Is it me or him? Help me with neighborly noise.
May 25, 2009 7:26 AM   Subscribe

Am I overly sensitive to my neighbor's noise? If not, what magic words can I say to my landlord?

I'm a female grad student living alone in an apartment that I mostly love. I've been here about a year, and I'm waiting on my landlord to bring by a new lease for another year. I've looked through past posts on the issue, but I couldn't find my exact situation.

My neighbor talks all the time, apparently to himself. I can hear him screaming while he's in the shower, banging in the kitchen -- wherever he is in the apartment, he's yelling about the economy, politics, whatever. Sometimes he seems to be yelling at the T.V. or radio. Sometimes it's of a personal nature (I know way too much about him), and maybe he's on the phone then.

The common wall between our apartments is in my bedroom, so I complained to the landlord before Christmas when he was talking until midnight or one and starting again around 4 or 5 a.m. The landlord later told me that he couldn't get in touch with the guy, although the noise toned down for a bit. These days, it's pretty quite during late, late hours since I complained a second time a few months ago. It's starting back up again pretty bad though.

Also a few months ago, my landlord was in here doing some work on my apartment, and commented about how it was true, you could hear the neighbor like he's in the room with you. However, my landlord also asked me both times I complained to not actually confront the neighbor or say anything to him directly (which bolsters my suspicion that the guy is a little unstable).

Since the last time I've complained, I moved my bed into the far corner of my living room, where I've been sleeping well. I put my work station in my bedroom, but I'll be moving that back out to the living room today as well. Basically, my bedroom is useless, even for watching TV, if my neighbor is home.

So here's the essence of my question: Am I over-sensitive? I know that in apartments, a certain level of neighbor-noise is expected and must be dealt with. I can handle my other neighbors, their kids, whatever, but this guy -- having been exposed to this constantly has finally worn down my tolerance, I think. Have I already been too accommodating by sleeping in my living room and wearing ear plugs while he's home? (Ear plugs only work if I'm in a far corner -- I can still hear him clear as a bell through foam ear plugs if I'm in the bedroom.) Oh, and while I don't mind the occasional obscenity, this guy can put sailors to shame, which was pretty upsetting for my uber-conservative mother the only time she stayed over.

If I'm not over-sensitive, what magic words can I say to my landlord to finally get this guy to shut up? I love the location of my apartment, the price, the layout, and I don't want to leave. Part of me thinks I shouldn't have to be the one to go just because my neighbor screams at the T.V. all day. What do I tell my landlord to force him to do something?

Sorry if this is long. I'm a little frazzled since I'm trying to work from home today, but neighbor's off work for Memorial Day and having a go at the news.
posted by motsque to Home & Garden (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, honey. This is not you. This is him. Tell your landlord that you are unhappy. And then take advantage of the fact you haven't signed a new lease and move out.

Right now, you don't feel at home in your own home. That is not okay. I know you love the actual, physical apartment you live in but I think once you move out and find a normal apartment you'll realize how crappy your former living situation was.
posted by kate blank at 7:36 AM on May 25, 2009 [6 favorites]

In terms of magic words, you're looking for the term quiet enjoyment, which you ought to have some rights to. However, you should know a few things:

1. If the dude is literally crazy, no matter how much the guy legally needs to pipe down not much the landlord can do will shut him up for long or with consistency, short of booting him out.
2. Evictions take a long time and are a pain in the ass for the landlord.
3. You are much more likely to get a satisfactory result by leaving, despite how annoying that would be.
posted by majick at 7:37 AM on May 25, 2009

Ask your landlord about soundproofing the wall. Offer to find a contractor to do so and get a quote for him, if necessary. Explain that the noise situation depreciates the value of the apt. to you, would for any other reasonable tenant, and that you are sorry but you are going to have to move at the end of your lease if he can't make the wall more soundproof....since he won't deal with the actual tenant causing the issue.
posted by availablelight at 7:39 AM on May 25, 2009

I don't think you're being oversensitive at all. The guy is being a total jerk. He knows he isn't the only one living in the apartment complex and should really chill out and tone down the screaming/cursing/banging. People like this who have absolutely no common sense our courtesy just baffle me. It is not fair at all to you to be forced to rearrange your living quarters or wear ear plugs just to get away from all the noise.

If I were you, I would meet with your landlord and have a serious discussion about the noise. Be polite, but tell him pretty much everything you've written here today. If he knows you might consider leaving, he will probably take some kind of action. If I were a landlord and crap like this was going on in my building, I would definitely do something about it.

