Will you please be quiet please? -- But I am!
July 20, 2011 1:28 AM   Subscribe

What's the best strategy for handling an enraged neighbor?

Previously, very similar. Wondering if advice has changed three years later.

I live in New York City and have lived in the same apartment for over three years. My downstairs neighbor has pounded on my door on four different occasions over the course of this time to complain about noise coming from my apartment. Her issues are footfalls and doors opening and closing. The first time I was genuinely super apologetic, bought slippers, which I now wear all the time, and became a lot more mindful of the noise of my footsteps. The second time I was even more apologetic and gave her my cell #, telling her to text me when the noise got troublesome so that I could figure out exactly what was bothering her and stop (and prevent her a trip upstairs, hopefully before she got to the point of anger). The third and fourth times I was polite but dismissive -- "I'm doing all I can; I'm sorry; I've told my roommates (etc)." FWIW, she's never texted me -- she seems to wait til the point of rage, when she visits in person to yell.

I just awoke to a profanity-ridden tirade slipped under my door at 3 AM from "the downstairs neighbor." While lengthy and mean, it doesn't offer any more information as to the exact nature of her complaints. So I assume again it's footfalls and doors opening/shutting. Her bedroom is under my roommate's bedroom -- it's true, he's a night owl -- and I told her the last time she visited a few weeks ago that he's moving out at the end of the month (he is).

My roommates and I are quiet people. We don't watch TV (it's broken), listen to music, or have parties or kids. We walk around in the course of normal activities and open/close doors. That is all. I understand that even these sorts of noises can be magnified and near-intolerable under urban living conditions (my bedroom is next to the stairwell for the building, and I can hear every single person run up and down it 24 hours a day/night as if they were right beside my pillow), but I feel that's sort of par for the course if you live in a not-very-nice (ie not soundproofed) apartment in an urban environment. I myself have been sleeping -- happily -- in earplugs for years.

What is my next move? Talk to the landlord? Talk to her? Pretend this never happened? My lease is up in a few months, and even though she's annoying, I'd like to stay in this apartment.
posted by sideofwry to Human Relations (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If your neighbour is harassing you, talk to your landlord and show him the note (if you kept the others, show him them too)
posted by missmagenta at 1:35 AM on July 20, 2011 [10 favorites]

ugh....your menu of options is no fun:

1) complain vigorously to the landlord, about your downstairs neighbor harassing you over the normal sounds of living

2) move

3) ignore neighbor; call police when she stages a confrontation
posted by thelonius at 1:46 AM on July 20, 2011

Maybe this is too obvious, but buy some throw-rugs?
posted by bardic at 2:38 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by jon1270 at 3:09 AM on July 20, 2011

Do nothing. She's an insignificant person in your life. She sounds like she'll find an excuse to play the pissy mean-hearted victim till her dying day.
posted by WhitenoisE at 3:18 AM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

throw rugs and negotiation etc will only help with a reasonable person, and it does not sound like that is what you are dealing with here

I've lived in downstairs apartments, and it kind of sucks. There is going to be floor noise from walking, period. I was grateful that I only had a middle-aged guy with a bum leg over me, not a big family with toddlers, or a party house.
posted by thelonius at 3:41 AM on July 20, 2011

Best answer: She's using you as a punching bag for other problems in her life. It isn't what YOU are doing - someone else is pushing her buttons and you're her anger outlet because she can't or won't confront the person/persons/situation that's the real problem.

The only reason I say that is because she doesn't take the reasonable approach of calling you up when the noise level is bothersome and telling you exactly what and when the problem occurs. She HAS to come up and yell at you in a very inappropriate and unhelpful manner and now she's slipped a screed under your door.

You can either let her continue to vent to you or you can forward her letter to your landlord with a note explaining that you've tried to work with your neighbor and you've done everything a reasonable adult would do but she's gone around the bend and your landlord needs to intercede on her harassment.
posted by jaimystery at 4:02 AM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

I mean, if she was complaining about noisy parties that would be one thing. But walking? Unless you're hosting a tap-dancing class that's a little unreasonable. Sure, get some nice rugs if you want, maybe put some rubber strips in the door jambs to muffle the noise of them closing, but if your neighbor can't handle this level of noise they should move.
posted by atrazine at 4:34 AM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Offer to swap apartments.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:03 AM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

Where I live, with thin floors, it's understood that if you hear hard-bottomed shoes walking, it's because that person is walking to the door to go out.

Cowboy boots, high heels, leather soles: don't do it unless you have carpets. Listening to someone's footfalls; urgent or distracted, to the bathroom, to the kitchen, can be distracting and annoying. It's more invasive than bangs and clangs from the street, it can feel like another person is living in your space.

