidence to back up your choice, should anyone give you trouble. I do agree though, moving is probably the best option. Once the super is against you, it just gets to be a big headache.
posted by scarello at 7:57 PM on April 15, 2009

I was going to say definitely stop banging on the ceiling.

When I was growing up, my parents and I lived on the top floor of an old apartment complex. Apparently, it sounded to our downstairs neighbors that we were clomping around when we were walking normally; the apartments were old, after all. They would bang on their ceiling and this pissed my parents off so much they would start clomping around on purpose.

When you're the person living upstairs, it comes across as really rude when someone below you bangs on the ceiling. I know you don't mean it that way. I'm also not saying that your neighbors aren't being louder than they should be; I have no way of knowing, but the other stuff they're doing is ridiculous so I wouldn't be surprised if they were noisy on top of it all. But as others have noted, kids are gonna run around during those hours, and even if it's possible for them to be quieter, the people living upstairs probably feel like they're not being loud on purpose and they'll feel like you're being unreasonable. They'll think that you don't want them to even walk in their own apartment. You know, that sort of thing. It won't help matters to complain, and it will definitely make things worse if you bang on the ceiling.

If I were you, I'd just move asap.
posted by Nattie at 7:58 PM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by HuronBob at 7:59 PM on April 15, 2009

if moving isn't an option, maybe go up there with a couple of bottles of wine. you never know what that might do. at worst, you get a drink and a story.
posted by Frasermoo at 8:05 PM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, banging on the ceiling probably doesn't help.

The thing is that we don't usually hear them during the day. When they're walking around it's usually unnoticeable, but sometime after 9 PM it becomes stomping around. I have no way of really knowing what they're doing up there, but it's not always the kids, either.

Related to this is that they enjoy moving furniture around past 11 PM.

Frasermoo: Given the language barrier, I'm not sure we would understand each other's stories...
posted by gchucky at 8:07 PM on April 15, 2009

Eight and fifteen people? They may be violating occupancy laws. Call 311.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:08 PM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Eight and fifteen people? They may be violating occupancy laws. Call 311.
This is a good way to make it someone else's problem. Not a New Yorker, so I don't know how responsive the authorities would be, but I'm surprised the super isn't doing something about this. Does he know? He seems somewhat removed.

it sounded to our downstairs neighbors that we were clomping around when we were walking normally
This may actually be the case. Did you live there when a different occupant lived above you? Are you sure you're not just hearing normal movement?

Going to talk to them again really isn't an option because of the language barrier and the fact that they've been so unresponsive in the past. My bet is that they'll deny everything, even the very concept that there's some kind of dispute between you and them. Bringing them wine or similar may win back some favor, but that's not going to stop those kids from running around.

As crappy as it is, moving may be your only way to get out of this situation.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 8:28 PM on April 15, 2009

You cannot control how and when your upstairs neighbors walk, run, or jump around their apartment. The most constructive thing you can do is be extra nice to them and hope that they forgive your previous rude behavior.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 8:32 PM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Who is the landlord?
Is there a managing agent?
Are there house rules published?
What does the lease say about noise after certain hours?
Do your neighbors take their shoes off in the house?
Is there any carpeting or rugs down?
If you move will have to break your lease?

You need the help of an outside party - the landlord or managing agent who has authority to enforce the rules.

I would call 311 and ask for help.
You should ask to speak with someone about tenant rights in case you need to break your lease.
I would stop banging on the ceiling.
I would try to make a peace offering.
I would try to find another tenant or neighbor who can help you translate.
I would make friends with and butter up the super (did you give him/her an x-mas tip?).
I might buy them some felt or sliders for the furniture.
posted by brookeb at 8:38 PM on April 15, 2009

Can you move soon? If the super is on their side it will never be resolved.

I feel for you. I have bad neighbors right now, and just pulling into our parking lot is starting to give me panic attacks. Nothing is worse than not feeling comfortable at home.
posted by winna at 10:00 PM on April 15, 2009

check your lease - on ours the expected quite hours are spelled out. the super probably just doesn't want to go through the bother of finding new tenents.

we call the 2.x year old that lives above us Captain Rolling Thunder. Luckily, he keeps normal hours now.
posted by bellbellbell at 11:17 PM on April 15, 2009

Re: calling 311. I'm not from New York, so I don't know exactly what 311 is, but if the point is to have the extra occupants evicted, please consider that 8-15 people (even family members from a culture that values familial closeness) don't usually *choose* to cram themselves into a small apartment. There may well be a component of financial hardship, and eviction for anyone "in this economic blah-blah-blah" would probably be difficult to deal with.

Some of your issues sound like they may stem simply from cultural differences -- e.g. over what constitutes appropriate behaviour or bedtimes for children -- and even if your neighbours *are* being inconsiderate or inflexible, throwing 15 immigrants out onto the street is um, kinda mean.
posted by TheLittlestRobot at 11:21 PM on April 15, 2009

This is what I learned at the place I just moved out of last month:

If the neighbors are blasting music or doing something that can be clearly noticed and considered a nuisance from the street, you might be able to get someone to do something. Only with a great effort on your part and many months elapsed, though. At first everyone will say they are going to do something, and then not do anything. Then they will start doing ineffective things, like informing them that you have complained, and considering the problem solved.

