Noise, both external and internal.
August 22, 2011 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Apartment noise, and my own hypersensitivity to that noise, are intersecting with some bigger psychological issues for me about when to stick up for my needs. Help.

I’m depressed about where I live, because it’s so noisy, but I feel like anywhere else I live will be just as noisy. I feel trapped and stuck, and this is intersecting with some larger issues that I don’t really know how to deal with. (The latter is why I put this under “human relations” instead of “home & garden.”)

I’m a 37-year-old guy. Because of my partner’s job, he and I have what should be a great living situation: we live rent-free, in a big apartment, in an otherwise expensive city. So I shouldn’t complain, right?

The thing is, our apartment is noisy, and I have an extremely angry reaction to excessive noise. My partner works as a university administrator, and we have an apartment in a college dorm building. Our apartment is on the first floor of the building, so the front door of our apartment opens directly onto the lobby. There is a desk attendant on duty in the lobby 24/7 (except for two months during the summer, and the summer just ended, so they’re back), and the daytime attendants often have loud conversations with people and sometimes play music on a radio. They don’t blast the music, but they don’t always play it quietly, either, and I can hear it from our apartment. They are also just loud talkers in general. I can deal with the students and other people passing through the lobby; it’s the constant noise of the desk attendants that drives me insane. And the lobby is very echo-y, so the lobby sounds get magnified and seep right into our apartment, even if our door is closed, no matter what room of the apartment I’m in.

I feel like I have no right to complain, given the free housing and the big apartment. I feel like a spoiled jerk for even having a problem. But let me put it this way. To me, being exposed to constant noise is like having someone hit you in the face, repeatedly. I have a physical, visceral response when noise bothers me; I get suddenly, uncontrollably angry, to the extent that I feel like throwing and kicking things. My anger feels involuntary; I can’t seem to control it. When you’re being constantly hit in the face, it’s hard to rationalize even a rent-free, large apartment. You just want the noise to stop.

On top of that, I spend a lot of time in our apartment. My office is out in the suburbs and it takes 90 minutes to get there, so I work from home 2-3 days a week.

I have had conversations with the desk staff, and it doesn’t seem to help. They just don’t seem to get it. And the people who work at the desk are not always regulars, so they don’t necessarily know there’s a hypersensitive guy living just off the lobby. I try to put myself in the position of the desk attendants: it is their workspace, they each spend 8 hours a day there, and they feel proprietary toward it. But on the other hand: I fucking live there! This is my home! What the fuck?

We have asked about getting a soundproof front door for our apartment, but nothing ever seems to come of it.

The noise doesn’t bother my partner (which of course makes me feel like even more of a lunatic). And he’s said that if I really can’t deal with it anymore, he would be willing to move off campus. But (1) I would feel so guilty about making us pay rent again just because one of us, me, can’t deal with the noise; (2) I really like the fact that I’m socking away a big chunk of money each month, because it’s a great safety net in case something bad happens, like unemployment; (3) even if we moved, we’d have to live near the campus, so we’d have to stay in our neighborhood, which means an apartment building. I would just be exchanging noisy desk attendants for noisy neighbors.

There are times when I seriously fantasize about moving to a house in the burbs. Because of my inability to deal with other people's noise, I just feel like I'll never truly love city life, regardless of what the city has to offer (I like going to the theater, being able to walk places, people-watching, etc.). I’ve suffered through noisy neighbors in the past, and at this point in my life I just don’t feel like it anymore. I want my own quiet place. But do I really want to own a house, with all the responsibility and headaches that entails? I sort of do, I sort of don’t.

I have a larger issue in life, which is that I never know when I should be (a) taking steps toward my own happiness, or (b) telling myself that I’m a hypersensitive neurotic dorkwad who needs to learn to accommodate myself to the world around me. The thing is, despite years of psychotherapy (and yeah, the therapy is still going on), I have never been able to change the big things about myself. I vacillate between “I’m a fucking weirdo, so I should just suffer” and “look, I am who I am, and this is the only life I’ve got, so why not live it in a way that I want to live it?”

