Should I move into the apartment of my formerly noisy neghbour?
January 1, 2012 10:50 AM   Subscribe

There are a lot of previous questions about neighbour relations in apartment buildings. I'm nevertheless going to ask another one. Please tell me about top floor living in a walk up building and whether it's worth it.

I moved in to a new building (a 3 storey walk up, 11 units) in June 2011. It is an incredibly old building - late 1800s, with single pane windows, 12 foot ceilings, french doors leading to a balcony, old rads, and ancient wood floors that creak like mad. The apartments in the building are sort of pricey for one bedrooms, so in general it's a professional crowd who lives here. I adore my 2nd floor apartment, but there have been several issues with my upstairs neighbour.

1) She often comes home late (3 or 4) and is a loud walker. I have been woken up out of a sound sleep by the creaking when she walks.

2) When she is in the apartment and not busy coming home late, she plays fairly loud music well into the wee hours. The volume of the music has generally gone down since I talked to her about it a couple of times, and gave her a bottle of wine. Nevertheless, I have still had to knock on her door a few times due to what amounted to a party at 2 in the morning on a weekday. Even when she gives me a heads up about a social gathering she plans to have, and promises to move the party elsewhere by midnight, the party never seems to move.

I also can hear her have sex, but I am not particulary bothered by this - I think it's part of apartment living, like hearing your neighbour snore. I also hear fairly loud music at times I would like it to be more quiet (weekday evenings, Sunday afternoons), but I have never, not once, asked her to turn down the music before midnight. Just as background, our lease reads that general quiet is expected between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. Also - no issues at all with my downstairs neighbours - as far as I know, they are happy with me and I am happy with them. And one other thing - I am also a bit bothered by people walking by my door on their way upstairs. There are 5 other apartments past/above mine for people to get to, and their steps feel awfully close to me sometimes.

But here is the thing - I just found out that my upstairs neighbor is moving out! I have a chance to take her apartment, but there a few issues.

A) As her place is on the top floor, the windows are smaller.
B) The apartment is also a touch smaller.
C) I hate the heat, and being one floor up would be hotter.
D) I worry that I would feel frozen with worry about upsetting the downstairs neighbour with any noise! (if you have read my past posts, you might pick up that I worry a lot)
E) Even moving one floor is a pain in the ass.
F) More stairs to climb with groceries.
G) I just don't like her apartment as much as I like mine.
H) Most people don't come home at 3 or 4 and party til 2 on weekdays, right? So it's unlikley that I will face a similar situation with any new person moving into her place, correct?

So, getting to my question - please tell me your thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of living on the top floor in a walk up, esp. in this kind of situation!

Thanks for your feedback!
posted by analog to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We live on the top floor of a 5th-floor walkup, so no sympathy here on being on the 3rd floor. I don't even get winded until halfway to the 4th floor. Not having anyone above you in the building is really great, I recommend it. Our apartment does get pretty hot, but it's easy to crack the windows.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:57 AM on January 1, 2012

I am not sure you are correct in that going up a floor would be hotter. You mention radiators -- which run either on steam or hot water. In that it is difficult to force steam / hot water up through the pipes in older buildings it is typically the case that the higher floors in such buildings are cooler.
posted by tidecat at 10:58 AM on January 1, 2012

I find that the advantages of living on the top floor are such that I will never live below someone else again. You cannot trust people to not party on weekdays, clomp on the floor, or take up indoor bowling. They can, they will, you lose.

If you live on the top floor, not only are you going to enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing that no one is going to wake you up by turning your ceiling into a trampoline, you are going to enjoy going about your activities of daily living and making someone else's life (below you) happier as well. Taking a chance on a new upstairs neighbor who may come with with a toddler, a wooden leg, a bullmastiff, and/or a marching band practice at 11pm on Wednesdays is not worth the risk to me, and I can't see how that's worth the risk to anyone who enjoys their peace and quiet.
posted by juniperesque at 10:59 AM on January 1, 2012

It might be worth checking on the floors - that creaking might just be a feature of the might be that anyone living in that top flat will sound like a "loud walker" to the person below them. Maybe get a friend to help you check, with you walking normally in the soon-to-be-vacant flat while he/she stands in your flat and listens?

If the noise turns out to be unavoidable, it's your call whether you want to move up, to avoid the inevitable bother from whoever moves in, or whether the worry about annoying your own downstairs neighbor would be too much to handle.
posted by Wylla at 11:04 AM on January 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Some people are just louder walkers than others. I live in a 1st floor apartment now and I rarely have problems with loud walking upstairs. Here and there I hear some walking around but it isn't so bad -- but on the days when it is bad I realize how bad it would be if my upstairs neighbor never thought to take her shoes off or step lightly when it's after midnight. My last apartment was a first floor apartment as well. I had an upstairs neighbor for about 2.5 years who I rarely heard making any noise, but when he moved out and a couple with a dog moved in, holy man. I would have lost my mind if I hadn't moved out.