I've known people who are driven nuts by noise, they may try to control themselves, but when they are tired it can boil over.

Soft shoes, always, for everyone, even guests. If that doesn't solve the problem, then you may need the landlord to mediate.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:10 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Get felt or rubber bumbers for all doors and drawers, AND inform your landlord. Require replacement roommate to use rugs. Never engage directly with this person again.
posted by jbenben at 6:02 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your neighbor is just gonna have to get over it. I sing like a bird in my apartment and on my worst days sound like a wounded cat. My neighbors seem cool with it and the walls are pretty gosh darn thin. Unless you're jack hammering in your kitchen, you're not breaking any code of ethics but this chick is. She needs to stop yelling. Tell your landlord and if he/she doesn't care, then yell at their ass too. (I think yelling only works with landlords, btw) Oh, and if this lady comes up to yell at you some more, it's time to put her in her place 'cause that's annoying. You have a right not to be harassed.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 6:22 AM on July 20, 2011

Response by poster: A few things -- thanks for the advice so far!

None of us wear shoes in the apartment, ever.
It's a five story building and we're on the second floor. I hear people above us sometimes but nothing extraordinary. I'm tempted to think we sound the same.
There is no provision in my lease about this.
posted by sideofwry at 6:28 AM on July 20, 2011

Best answer: I've had neighbor problems, tried to acommodate, tried the landlord (truthfully, they are gonna stay out of this kind of thing like crazy) and now I'm in the ignore zone. I am courteous, and mindful but unavailable to further complaints. My mantra is "Feel free to let the landlord know your concerns." I don't respond to any direct anything anymore. Cuz they's nuts.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:31 AM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

Definitely get your landlord in the loop hearing your side (and reading the profane notes), because s/he has certainly already heard a mouthful about you.
posted by Quisp Lover at 6:32 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can't really advise you on dealing with your neighbour (confrontational and aggressive people bewilder me), but in case it's helpful, I have a suggestion as to how you might be making more noise than you realise.

Apologies if you've thought of this already, but: it may not be the noise of your shoes on the floor that's the problem, but the weight of your footfalls. My current upstairs neighbour takes his shoes off at the door, but he walks very heavily indeed, and with every step, my windows rattle and my ceiling creaks. This is not the sturdiest of buildings: if anyone in the building slams a door, it feels like a small earthquake. If you live somewhere similarly flimsy, then perhaps that's what's winding up your downstairs neighbour, and you can probably make things quieter for her by trying not to put your feet down heel-first. (Whether that would actually calm her down is another question, admittedly.)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 7:06 AM on July 20, 2011

Best answer: You've identified yourself to your downstairs neighbor as someone who is willing to bend over backwards to make her happy, by being "super apologetic," and "even more apologetic and gave her [your] cell #, telling her to text... when the noise got troublesome." It's hard to get out of this dynamic once you're in it. Being polite but dismissive is a start, but based on what you wrote, you're explainy and narrative, and that has to stop, because what you describe isn't polite but dismissive. It's acquiescent, because you're admitting that what you're doing is wrong and she is right.

Rehearse these phrases in a mirror, and be prepared to use them:

"We make a reasonable amount of noise for a multi-unit building in the city. Your complaints are unfounded."
"The noise we make isn't excessive. It's not necessary for you to complain to me because there is nothing to complain about."
"I am done hearing your complaints. If you continue to complain, I will simply shut my door."
"If you think the noise we make is excessive, I invite you to call the police."
"Do not take noise complaints to me anymore, please call the police."

Now, she may actually call the police. (My neighbor never has, even though I invited him to.) That's why you must keep a record of every visit and correspondence. Write down the date and time and what was said, and what you were doing that apparently prompted it. Keep the note. Label them all in a folder marked "Crazy Neighbor Lady." Be prepared to show it to police if they show up. They will get a good chuckle and move along.
posted by juniperesque at 7:38 AM on July 20, 2011 [23 favorites]

To give the neighbor the benefit of the doubt, you could ask to go down to her apartment while someone walks around upstairs closing doors. Have them turn up music and mark the point were it starts to get bothersome. You could bring a Radio Shack sound meter, and record the levels. That would be great if you go forward with a dispute, because sound levels are set by statute, at various times of day, for various types of zoning. I suspect that you'll be under the limit, but it can depend on how close to the ceiling the meter is held.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:22 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd talk to the landlord, offer up some options and tell them that they need to engage with the neighbor, that IS their job.

example: landlord hangs out in downstairs apartment while you do normal things to see about the noise level.

personally I'd say it's the cost of living in a multi-unit building, so your neighbor just needs to learn to deal with it as long as you're not being a dick.
posted by zombieApoc at 8:40 AM on July 20, 2011

Not sure this is a good approach but I once had a neighbor come up, wake us out of a sound sleep by pounding on the door in this scary violent way, and yell about us running the dryer at this time of night. He came to the door where the non-running dryer was visible. My adrenaline was so high I yelled back "It's not us! See! Now Go Away and let us sleep!" That stopped the problem.