I am so fucking tired of accommodating my life to other people. But taking steps that sound good in theory would probably just wind up creating more complications and bring their own problems. The grass is always greener. But I am just so tired of ambivalence and acceptance.

So should I just accept who I am and stick up for myself and the life I want?

I realize this is all kind of scattershot; that’s just kind of the place I’m in right now.
posted by chameleon to Human Relations (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I say move. And then move again if place # 2 isn't quiet enough. Some people need quiet. You're one of those people. It's not a "nice to have" for you. It's a need to have. Don't feel guilty. If your partner is telling the truth and he really doesn't mind moving, then go for it.
posted by Falwless at 1:10 PM on August 22, 2011

Best answer: I am also a hypersensitive neurotic dorkwad, a bit of a recovering one though. I would investigage the noise proof door. Don't just ask, then back away nicely. Find some you like, get a quote or two, be proactive! It would not be at all unusual for the desk folks not to be able to listen to music or have loud converstations and you aren't even ask for that! You just need them to tone it down. Speak to their supervisor, not them. Maybe tape a little note to their vestibule or wherever. They sincerely may not know they are being irritating or that anyone is even behind those doors!

Secondly, insulate your space as much as you can. I like a clean minimal look, but damn, rugs do a great job of absorbing sound. Put big hanging things on the wall. Run fans, point them toward the door, I do this and sometimes I feel like I'm in an isolation pod.
posted by stormygrey at 1:18 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you are sure that the noise is coming through the door, then yeah, maybe get a soundproof door and some of those insulating foam strips to put around the door frame. They work great, but only if the door is the problem. If it's coming through the walls, then don't even bother. Maybe you could pay for the door and get them to reimburse you for all or part of it.

As for your root cause of this problem, well, I think everyone SHOULD have the issue of trying to balance their own needs against other people's. Where you fall on that spectrum is another issue, but at least if you're trying you're ahead of the curve. If this problem is really as bad for you personally as it seems (like getting hit in the face) even after it, then I think you should probably move. But at least try and see what intermediate steps you can take to fix/mitigate the issue. If you can solve the problem without asking your partner to move and without hassling anybody, then that seems like the obvious solution, and you're not being neurotic, just considerate.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 1:19 PM on August 22, 2011

My office is out in the suburbs and it takes 90 minutes to get there, so I work from home 2-3 days a week.

Could you spend your telecommuting time elsewhere, like, say, a nice, quite library with free wifi? That's accommodating the situation, but if you're willing and able to do it, it should help.

I have had conversations with the desk staff, and it doesn’t seem to help.

How about talking to their superiors?

Anecdote: I had a horrible time during my freshman year in college, because I'm definitely a "needs quiet" person and dorm living is definitely not a quiet environment. My suitemate gave me a white noise machine that made a world of difference, at least at nighttime.
posted by litnerd at 1:19 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you have earplugs or big headphones you can wear during the day? Can you work someplace other than your own apt.?
And, do you have huge speakers that you can aim towards the desk people and blast away? I've done that when my neighbors seemed incapable of lowering their loud voices. Passive-aggressive, maybe, but huge Tannoy speakers have a way of getting people's attention.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:20 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, hon, I feel for you. I hated living in the dorms as a student while at college for the very same reason. People don't care if a building is where someone is living or sleeping. It's the nature of dorm life. We're not all cut out for it.

That being said, it is imperative that you come up with some coping strategies. I can identify a few for you, as a starting point:
  • Get a checkup, and be upfront about your high level of anxiety. Be open to medication. It can take the edge off.
  • Get some white noise going, ASAP. Fans, machines, low-level drone, anything.
  • Invest in earplugs for sleeping, to go along with the white noise.
  • Find a new place to work, outside your apartment. "Working from home" doesn't have to mean from home, you can go to the library. If you can get to a graduate library, they're usually nice and quiet.
Look. Your partner says that if you really can't stand it, he'd be willing to move offcampus. It's imperative that you trust him when he says this. If you try all the above ideas and still feel like you're being constantly attacked, you've got to get out of there.
posted by juniperesque at 1:21 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've been there, too--when I was in law school and studying for the bar, I lived on 6th Avenue, and it was always noisy. I actually used those rubber flanged ear plugs AND the big headset kind simultaneously. It was very quiet--I could hear/feel the slight "smack" sound of my eyelids when I blinked.