For mere inconsiderate noise, you're beating your head against a wall. Just move. You can't make the oblivious or apathetic change into people who aren't that way, and you can't get them evicted just for being shitty neighbors.
posted by ctmf at 12:33 AM on April 16, 2009

There won't be any way to diffuse this situation. I mean, you're talking about people who pour piss out an open window, for god's sake. This is not a cultural difference. This is plain ignorance.

We were in a similar situation (no piss, thank god), and it took the landlord to broker a deal. Even then, it only lasted until the next time they got drunk.

It's time to reserve your energy for finding a decent place to live. Or perhaps go nuclear and call 311. They should have thought about that before pouring piss out the window.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:44 AM on April 16, 2009

Why were they pouring usine out of the window? Are they so crammed in that apartment that one can not go to the bathroom at 1 am?
posted by dabitch at 4:10 AM on April 16, 2009

I used to live in an apartment where the people below banged at the ceiling for me doing such simple things as yoga, washing the dishes, my kitten getting hyper and running around, me walking around the apartment and dusting, etc.

Man, was banging on my ceiling ever the wrong thing to do. Who knew dusting would be more fun in clunky high heels?

I agree with most of the responses: your best option is to move. Unfortunately, renting places can put you in shitty situations some time. One day when you finally have your own house, remember the past and revel in how freaking awesome it is.
posted by sickinthehead at 5:15 AM on April 16, 2009

If they are the type of people who pour urine out of the window (I've never met anyone who did this), then I doubt there is anything you can do to make them walk more quietly. If you can't move, the only immediate thing you can do is get earplugs. I'm really curious about so many people living in one apartment. Could you try to talk to them individually? We didn't realize we were causing a problem until our downstairs neighbors left a note. I would have much preferred they speak to me in person, but I do try to walk more softly now.
posted by betsybetsy at 7:40 AM on April 16, 2009

Call 311, you have a specific right to not live below a dorm.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:53 AM on April 16, 2009

I'm kind of wondering if it isn't floor-washing water that they're tossing out the window (this could be comprised of ammonia which could be confused for urine), because growing up in the country, we never dumped that stuff down drains, we always tossed it out...so it seems conceivable to me that this could be it. Although I just can't conceive of a situation where they'd be pissing into a bucket and throwing it out.

Anyway, that's just an aside. And boy do I sympathize, I have had every experience with noisy upstairs neighbors. But every other commenter is correct: for everyday annoying noisy floor stuff, you're out of luck. Unless there is some type of domestic violence situation that is causing a lot of ruckus, then you should call the police if you think someone is in danger. But shitty apartments that do not muffle noise, no recourse, really. I feel for you!
posted by Eicats at 8:53 AM on April 16, 2009

I had this problem in the last apartment I lived in, the neighbors above had about 5 people, 4 kids, crammed in to a small apartment. I still to this day do not know why all the kids decided to jump off of furniture and roll bowling balls around at 10pm, but they did.

The way we fixed the problem was the result of a disaster. Their shower was leaking, which collapsed our bathroom ceiling. It turned out they weren't using a shower curtain (yeah weird) so water was pouring on the floor. We got everything fixed - I even bought them a shower curtain - but because we had communication issues (not language, just cultural combined with their familial insanity) I just basically demanded a neighbor relationship.

I visited them constantly, about many things, sometimes mentioning the noise. We commiserated over our stupid super. When I bought plants for my apartment, I bought a small one for them. I took my daughter upstairs to play with their littlest one. I always talked to them in the elevator. I made sure they knew we existed below them.

Find some common ground, get them to understand your concerns, and just be present so that they start to be more considerate. It worked well enough for me, they were still loud but not quite as loud, plus we were pretty friendly around the apartment building.

Also, you mention talking to your super - have you talked with your building management?
posted by RajahKing at 9:18 AM on April 16, 2009

I don't do well with confrontations, and I don't want to have to go up there and talk to them.

Do it anyway.

Go up there and confront them.

posted by General Tonic at 10:12 AM on April 16, 2009

I don't do well with confrontations, and I don't want to have to go up there and talk to them.

The most polite, least likely to piss them off way of dealing with this is to talk to them. Just explain that you and your gf have to wake up early for work, and that the noise past X:00pm is keeping you awake. Tell them you understand that they have a right to live their life too, but you were hoping they could take your request into consideration.

Unfortunately, given that you've described your neighbor as "cold, brusque and nasty", I don't have much hope of that actually producing results.

However, I caution you from taking things any further. Also, stop banging on the ceiling. Your neighbors are in a position to make you much more miserable if you piss them off. I had various neighbors live above me in an apartment over 4 years, each a different type of asshole. When I complained to the landlord about the girls with the constantly yapping dog, the landlord would call them and they would retaliate by stomping all over the floor (the dog kept yapping). When I politely asked the nocturnal guy who liked to dry his shoes in the dryer right above my bedroom at 2am to stop, he did (except when he forgot). When I politely asked the partying neighbor to keep it down at 2am during the week on several occasions, he was nice the first time, then stopped answering the door. I finally called the cops one night and reported him to the landlord. He promptly retaliated by pouring beer and pee all over my car.