One thing you should definitely not do is confront the guy. He sounds unbalanced, and who knows what he might do if you tick him off.
posted by shimmerstory at 7:45 AM on May 25, 2009

The neighbour is obviously a few bricks short of a load. The landlord knows this and does nothing. To add insult to injury, he asked you to avoid confronting the guy. You have had to move your bed to your living room and cannot use a large portion of your apartment. Are you overreacting?

No. You're under-reacting.

Have you tried consulting your local landlord and tenant board? Your landlord is obviously either (A) useless or (B) afraid of the guy, and I'm leaning towards the latter there.

Good luck with it, I'm sorry this is happening to you.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:45 AM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would do what the landlord seemingly won't do: Politely talk to the neighbor. At best, he'll tone it down. At worst, you'll have confirmation that he won't.

"Hi. I've not come by and introduced myself. My name is motsque, and I live next door. I don't know if you know this, but... the walls between our apartments are really thin! I'm sure you aren't aware of this, but I can hear the conversations you are having. I'm sure this is embarrassing for you, to know that your neighbors can hear you talking, and some of the things I've heard have been very private! I was hoping you could lower your voice, so I won't overhear your conversations?"
posted by Houstonian at 7:49 AM on May 25, 2009

I would consider moving, no matter how much you like that spot. Because if your landlord gets rid of your neighbor, a DJ will move in and you'll wish you had Yelling Dude back.
Good fences thick walls make good neighbors. I've had really nice, friendly neighbors who I grew sick of, just from being able to hear all of their conversations.

A crappy little house wound up being nicer than any beautiful apartment I ever lived in, just because it was ALL MINE. I didn't realize how much sound invades privacy untill I lived in a quiet home.
posted by Jon-o at 7:52 AM on May 25, 2009

Best answer: That sounds like slow torture. If you have any leverage at all (have you lived there longer than the problem neighbor, your rent is never late, you watch the landlord's dog while he's on vacation, etc.), use it to talk the landlord into making this guy move. He's been in your apartment and already recognized that the man is a problem; it's really up to him to do something about it. The landlord either needs to move the abnormally loud tenant to another apartment far away from you or evict him completely. I think you've been way too accommodating already under the circumstances.

Make a point to tell him that this issue is enough to cause you to leave and no matter who he rents to in the future, the new tenants won't find it acceptable either. He can therefore take care of the problem now and save everyone a lot of trouble or risk having a permanently unrentable apartment next door to the loud dude.

Good luck.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 7:54 AM on May 25, 2009

I would do what the landlord seemingly won't do: Politely talk to the neighbor. At best, he'll tone it down. At worst, you'll have confirmation that he won't.

Don't do this without first trying to ascertain exactly how nuts this guy is. Moving is far less inconvenient than getting your ass kicked or getting a jar of cave-aged urine thrown on you.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:58 AM on May 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Do not, under any circumstances, confront the neighbor. He definitely sounds unbalanced and if the landlord ever does grow a spine and evicts this guy, you don't want him fixated on you as the cause of his misery.

In fact, after reading Jon-o's response, I completely agree with him. No matter who moves in next door, your walls sound inadequate for normal enjoyment of your home. Bite the bullet and move. This is the perfect time to do so too since your lease is up. If the landlord tries to talk you into moving into a different apartment, make sure it has better soundproofing your current one, and then firmly ask for a discount on your rent. You've been very tolerant to put up with the noisy guy this long and you're being put through the inconvenience of having to move. It's the least he could do.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 8:05 AM on May 25, 2009

We lived in a duplex that had a (locked) connecting door between the two sides from the days when a family had lived there. (There was also a cool little pass through shelf so they could share a telephone). It was an old house with real plaster on the walls, so pretty soundproof. However, a lot of noise came through that door, including screaming arguments between our very nice neighbor and her boyfriend. A big heavy curtain hung across the doorway really did help things. I second the suggestion of soundproofing. Until it can be done professionally, hanging blankets or curtains across your bedroom wall might help.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:25 AM on May 25, 2009

I've been through this. Had a downstairs neighbor who listened to the radio, watched TV *and* played/sang along with music all at the same time. The radio & TV were on 24/7/365. I lived in misery for a few months until I approached the landlord who admitted the guy was a "special needs" case and we worked out an arrangement for me to move to another apartment in the complex (mid-lease, too). Perhaps you could arrange to get another apartment with the same layout with non-crazy neighbors.
posted by torquemaniac at 8:48 AM on May 25, 2009

Best answer: Whatever you do, don't sign a new lease until you get this resolved. Tell the landlord you will rent month-to-month until you work something out, whether that's moving out, sound-proofing your shared wall, or whatever...
posted by wfrgms at 8:57 AM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I live upstairs from a violent guy similar to what you are describing. I have had some success with getting him to tone it down through letters, the landlord giving him an eviction notice, et cetera. We have lost two tenants in our complex because of his behavior. I'm hoping eventually he will self-destruct.