But I think the solution is either to pay to dampen the noise (velvet drape covering the front door? or the simultaneous ear plug approach) or to move.

When you live in the city, you have a right to quiet between 10 or 11 p.m. and 7 or 8 a.m. You're not going to get anywhere with the doormen or their superiors. The social fabric of the city is not built around making it quiet enough for you during the daytime. This is your self-described hypersensitivity versus the reality of city life.

You definitely don't need to suffer! Life's too short! But this is not a scenario that anyone but you will change--either by changing the environment or by changing your location.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:26 PM on August 22, 2011

Best answer: Sounds kind of like sensory defensiveness or a sensory processing disorder. Have you ever looked into that? Some of what you wrote sounded very familiar. Most of the online screening stuff is aimed at kids, but there are some adult resources.

If the stuff on the internet about SPD sounds familar to you, I highly recommend Sharon Heller's Too Loud Too Bright Too Fast Too Tight, which has some excellent coping mechanisms.
posted by pie ninja at 1:26 PM on August 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I only vaugely alluded to the larger issues. Any manner of confrontation can make me feel like hyperventilating, even when its a perfectly polite and reasonable request, I took some advice from my mom:

"You go sit your butt in someone's office till its fixed. Don't get up, don't let them convince you to come back. Keep your butt in that chair."

Try that next time you need something in your life fixed, it works more often than not.
posted by stormygrey at 1:28 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Would you feel you had the right to complain if your apartment had no windows, or if your apartment's plumbing was constantly leaking, or if your apartment reeked of cat urine? That you can live there rent-free doesn't mean you should or that you're ungrateful or foolish for wanting to live elsewhere.

You're sensitive to noise, and it's good that you realize that not everyone perceives noise the way you do or is bothered in the same way. But you can recognize that without giving up on trying to have your own needs met. If your partner experienced severe SAD because the apartment's windows got zero sunlight, would you expect him to just suck it up and deal? If your partner were miserable because he loved to cook and the apartment's kitchen was tiny and old, would you expect him to give up that part of his life? If your partner were the one who was sensitive to noise and found the apartment too noisy, would you call his feelings petty?

This apartment doesn't meet your needs. You should certainly feel empowered to consider other options. What about a rowhouse-type home? What about a very modern condo or apartment building with serious soundproofing? What about a traditional suburban single-family home as a rental? What about taking the plunge and buying a place?

Talk to your partner. Go over the things you've tried (and if they've been successful), identify some other options to try (such as therapy), and determine a goal (something like, "reduce the noise and my anxiety sufficiently for me to feel at ease and happy at home"). Tell him that you need to meet that goal even if doing so requires leaving the rent-free apartment.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:33 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have similar noise issues, and moving was about the only thing that worked for me. I lived in a very noisy apartment on a busy street in a big city, and I nearly went mad (I worked from home, as well). I completely understand the guilt associated with it - being noise-sensitive often makes me feel like the whiniest baby alive. But there's no reason to just suck it up if you just don't have to, and since you don't have to, you should do everything you can to mitigate your stress.

I understand the concerns about moving to a noisier apartment. I moved to a new place after my super noisy one. I made sure I was on the top floor, and not on a busy stretch of road. I chose a smaller apartment building (which may not be possible where you are, but the smaller, the better), and made sure my office area was in a closed-off, quiet part of the building. Being on the top floor + a quieter stretch of road made a world of difference. I didn't have to resort to ear plugs or sound dampeners. The difference in my stress levels were HUGE.

Barring not moving, I would push for that soundproof door. It's in your right to do this. You aren't being pushy or unreasonable to ask for it. I wish you lots of luck. I know how difficult something like this can be.
posted by Laura Macbeth at 1:38 PM on August 22, 2011

Soundproof door. Now. Use some of that rent money you're saving if you have to.

Get cheap Turkish rugs or heavy, heavy drapery material and hang it on the walls facing the desk.