So in my experience, politely requesting is the best course of action on your part, and the one with the smallest potential for consequences.
posted by geeky at 11:28 AM on April 16, 2009

When I was a teenager, we lived in a pretty crummy apartment above two aged, kindly, and likely very deaf old ladies. When nature took its course, and the next apartment tenant was a gentleman in his early thirties who worked from home, he was driven insane by the sound of our ten year old-golden retriever with bad hips walking around (on wall-to-wall carpeted floors). I knew our dog liked to go and look out all the windows a few times during the day, and the dog knew our times to come home and would be waiting by the door, tail wagging. One day when coming home from school I heard him yelling "GAH! JUST! STOP! WALKING! STOP! MOVING! AAARGH! GAH! GAAAAH!". Up until then, I thought our family, and the neighbours all around us, had this tacit understanding that unless something is unusual, you just pretend not to hear things, and got over irritations, because after all - none of us thought we were living somewhere of quality anyway. So, that night, I transcribed his date, with timestamps. As in 9:43 pm: Ooh! Aaah! It's SOO BIG! MMM! He moved out within weeks. While the apartment was empty, I checked out the noise from our dog, and it really wasn't bad at all. Creaky joists, more than anything, which we couldn't hear above. Nobody ever complained again. He maybe just had a low threshold for things like that.

Later on in life because of other living situations, and now with our current neighbours, I learned to just say "Can you come over for a minute so that you can hear what I hear when your back door slams like that?". Which led them to tell us that they can hear every single word we say in the kitchen even in normal voices - which we were grateful for, so now take any fights elsewhere.

So, I don't suggest that you go upstairs and confront them - I suggest that you invite one of them to your place to listen to the others' noise. Or invite your landlord over to hear it. And then, maybe see what you're doing that might be bothersome to your downstairs neighbours, who may be either polite or easygoing and so they're not saying anything.

How long have you been there? Who moved in first? Could that be why the previous tenants moved out? Because really, moving, now that you know what your tolerance for that kind of thing is, might be easier than trying to remedy this situation. Look at it positively: You now know what to avoid next time!
posted by peagood at 11:50 AM on April 16, 2009

This is not a cultural difference. This is plain ignorance.

Argh, OK, I know this is off topic, but I really want to say one more thing about the cultural differences thing, if only because, as a second-generation foreign kid, I feel like misunderstandings and judgments like this have plagued my entire youth. (And sure, I'm projecting, but isn't that what we all do here?)

Once, when visiting relatives in Asia, I managed to contaminate the entire household's supply of bathwater by climbing naked into what looked like a big tiled tub in the bathroom. Sure, I was slightly concerned at the end when I couldn't figure out how to drain it, but it never occurred to me that I was supposed to bathe by scooping the water *out* of the tub and dumping it over my head in the middle of the bathroom floor. So yeah, I ignorantly and revoltingly stuck my SWEATY NAKED ASS into water that people then used for washing their faces. Similarly, it seems ignorant when immigrants let water splash all over the floor when showering, or chuck creepy liquids out windows at 1 a.m.

I have no idea why anyone would toss urine (or ammonia-based cleaning fluid) out an upper-story window at night, and maybe they are just antisocial jerks who like pissing on pedestrians, but on the other hand, their behaviour might well make perfect sense to them. That is the whole point of culture -- it is how you view and explain the world (and people) around you, and if you have a different culture, you will do things differently. Yargh.

OP, this doesn't mean you're not completely reasonable to be mad about the noise and urine smell -- it would drive me crazy too -- and I know you wrote asking for advice on how to make peace with these folks. It just might help to remember that the head of the household may be cold and rude because he feels defensive, and because your behaviour seems as unreasonable to him as his does to you. I feel like RajahKing's approach, while very demanding in terms of time and patience, might be the best way. That, or you could move, because it's just not worth being so unhappy at home.
posted by TheLittlestRobot at 11:51 AM on April 16, 2009

Thanks to all for the responses.
The way we fixed the problem was the result of a disaster. Their shower was leaking, which collapsed our bathroom ceiling.
RajahKing, that was exactly what happened to us! The ceiling started to buckle (huge cracks started appearing) so my sup told me to go up there and ask them what was going on. I got a really nasty "Nothing's wrong!" answer from them, and that was the start of our trouble.
How long have you been there? Who moved in first? Could that be why the previous tenants moved out? Because really, moving, now that you know what your tolerance for that kind of thing is, might be easier than trying to remedy this situation. Look at it positively: You now know what to avoid next time!
peagood, we've been here for two years; the people above were here when I moved in. And no, I don't think it's why the previous tenants left; it was three girls living here, and they all graduated from NYU or something.

As to which solution I'm going to follow, I really don't know. I think I'm going to take it in stride for now, start documenting things, and maybe start looking for a place. We had been contemplating a move anyway (this building doesn't allow pets, for example) so we might start looking around. But maybe not. We'll see.

Thanks, all!
posted by gchucky at 4:59 PM on April 18, 2009

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