I tend to agree with juniperesque that it may be time to stop accommodating her. It was appropriate and good to try that first. But now you know that it won't work with her. Bully types operate on different rules, and standing up to them can be helpful.
posted by salvia at 8:41 AM on July 20, 2011

Talk to the landlord about noise prevention options, and also to see if you can arrange to visit downstairs and have someone walk in your apt. Are your floors carpeted? If not, get rugs for traffic areas.

Some people are hyper-sensitive about noise. That doesn't excuse the level of vitriol, and you need to get the landlord to mediate.
posted by theora55 at 8:59 AM on July 20, 2011

Is there a local community mediation service you could get involved? This is exactly the kind of issue that they excel in dealing with. Disclosure: I am a volunteer community mediator, in the UK. If you'd like more info about how the process might work, feel free to mail me.
posted by genesta at 10:27 AM on July 20, 2011

Best answer: Wow, I salute you for trying to be reasonable and accommodating. Thing is, she has no case, and she is using your niceness as an inroad to abuse you.

Yes, this is abuse, and she is bullying you. Think of it that way, and your options to move forward become much clearer.

You can be polite, but shut the door to future abuse. Like so:

"I'm sorry you feel that way, I and my roommates are making a normal amount of noise for a multi-unit building, and we're unlikely to stop. Please feel free to contact the police if you feel differently."

"I will no longer tolerate your abuse. You are being unreasonable, and I've made all the effort I am going to make to deal with your complaints. Go away." Close door in face.

"I don't have time or patience for this. Please call the police if you feel it necessary. Goodbye."

The last is my favorite. No chance the police will do a thing. Just make sure to pay your rent on time in case she complains to the landlord. Landlords like money on time way more than bitchy tenants.

Keep a log of your interactions. You'd be amazed how useful they are in this sort of situation.

I disagree with the suggestion to go to mediation. It implies you have something to bargain with, and it seems her demands are that you be silent. You can't "give" here, since there's nothing you can give, you can't be completely silent. Too bad for her.
posted by Invoke at 12:00 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the support and feedback. I called my management company and explained what has happened. They basically were like, "We don't get involved in disputes like this, but you have the right to lead a normal life in your apartment, including walking around." I have not responded to her note, and if she stops by again I will tell her to call the landlord or the police with her complaints.
posted by sideofwry at 12:09 PM on July 20, 2011

I disagree with the suggestion to go to mediation. It implies you have something to bargain with...

You could not be more wrong, it absolutely doesn't - but that's a very common misconception about mediation.

You're in control. If you see no scope for compromise (and why should you, on the basis of what you've told us), a mediator will simply help you explain that to your neighbour calmly and clearly, and do their best to ensure that your message is properly heard. The only obligation on you is to extend the same courtesy to them in return - just to listen, nothing more.

It is very common for both sides to go into a mediation confident that they are in the right and quite sure that there is no scope for compromise. It is rare for either to reach the end of the process still fully holding that position. That's not some magic trick pulled by the mediator - it's just about effective communication.

... even though she's annoying, I'd like to stay in this apartment

Well, none of the answers you've favorited above are going to address her annoyance, whatever its root cause may be. One way or another, like it or not, rightly or wrongly, living above an annoyed neighbour is going to affect your quality of life - fact. If you are interested in an effective, long term solution, there are no guarantees, but mediation stands a good chance of delivering one.
posted by genesta at 3:15 PM on July 20, 2011

Just an anecdote: I had a downstairs neighbor like this. She was a super stressed out single mom, which might have been the problem, but she would freak out on us AND to the landlord. She ended up losing credibility when she started calling the landlord about how loud we were and that now we were IGNORING her when she pounded on the door. What the landlord knew, and she didn't, was that we'd been out of state for weeks. There was no one upstairs making noise. It was in her head or coming from elsewhere. This really helped put things into persepective, as we'd been creeping around in stocking feet in our carpeted apartment for months. I think some people are just wound too tight, their life feels out of control, and this is the thing they fix on.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:34 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

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