I would not recommend confronting the guy. I have had Mr. Violence at my door screaming at me and it is not pleasant. If he does this to you, enlist the help of the police, and let him know you will call the police immediately---that you want to have as little contact with him as possible. But try not to let it get to that. If he's having mental problems or doing a lot of drugs, logical behavior if off the table. As frustrated as I feel sometimes, I do nothing to provoke him because I don't want to be the conduit for his rage.

I wear head phones with Gregorian chants when my neighbor is having his episodes. Ambient music is better at masking noise than ear plugs, which still allow you to feel the noise vibrations.

My own personal rage monster goes in cycles; it sounds like yours is even worse. If you are a woman academic, he's the worst possible match for a person sharing a wall with you.

I love my unit, and that's why I don't move, but when his rage cycles are peaking, I really consider it. Stay safe above all. Good luck.

If the landlord loses enough tenants, they will deal with it themselves.
posted by effluvia at 9:02 AM on May 25, 2009

Since the last time I've complained, I moved my bed into the far corner of my living room, where I've been sleeping well. I put my work station in my bedroom, but I'll be moving that back out to the living room today as well. Basically, my bedroom is useless, even for watching TV, if my neighbor is home.

Explain this to your landlord and ask if you can pay less rent. The prospect of actually losing money over this might get him moving.
posted by hermitosis at 9:05 AM on May 25, 2009

I'd go through the landlord if the guy is unstable. Sadly, the guy could probably seek help and get better, but this is not your problem.

This sort of noise causes a great deal of stress, so you might want to seriously consider moving.

If you stay, ask the landlord to do some noise abatement in the guys apartment. Soundproofing materials on walls & ceilings & thick rugs/carpets. You could add some soundproofing on your side, as well. However, the person causing the problem should get the abatement.
posted by theora55 at 9:23 AM on May 25, 2009

Ugh. I can be awfully sensitive to other people's rage even when it is not directed at me. I second the others, move out. You're living in a stressful environment and most neighbors aren't very neighborly when confronted about anything. In all my years of renting I only had one group of neighbors who were nice about noise. I even got one of them to take off their clompy shoes when they came home late at night because their stairs went right behind my headboard! But, that is a very rare situation. Move out. There are other great apartments out there.

Though, it would be even better if you got the landlord to pay for some of your moving expenses or at least comp you a month's rent while you transitioned to a new space so talk to a renter's rights group before you do anything.
posted by amanda at 9:25 AM on May 25, 2009

Definitely move, I'd say. Any other solution is going to be a huge pain, and will probably result in you moving anyway. You have a golden opportunity to take off since your lease is up...I'd bet if you stay on, a few months from now you'll be regretting that you did.

As others have said, there is a lot about this place that isn't going to change: the thin walls, your do-nothing landlord, etc. Even if this neighbour gets evicted or decides to move, it will take months. And I can't see this guy agreeing to any soundproofing work, and I'm skeptical that it would even work (cement is the only really effective soundproofing as far as I'm concerned).

The only other advice I'd give is to make sure you leave on as amicable terms as possible with your landlord. A lot of places ask for references and you don't want to sound bad when you're looking for a new place to live.
posted by hiteleven at 9:42 AM on May 25, 2009

On the sound-abatement issue, the thing about thin walls is that once you've tuned in to some annoying sound, it's like you can't not hear it! Even if you manage to quiet your bedroom substantially, you'll probably still hear this guy and every time he starts up again, your blood pressure will shoot up and you'll want to go over there and kill him. That's been my experience with apartment living anyway.
posted by amanda at 10:24 AM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Female grad student here. My living situation was way less intense than yours, and I moved. I loved the apartment and the building, very cute and charming place, but it was an older building and the walls were paper--no, TISSUE-thin. I could hear conversations, laughter, talking on the phone late at night, movies and t.v. watching, stomping around, etc. from above (it was a downstairs unit). I did not want to move because I liked the apartment so much. BUT....all the nice asking in the world will not change people's behavior. Most of the time they don't realize they're doing it. In your case, on top of everything else, the guy is unstable--he *really* won't change, right?