So, ymmv -- I'd say stay with the apartment you live in now because you like it and yes, moving is a pain in the ass, and hope for less noise neighbors this time around. But that's just me. Honestly, I think whatever you decide, you just need to own it. It sounds to me like your pros/cons list is nearly even. But maybe actually write one out and see. Given that the pros of moving don't seem to outweigh the cons so much, I personally would opt to stay where I am, because as you noted, moving is a pain in the bahonkas.
posted by pazazygeek at 11:10 AM on January 1, 2012

I lived on the top third floor walk-up a few years ago. It was nice to have no one above me. There was way less noise, I could actually hear the rain on the roof and it was a bit warmer in the winter. I'd definitely choose the top floor again. One flight more of stairs won't be a thing. I never noticed it. Moving within one's own building, however, can be worse than it sounds. My Worst Move Ever was to an apartment across the hall. I took it less seriously due to the proximity of my new apartment and packed in a kind of haphazard way, made millions of small, inefficient trips back and forth as I did most of the moving myself (because it felt weird asking for help to get across the hall), etc.
posted by marimeko at 11:17 AM on January 1, 2012

I'd say move. It won't be much hotter, one extra flight of stairs doesn't make difference, and you will be in the perfect position from which to establish good relations with whomever moves in downstairs.

Anyhow, the new person might be lots quieter, but they're probably more likely to just be loud in different ways at different times. And while your current neighbor sounds like someone you were at least comfortable reaching out to, there's no guarantee that this new person will be as respectful of your concerns. By moving, you'd be capitalizing on the only aspect of the dilemma that you have any control over -- your own comfort and noisiness.
posted by hermitosis at 11:23 AM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'll second that the top floor might not be hotter if it's old building with radiator heating and dependent upon the location of the building's thermostat.

I lived in on the top floor of a three story, 19th century brownstone. It had radiators and the thermostat was on the first floor and the oil tank was in the basement. It was freezing in the winter and I prefer cold to warm, but honestly, sometimes it felt like I had no heat at all. My landlord was responsive, the radiators were bled regularly and he tried to do something to adjust the water pressure, but the only time I got any heat was when there was a person on the first floor who apparently liked heat levels more appropriate to the tropics and would crank the thermostat way up. The first floor apartments (there were 2 to a floor) had to be in the 90s for any discernible warmth to trickle up to me.
posted by kaybdc at 11:33 AM on January 1, 2012

I am the same as TPS, fifth floor walk up here. I have to admit I NEVER hear noise and I don't mind being hotter (except when I had A/C issues during heatwave). The other bonus is that it is excellent exercise, if very involuntary most of the time. I would move, but then from one worrier to another, you will prob just find something else to worry about!:) (note: sometimes I do pause on the 2nd floor and vaguely wished I lived there, especially when carrying luggage etc but I had the choice and went with 5th for privacy and quiet.)
posted by bquarters at 11:36 AM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the grand scheme of apartment neighbors, tours sounds pretty normal to me. Given how much the noise is bothering you, I vote for moving up and eliminating that risk/irritant.

Ask yourself this: if your neighbor were staying, would you want to swap floors?
posted by J. Wilson at 11:41 AM on January 1, 2012

Third floor here. Fourth, depending who you ask. Late 19th century. This is the second top-floor-of-a-brownstone apartment I've had, and I adore it.

Thing is, you're not going to be completely insulated from the noise of your downstairs neighbors. If they play loud music, the sound will travel up as easily as it traveled down. I used to be able to overhear my downstairs neighbors' conversations, word for word. We would talk to one another about the TV programs we noticed each other watching. They'd say, "How do you like Veronica Mars?" and we'd say, "How do you like Party Down?"

Insulation is the only thing that can solve this problem. Rugs, to start, and then you can look at more serious solutions.

More on the top floor: it gets hot in the summer and cold in the winter and you just generally feel very close to the weather. I like that -- I like the way the snow and rain sound on our skylights. But it freaks my cat out, and does require lots of air conditioning in the summer and sweaters in the winter.

But I wouldn't trade the privacy for anything. Nobody comes to our floor, except occasionally the landlord to dust the railings.
posted by brina at 11:42 AM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

About your worry that you'll make noise for the neighbors below - don't you already live above someone? If so, there should be no difference. Also, if you're really worried about it, get some rugs, learn to tread softly, and don't have parties after midnight :-)

More stairs is good exercise, too. Do you know if her rent is any lower?