Put plenty of rugs down in the room directly accessed by the front door, and put them in the room where you work. See if you can't move to the farthest room to work. Use a white noise maker in the front room and a fan or white noise maker in the back. Try comfortable earplugs or a headset.

Complain to the supervisor. Yes, the desk attendants have a right to listen to music, but it shouldn't be any louder than that of a reception area in a dental or doctor's office. Remember, they're there in a JOB, it's their business to act in a professional manner, and that includes chatting in quieter tones and paying attention to the job, not to their buddies. The lobby shouldn't be the hangout for all their friends anyway. Ask the supervisor to put a typed note on the desk for the people that are not regulars. The note should remind them they are there to work and to act professionally, indicate the highest volume on the dial that they are allowed to set the radio at, and tell them to generally keep the noise down. If the super won't do it, then you do it. Type it, seal it in a clear plastic envelope, and tape it firmly to the desk so there's no issues with someone not getting the word. Put a sign reading QUIET--WORKING on your door.

Check into anti-anxiety meds. Nothing wrong with easing the situation that way, also. But do the physical control stuff first.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:05 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hmm, 'free' is far outweighed by 'doesn't meet your needs'. Move. Sure, you'll have to pay rent, but you could find somewhere quiet - quiet places do exist! And while you will need to be near to campus, you don't need to be *that* near. Right now you are 90 minutes (90!!!!!) from your job, so there is a lot of middle ground for the two of you.

I completely understand your aversion to noise, and your deep frustration with your current situation. You are being completely reasonable! 100%. And money is a bad motivator to stay in a crappy situation.

And...good luck!
posted by lulu68 at 2:11 PM on August 22, 2011

Yes sound proof door. Yes rugs. Speaking for myself, I wore earplugs nearly all the time when I lived someplace that had some noise.

(I did discover I had to throw them out every day or I'd get ear infections.)

And yes, move when you can.

Some of us have what someone kindly called "bionic senses." I don't know that it's possible to get rid of them, though for myself being otherwise incredibly healthy helps a lot. That means lots of sleep, a good diet, meditation and exercise. And earplugs. Lots of earplugs.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:27 PM on August 22, 2011

If it's a great living situation, then 1st, try to mitigate the noise problem. There have been previous threads on noise abatement and soundproofing.

Make sure the door is quite snug in its frame. Get some soundproofing material and mount it on the door. Get thick rugs, and/or layers of rugs. Full bookcases absorb noise. Have heavy drapes, maybe layers of drapes.
Get a white noise machine, or a white noise mp3 to loop on your computer or ipod.
Use noise-canceling headphones; there have been threads on those, as well. Or use foam earplugs, which are reasonably comfortable, quite cheap, and reduce noise quite a bit.
If you can tolerate music, play music; it will mask other noise.
If there's a way to put some upholstered furniture, drapes and rugs in the lobby, that will help a lot.

On the emotional issues, I think you are having trouble taking yourself and your needs seriously, so that the noise annoys you, and your difficulty sticking up for yourself makes it worse. You deserve to live in a place where you are treated with respect. The noise is not an indication of lack of respect; it's a natural occurrence in a student dorm public space. Before others will take you seriously, you have to take yourself seriously, not in a bad way, but you have to know that you are as important as everyone else, and that your needs matter. The better you understand that, the less fighty you have to get to stick up for yourself.

Spending the money on soundproofing is a way to stand up for your needs. Saying to yourself Students tend to be noisy; it's not personal might help a little. And if noise abatement doesn't work, then you start looking for a quiet apartment. Or, propose a quiet dorm to the Housing Office; I bet there are students who would love to be in a dorm like that.
posted by theora55 at 2:32 PM on August 22, 2011

Joining the chorus of sympathy: noise such as you're describing would make me very, very unhappy. I've always been fascinated (and quite envious) that there are people who don't mind noise; for me, each raised voice or new song on the radio would be like being shoved, and the effect would be cumulative. Especially with it being 24/7.

I assume this is just how I'm wired and it's neither going to change nor evidence of brokenness. I'd assume the same of you, if that's at all reassuring.