I would try talking to your landlord about paying less, or going month-to-month, and see if he does something--but start looking for another place. The place I am in now was built only a couple of years ago and the difference is AMAZING. I can *barely* hear my neighbors or their dogs (yes, dogs!)!! It is SUCH a relief, and sad as I was to say goodbye to the other place, my life is so much improved that I'm glad I did it. You CAN find another place that won't cause you so much stress!
posted by rio at 10:26 AM on May 25, 2009

Put more pressure on the landlord. As much as it sucks to be confrontational, he needs to do it, especially as he's (rightfully) told you not to. It sounds like you have a good relationship with your landlord, but he needs a kick in the spine.

Point out the unreasonableness of how you're already moved your bed out of the bedroom to accommodate your neighbor ranting -- presumably you're being charged for an apartment with a bedroom. Point out that the cursing was upsetting and offensive to your mother. (Everyone has parents; most of us can empathize with how embarrassing this situation would be.)

In addition to confronting Yelling Guy, ask that your landlord soundproof that wall.

And oh, meanwhile, when Yelling Guy starts screaming in the middle of the night, you should call the cops.

I felt like an IDIOT when I called 911 about my arguing neighbors, thinking of all of the "real crime" that they should be handling, but the cops made it clear that as long as I don't mis-characterize or exaggerate the situation, this is a perfectly appropriate use of 911, and the dispatch will take care of prioritizing. (I live in Philly. We have a lot of crime. I was pretty surprised by how nice everyone was about it.)
posted by desuetude at 11:00 AM on May 25, 2009

This is hilarious to me... because most of the time I am the evil neighbor. I am one of those people who watches tv, listens to music (while singing along) and plays video games at the same time (undiagnosed ADHD anyone?). My upstairs neighbor used to come down all the time saying things like "Hey, my bedroom is right above your living room, could you keep it down?" I mostly would just laugh and say "Uh, it's 3pm... no." I think at some point she tried to call the landlord about it, but she was unaware that my roommate was friends with the landlord. She was also apparently unaware that our lease had a specific noise clause that basically said loud noises should stop after 10pm.

If this noise is only going on during daylight hours, you're probably just going to have to deal with it or move. However, If this guy is doing his thing in the middle of the night, then you might have good reason to get him evicted if there's something like that in his lease. Also, when my other neighbors would get loud, I would just turn up my music or television to drown them out. Headphones help too.

(Also, the neighbor kids in the next building used to play basketball on their deck and it shook our entire apartment. I yelled at the kids and their parents and told them to bounce the ball on the basketball court, not against my wall. I really am an evil neighbor)
posted by runcibleshaw at 11:46 AM on May 25, 2009

I've been dealing with a similar situation for over a year now. After months of dealing with the police and the landlord to no avail, I'm moving out on Friday. While "quiet enjoyment" is a nice legal concept, it's very hard to enforce when the cause of the noise isn't that obvious to the cops (i.e. a loud party). My landlord just moaned and moaned about how hard it is to evict someone, and basically did nothing. IMO, the legal system simply does not work well for this situation. Negotiate a month to month agreement with your landlord to give yourself time to find a new place, and cut your losses and move.
posted by ljshapiro at 12:05 PM on May 25, 2009

I'd insist on not signing the new lease unless the clearly inadequate wall is addressed. The ideal solution would be taking off the drywall, filling it with soundproofing batts and replacing with a 5/8" drywall sheet (it is probably 1/2" right now). All this work can be done from your side of the wall and should run in the low hundreds of dollars only. It should be worth the investment for the landlord to get you to sign the lease, but don't sign for another year unless the work is done or you have some other financial guarantee it will be (like that you can contract for the work yourself and submit receipts in lieu of payment).

The neighbor may have his own issues, but even if he left, who is to say that a new person wouldn't make their own annoying noises. The good news is that walls are much easier to deal with than noise from above.
posted by meinvt at 12:42 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

The only alternative I can think of to moving out would be to get the landlord to install soundproofing. You could try going to him and saying "look. I'm not getting quiet enjoyment from my suite, either you install this soundproofing at your cost, or I am leaving". Installing soundproofing might be less expensive for him than searching for a new tenant right that instant....
posted by barc0001 at 1:12 PM on May 25, 2009

I can hear him screaming while he's in the shower, banging in the kitchen -- wherever he is in the apartment, he's yelling about the economy, politics, whatever. Sometimes he seems to be yelling at the T.V. or radio. Sometimes it's of a personal nature (I know way too much about him), and maybe he's on the phone then.