It sounds like whatever you do will be a tradeoff, so you can feel good (or bad!) with whatever decision you make.
posted by egg drop at 12:15 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also love top floor living, and would live on the top of a 5th floor walk-up in a second.

However I'm going to advice against it for you, because of these things:

D) I worry [...] about upsetting the downstairs neighbor with any noise!

How much you worry about that is really up to you. You know you're prone to it, and the place where you live shouldn't be a source of worry.

(However: Don't you worry about this now? Is there no one on the ground floor?)

G) I just don't like her apartment as much as I like mine.

This! If you don't like it as well you shouldn't move. End of discussion.

H) Most people don't come home at 3 or 4 and party til 2 on weekdays, right?

Right. Well, depending where you live. If you're near a college or a low-rent area near the bars... well there's a good chance that they'll be the same. On the other hand a quiet, reclusive person could move in and you would never hear a peep from them.

In the end it sounds like you really don't want to do it. So don't.
posted by Ookseer at 12:27 PM on January 1, 2012

If you like your current place so much, I think I have a good compromise for you...

I also prefer top floor living, but I wouldn't move into the apartment you describe in a hundred years because it's not as nice as your current home, and especially because of personal past experience in a very desirable and old building.

There are flaws in this building that severely impact your daily life. I know you've gotten used to the noise intrusions, but it is still impacting you and effecting your nervous system. Were I you, I'd wait to see who moves in above. If they disturbed me, I'd find a way out of my lease and I would move to someplace nicer.

I did this in 2009 and I am soooo much happier now. Hearing your neighbors to the degree you describe isn't normal, but it's a common problem in some types of older construction. Believe me when I tell you how GOOD you will feel someplace new, where you have privacy from your neighbors and vice versa.

I think you should stay put, but be prepared to move should the new neighbor above be a repeat of the one who just moved out.
posted by jbenben at 1:29 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

And just in case you're not convinced - the building I moved out of was gorgeous. And it was hurting me physically after a few years of being woken up all the time and to hear so much of my neighbors activities, and to know they heard mine. Ugh.

My new place is less expensive, bigger, nicer, better views, super sound proofed between floors... and you'd never guess it from the street.

You can do better is all I'm saying. I still have friends sticking it out in my old place. They're still miserable, but cling because they love the idea of where they live so much. Meh.

I popped back in to tell you life's too short to be miserable and you won't regret choosing comfort AND style over great style but a lack of comfort.
posted by jbenben at 1:40 PM on January 1, 2012

I think you should definitely move - there are a lot of people with families moving from houses to apartments and if you get kids above you you will go insane. They skip and they play a lot, and its perfectly normal so you would feel bad saying a thing.
posted by meepmeow at 1:59 PM on January 1, 2012

Re. the heat, I just want to say that I lived on the fifth floor last year of a building with radiator heat, and it was FREEZING (as was the apartment over, on the same floor). Units on the floor below were significantly hotter. Maintenance had to come regularly to "bleed" the radiator (too much air in the radiator and not enough hot water? I never understood exactly what the situation was...). I don't know how much of the specifics of the building translates over to your building, but I wouldn't automatically assume it will be hotter. Maybe ask your current upstairs neighbor before she moves out, or - given people's different comfort-zones regarding temperature - see if you can come up to her apartment on an average-temperatured day to have a feel for yourself?
posted by UniversityNomad at 2:15 PM on January 1, 2012

Thanks everyone for the responses so far. I was trying to work out whether my reluctance was 'I don't want to move' or 'I would rather not move.' Still thinking.

To answer a couple of questions - yes, I already live above someone, and am already careful and (hopefully) thoughtful - shoes off at the door, headphones on after 11:30 or so, in bed by midnight most nights. I think what would worry me so much about living upstairs would be that I'd know *exactly* from where the worst noises would emanate, and exactly how it sounds to the other person. Right now I'm oblivious to how I really sound to my neighbors - just that they haven't complained.

I don't think I'd be tremendously bothered by the creaking floors if it was just a matter of typical waking hours. It's been the late night stuff that's been the worst. As for the music, probably the same thing; I am not bothered by hearing a bit of it, it's mostly the late hours stuff that gets to me. While I'm a pretty quiet person overall, I actually like some ambient living noise, probably partly because I find it comforting to know there are others around (this likely stems from once having my apartment broken into and the burglar coming into my bedroom while I was actually in my bed - he took off, but it left me scarred).

Re: the apt not being as nice as mine - the upper unit is on kind of a Mansard part of the building, making the unit more 'cozy' and squat as opposed to airy like mine. My place has the vibe of an art gallery. Upstairs has the ambience of one's favourite little bar.