Your partner may find it less of a problem than you because he's rarely home alone; street noise here seems much less obtrusive to me when I have a friend over than when I'm sitting alone at my desk trying to concentrate.

In the immediate term, if the university won't help and it's starting to seem deliberate rather than just careless, I agree with the people suggesting that you arrange yourselves for a soundproof door to be fitted, assuming such things exist.

Longer term, you can absolutely find somewhere quieter; a detached house in a quiet location is a wonderful thing. (As for houses with shared walls, YMMV, but the British kind are often not very well sound-insulated. A pox on housebuilders who think sitting rooms and master bedrooms should adjoin party walls.) I've even been in quiet apartment buildings. Assume that you will eventually move to somewhere that suits you better. Then the question becomes when, not if. Perhaps you could decide how much of a nest-egg you want to accumulate: if you decide now that you want to have $X thousand dollars in savings, you can set aside the idea of moving until you've reached that target, and focus instead on coping day to day. Earplugs and/or closed-back headphones might help you to do that. Noise-cancelling headphones, IME, work brilliantly against white noise but don't do much for voices.

Speaking of white noise... I know everyone swears by it for masking unwanted sounds, but that would make things worse for me, not better. I hate white noise. It makes me tense and miserable. I have to be exhausted to sleep with an air conditioner or a fan on, unless I have earplugs; when someone's vacuuming, I sometimes have to leave the room. I don't know anyone else this is true of, so maybe my sensory processing capabilities are a bit broken after all, but I'm mentioning it in case you're also out here at my end of the bell curve.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:33 PM on August 22, 2011

I really, really feel for you. I have very similar issues with sound - constant noise feels downright oppressive, and I feel like a twit when I try to explain to anyone the impact they are having on me.

I second the white noise. Fans help. When my upstairs neighbors are thumping around at night, something as simple as turning on a fan and putting a soothing "fresh air" podcast on my iphone can help me drift off.

Anti-anxiety meds *definitely* helped me. Talk to your doctor and/or a therapist.

Noise-cancelling headphones can help. To tell the truth it sort of compounds my frustration - I feel I shouldn't be forced to wear them all damn day just to get through my work, but they can help.

My other suggestion is to work from a quiet coffee shop, library, or even from a friend's home. You could almost certainly find someone with a quieter space they would be happy to let you use during the day, particularly if you offered a small amount of cash or some sort of barter. I'd be happy to let a friend use my space if it were me and if they offered to say, cook me dinner once a week or something.
posted by bunderful at 2:50 PM on August 22, 2011

fwiw, fans drive me as crazy as TV/radio noise does, and that's saying something.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:54 PM on August 22, 2011

Best answer: This is not a human relations issue except that you mistakenly think it is one. In fact, this is a warrant of habitability issue. This means that your landlord (the university) is required to provide you with a habitable dwelling - they have not. Your partner doesn't "get it" because they aren't home during the most offensive hours. That is all.

I would put effort into changing things inside the apartment before moving. This would include conversations with the university about soundproofing and their staff's behavior in the lobby. I think getting a soundproof door might do you a world of good. Proper installation will likely be expensive - the university should pay for this fixture.

Likewise, especially if there is no plumbing in the wall shared with the lobby, there are noise-proofing foams that can be shot into the walls at intervals. Then the small holes are patched and the wall re-painted. It's miraculous! Again, if needed, the university should pay for this.

This is a maintenance issue. You are entitled to "quiet enjoyment" of your dwellingvia your city and state laws.

Approach the university about this issue. You might want to research and present them with options.

Also, do you have a smartphone? You can download several free decibel reading apps and take readings at your door, from the next room, etc during the loudest times. What do the readings tell you?

Likely there are set levels that sound is allowed to penetrate your apartment, these are set by city and state law. Decibel levels are set by law mostly to protect folks living adjacent to bars or clubs (these businesses must insulate for sound as part of their operators licensing) but I don't see why you can't use the same laws to convince the university to throw some money at the problem. A sound violation is a sound violation as far as the law is concerned, your right to "quiet enjoyment" and all that.