I've found easy to tune out/peaceably endure certain kinds of noises that are obviously within the range of normal (even if they're annoying) like than hearing someone playing a video game, yelling along with the baseball game, or even having a party. However, I've noticed that sounds which don't seem to fall into some spectrum of normal behavior raise my hackles in some instinctive way. It is a great deal more distracting and disturbing to hear someone screaming and banging and ranting at random intervals.

What I'm saying is, a new neighbor who is a big sports fan or an amateur DJ will be a relief after this dude. I think it's worth it to try to get your landlord to take action before giving up. However, for the love of gods, don't sign a year-long lease until he addresses this issue.
posted by desuetude at 1:27 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

runcibleshaw mentioned being the "evil neighbor" and that strategy might work.
What I'm about to say is really bad advice that will immediately negate any somewhat good advice I gave earlier. There's no excuse. All I can say is that this worked great:

I had a neighbor with a drug problem. I never had a problem with him untill he started BLASTING show tunes at 5AM on Sunday mornings. Every weekend. So loud, I would have to shout over it in my own unit. I would knock on his door to try to tell him to keep it down but he either never heard me or didn't answer. The landlord didn't really do anything except say, "Yeah, I talked to him. Is he on drugs or something? Maybe you should leave him alone."
All I wanted to do was politely tell him to keep it down. Every Sunday, I would knock for fifteen minutes straight, until my hand was sore and raw, with no results. Untill one morning, I got so fed up that I knocked on his door with a hammer to make sure he would hear me. When he finally answered, I explained, calmly and politely, that his music was louder than planes taking off. Although I didn't mean it, holding a three-pound hammer while explaining my greivance made me much more convincing and I never had another problem with him.

I denounce and reject myself for inadvertantly menacing that guy with a hammer, but I slept in every Sunday after that. Take that for what it's worth. (Very little.)
posted by Jon-o at 1:48 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have you tried just banging on the walls when he gets loud? I believe that is the universal protocol for suggesting someone STFU.
posted by salvia at 4:43 PM on May 25, 2009

Best answer: "Mom? Oh HI MOM, how are YOU? Thanks for calling! Me?? I'm doing great! Just great! Except YOU KNOW MY NEIGHBOR?? THE ONE THAT WOKE YOU UP WITH CURSE WORDS?? He is getting louder and I THINK HE'S UP TO SOMETHING ILLEGAL! I talked to THE POLICE who actually came over AND PLANTED A BUG IN MY APARTMENT TO RECORD HIS CONVERSATIONS! Because from here THEY CAN HEAR EVERYTHING HE SAYS! Yeah, I'm probably going to move but they said they will continue to MONITOR HIS ACTIVITIES no matter whether it's me living here or someone else...Yeah... Yes. Anyway, how's Dad?"
posted by salvia at 4:51 PM on May 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

I've been there....nthing everyone who says the only thing to do is move out. My last rental in LA had a ranting psychotic on one side and the manager's fishwife sister (who later became manager herself after the first died) who ran her tv all night.
posted by brujita at 8:57 PM on May 25, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the perspective! I guess I didn't realize how bad it's actually gotten, until I read people repeating my words that I am sleeping in my living room. You're all right: I need to get in my landlord's face until something changes or move out.
posted by motsque at 6:49 AM on May 26, 2009

Yes, call the cops. I've reported my insanely loud (and also just insane) neighbor a few times recently, and felt bad when I called twice in one night. They said not to worry, it is a perfectly fine use of police resources. I also used my complaint to police as leverage when I talked with my landlord -- the issue is on record if they need to verify anything. Also, now that eviction is possibly in the picture for my neighbor (it's been a hellish couple of months for me filled with lots of complaints to police/apartment management), having the complaints on file with law enforcement can only help things. I've kept the complaints anonymous because my neighbor is full of crazy* and I don't want her to know I'm the one complaining. She knows where I live, after all.

*So crazy that, when I called the cops to complain about her the first time and let them know some of the specifics about what my neighbor was yelling and what worried me (she had been screaming at the top of her lungs), as soon as I gave them the address they said "Oh, we know about her. She calls us all the time to complain about (completely irrational thing that only a crazy person would complain about)."
posted by phatkitten at 10:12 AM on May 26, 2009

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