If someone moved in upstairs who didn't party on weekdays, didn't wear heels indoors, tended to go to bed by midnight and get up no earlier than about 7, then there is no way I'd move. But obviously I can't be guaranteed that such a person(s) will move in up there. And then there's the fact that yes, I could still end up with a bad downstairs neighbour if I moved.

Will let you know what I decide!
posted by analog at 2:25 PM on January 1, 2012

You might also want to consider another building. In my 10 years of apartment living (4 apartments), I have never once heard someone have sex or snore.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:43 PM on January 1, 2012

I recently moved in part because of loud neighbours above me. Stompers, furniture-movers, stuff-droppers, and god knows what else. Absolutely awful. Now I'm on a top floor, in a carpeted building and it's crazy how much better it is.

I vote for moving. You never know who will move in, they may well be 100 times worse than your current neighbour and if you have to move out quickly, it'll be tough to find a good place.

The way you describe it doesn't sound too bad. On a loud-neighbour-scale of 1-10, she sounds like a 3 or 4. You don't want to experience 9-10, it's just not worth it.
posted by rainy at 4:29 PM on January 1, 2012

I've lived on the top floor of a few apartment buildings; none with elevators. The highest I lived was the sixth floor, with 12 flights of steps. Honestly, it was a drag carrying groceries up for the first couple of months, and then I got used to it and didn't really notice. It would have been a pain with kids, though, and when I had guests, they always complained a lot.

The biggest issue I've had living on the top floors was weather-proofing. Two places I've lived had leaky roofs when it rained. But I guess that beats leaks from the upstairs toilet into your apartment :) Certainly living on the top floors was always quieter than living lower down.
posted by lollusc at 4:47 PM on January 1, 2012

Another vote here for move to the top floor: as everyone says, you can't guarentee any future over-your-head tenant will never wear shoes indoors, hates parties of all sorts, and generally be an anti-social urban hermit who's into nothing noisier than crocheting.

One thing to consider: does the current tenant have the place carpeted? Good carpeting deadens a lot of sound between floors, and many landlords require it for that reason.
posted by easily confused at 5:48 PM on January 1, 2012

That's an interesting option - ask landlord to carpet it and maybe chip in to cover part of the cost. You get to keep the apartment you like and it'll help alot with noise. I would still move though as I've had a lot of noisy neighbours and I'm more sensitive to noise than most people.
posted by rainy at 6:07 PM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd move up or out.

It's possible that you are, indeed, quiet as a churchmouse. It's also possible that your downstairs neighbours are just exceedingly tolerant. I lived a quiet solitary life on the second of three floors in an early 20th century art deco beauty for two years and my upstairs neighbours were deplorable. Home in the wee hours, dropping things, MOVING FURNITURE in the middle of the night. Truly hideous. It was where I learned the origin of the phrase "waiting for the other shoe to drop."

Then one day I ran into a former neighbour from across the courtyard who I'd never actually met, but waved to out of the living room window often. We chatted a bit and he mentioned he was good friends with my downstairs neighbour and she complained about me all the time. The worst, she said, was my moving furniture in the middle of the night! Never!

She never complained so I had no idea, just like I'd never complained to the folks above me. And honestly, I never wore shoes in the house and certainly never banged around or moved furniture after midnight, though I did often come in in the wee hours.

Top floors rock.
posted by looli at 11:20 PM on January 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

hi folks

An update. I went upstairs and spent some time in the apartment and talked to the current tenant. I also assessed the creaky floor situation. I was quite surprised, because the worst places for creaking as a downstairs listener did not sound that bad to me as I was actually walking on them upstairs. So I think this is just a situation of it being a really old building that creaks, regardless of the footprint of the walker.

The place is smaller than mine, the ceilings are lower, the windows are more compact, the kitchen is not renovated to the same degree as mine, and the balcony is more closed in (no sweeping views from the living room). Also, many of you were right to caution me about my perception that an upstairs apartment would be hotter; I observed that the current tenant had temporarily moved her bed into the living room because there is no radiator in the bedroom, and the -20 degree Celsius temperatures had proved to be too much for her to feel comfortable in her bedroom.

The current tenant told me that she never hears neighbours. That would be nice.

But it just doesn't feel right in my bones to move. So I am going to stay put, and the landlord, who is good, has agreed to try and find a really suitable tenant and also repair a couple of the worst floor creaks. Many of you may be in a situation in a few months to say "I told you so," but if it does not work out with the new tenant, then it's likely just not the building for me. For now, I will own this decision, as pazazygeek recommends.

Besides, the king is comfortable in my current pad - I can't ask him to move again.

Thanks everyone.
posted by analog at 9:38 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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