If the music in particular is a problem there is a reason for that: the lower frequency sounds (like bass notes) have a greater ability to penetrate walls, floors, etc. They should not allow music in the echo-y lobby. It's a lobby, not a lounge or club. It's also the entrance to a residential home that is protected under the law! There should be zero tolerance of practices that disturb the tenants of the apartment off the building lobby. That's why there is a local and state housing code. The university's responsibility to follow housing code is mandatory, it doesn't disappear just because you live on campus, or because you live rent-free.

I think you can make this case without getting all freaky or adversarial about it. Just do the soundproofing research, download the apps, take some decibel reading and record them at peak times, cross reference your readings with the current laws.

And you know what? Even if your readings don't exceed those allowed by law, some sympathetic person at the university might rubber stamp the improvements to your apartment anyway, just because they acknowledge it is noisy enough in your apartment to be a nuisance and they want to keep your partner happy.

You have nothing to loose by politely and professionally following through on this, if just to find out if you are being oversensitive or if it is really measurable miserable in your apartment.

Get to it!
posted by jbenben at 2:55 PM on August 22, 2011

I think it is deeply justifiable to be 37 years old and not want to live in a dorm. Oh my god I would've opened fire long before now.

It's a neat perk if you're young and single. It is not if you are a grown-ass adult with a life.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:59 PM on August 22, 2011

Also. Let's say the university says no to the foam and the door...

Then I might get permission to install these upgrades on my own dime. Is $3,000 a reasonable budget for you to set for this project? How about $2,000 or $5,000?

You don't pay rent. I'd say 3 months of rent elsewhere is the correct amount to budget. If you must invest in this soundproofing solutions, and the university approves the alterations, I would be happy to spend up to 3 months full rent on an expense I can not recoup, but will give me HEAPS of happiness and add to my well-being. You may only be willing to spend up to 2 months, but you see what I am getting at?

Don't just suffer. Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 3:01 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Excellent suggestions, all. Just chiming in to say: please take your reaction to noise seriously. Sensitivity to sounds can have effects on your health. This is just the first result of a quick google; there are many confirming studies (I remember one related to living near airport approach in particular. Cardiovascular conditions galore.) Your stress levels alone are enough for concern if this continues.
posted by likeso at 3:45 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe this is a silly idea, but can you just move up one floor? In places I've worked there have been one or two "long-term habitation" apartments in each dorm -- faculty housing/conference stayover type apartment -- so are there any others available in that dorm or elsewhere on campus? Some campuses also have graduate student housing that tends to be quieter -- you've probably already looked into that, but just in case not, it could be worth a try. I'd imagine such housing has waiting lists, but if you could invest in a soundproof door and know that you're moving to a quieter dorm in nine months, that might be more bearable.
posted by lillygog at 3:58 PM on August 22, 2011

Best answer: 1) Is this absolutely the ONLY place on campus available to you?
2) You need to find a separate workplace for some days during the week. Look into co-working, or put a post on Craigslist for "small, no-frills, QUIET office" in a convenient location for you.
3.) Soundproofing - door, walls, windows.
4.) Lobby - escalate to supervisor. Ask the university to put down some rugs out there - it'll help the bouncing sound quite a bit. No music in the lobby - it's not necessary.
5.) I hate white noise, but pink or brown noise is much better. Look into those options. A white noise machine near the doorway to your office might be a good thing.

And yes, you might have to move. Such a decision wouldn't indicate that you "failed" at living in this place, rather that you are making a new decision based on new information: too much noise all day drives you batty. It's not a moral failing :-)
posted by barnone at 4:57 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is not a human relations issue except that you mistakenly think it is one. In fact, this is a warrant of habitability issue. This means that your landlord (the university) is required to provide you with a habitable dwelling - they have not. Your partner doesn't "get it" because they aren't home during the most offensive hours. That is all.

This is not legal advice, and I am not your lawyer, but this seems highly dubious. The standard for breach of the implied warranty of habitability in NY is that the premises be fit for human habitation and "for the uses reasonably intended by the parties and that the occupants of such premises shall not be subjected to any conditions which would be dangerous, hazardous or detrimental to their life, health or safety" (emphasis added). By all means, try for the legal angle, but this seems like a real tough row to hoe--you seem to have a self-professed hypersensitivity to noise; the apartment does not seem unfit for human habitation.

Again, IANYL, and this is not legal advice.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:30 PM on August 22, 2011

IANAL either, but I have served on a community board dealing with many noise variance issues. Similarly, I have a fairly broad experience with construction and rental issues.

- My problem here is the OP describes themselves as sensitive to noise, but then goes on to detail external noise from the lobby that can be heard clearly in the rooms farthest from the source of the noise.

To me, that says the noise is likely amplified by the cavernous aspects of the lobby. In essence, the echo in the lobby is amplifying sound much like speakers in a bar, restaurant, or night club. It's unnecessary for the OP to put up with this, if this is in fact, the heart of the situation.

- I really liked the idea for the uni to put down rugs in the lobby. There are also hanging sound baffles that can be installed which are commonly used in commercial spaces.

I did not suggest necessarily that the OP sue the university or start waving around a big legal stick! But it's weird to me when someone takes practical matters (like external sounds which penetrate every room in their home) and makes that into a self-shaming device. The OP shouldn't engage in that perspective at all. It won't solve the problem, which is that noise from the lobby permeates their home.

Lastly, the apartment is a legal dwelling in a local and state jurisdiction. Although no rent is paid, the apartment is part of the partner's compensation package. The OP seems to feel that because the apartment is rent-free, it is somehow exempt from local and state laws. I'm certain this is not true. ALL residential dwellings (including apartments, guest houses, residential homes, etc.) are subject to laws which insure safety and structural soundness. This is doubly true for non-owner occupied dwellings.

If noise was a non-negligible and/or non-legal issue, there wouldn't be so many enforceable noise variance laws on the books. The OP should consider this before labeling themselves "neurotic."

This is all.
posted by jbenben at 9:00 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

If they're willing to subsidize your housing, then you likely have reasonable grounds for a negotiation here. The place you're living is unacceptable, for whatever reason, and rather than continue to live there, we would rather arrange a more suitable place elsewhere, on or off campus.

I would be surprised if they were unwilling to at least entertain the idea; good administrators are worth keeping, so it's worth the effort to engage in this sort of negotiation in good faith.
posted by mhoye at 6:20 AM on August 23, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks to all of you for some great suggestions. But I particularly want to thank you guys for validating what I'm feeling here. I tend to dismiss my own feelings in life because I think I'm strange or unusual, and therefore I wind up not treating myself with respect. It really feels good to have other people tell me that I should take my own needs seriously. I really appreciate it.
posted by chameleon at 7:57 AM on August 23, 2011

Other people have covered the specific suggestions. I just want to add that your mental health is worth any amount of money. I really, really empathize with you - I work in an open office with lots of noisy people, and I often have that "want to stab someone in the face with a fork" feeling.
posted by desjardins at 9:39 AM on August 23, 2011

I feel you. I could have written your post almost word for word when we lived in Brooklyn. I nearly went beserk. I am thankful that my fiance saw it my way and didn't label me a lunatic. We still live in a place with noise but I also developed an awful dust mite allergy and have discovered that my air purifiers are a god-send for mitigating noise. I keep them on the low setting and don't hear a thing in the bedroom though if I shut it off I hear the neighbors talking. I even don't hear the stuff they complain about like another neighbor's alarm clock or dog. I also didn't hear the third neighbor's smoke detector though I'd certainly hear mine.

For the living room, without the that air purifier I would hear the neighbor's TV. Since I also couldn't really hear my own TV, I got some wire from Radio Shack and ran an output from the TV to some computer speakers that I have right by head on the couch. That way I don't have to crank my TV over the air purifier which I fear would only cause the neighbors to crank theirs even louder because then I would be tempted to get a two by four and "greet" them at their door.

Try some form of white noise, just have the power to flip a switch and cut off invading sounds will give you some control over your life and make you feel better. If a month of that doesn't help--move. Life is too short!
posted by i_love_squirrels at 8:06 PM on August 24, 2011

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