Is there anything I can do about my noisy neighbor?
January 26, 2012 12:09 AM   Subscribe

Is there anything I can do about my noisy neighbor?

I moved into an apartment in the center of a metropolis one month ago.

I am used to city living, but this is the most urban apartment I've ever inhabited. The apartments are so close together, I can understand distinct words in my neighbors' sentences even though they are in a separate building, and even when our windows are closed. In addition, it is behind a popular (tasty!!) restaurant and shares a wall with their kitchen, so I can hear loud pots banging throughout the day. I don't share walls with anyone else, but a neighbor lives above me and I can hear other residents across a courtyard. The rest of the building seems to house 20-something, childless students etc, like myself, and I can hear them chat, play video games or loud music late at night, and have been privy to one domestic dispute to date. While it is not the quiet ideal, I have been accepting the limitations and am very happy here :-) it is affordable, central to everything including my school, large, well equipped, warm, *visually* private and beautiful inside, and I can pretty much make as much noise as I want, which is important to me because I'm a musician.

The only thing I have a real issue with is one neighbor who is in the separate building I mentioned. I have heard him at all hours of the day and night, 3pm, 3am, etc, randomly making the strangest strings of sounds, counting, whacking things with sticks and golf clubs etc. For your amusement-- it sounds like "lelelelelelelele!!! WOOP WOOP WOOP WOOP!!!! BA! ch! BA! ch! BA! ch! BA ch! Dododododododododododododododo zaaaaaaaAAAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaaang!~" etc. And then alternating clapping, whacking and counting to numbers as high as 50 (at which point I put in ear plugs). He can actually keep a good rhythm at times, and if he persists, I plan to record him and make a dubstep remix :-)

Other tenants just call him "The Crazy Man", attribute his behavior to imbalance in his being, and speculate how he can afford an apartment. I'm writing to you all because for the last 8 hours, his smoke detector has been going off. Beep beep beep. Beep beep beep.

I called the city fire dept to make sure it wasn't a real cause for alarm. They examined the area and ended up leaving -- I guess there is no smoke, so they can't bust in and help with anything, though I was quite honestly hoping they would find a meth lab or something and arrest him.

Meanwhile, beep beep beep... I find myself needing to study my face cleanly off before I wake early tomorrow morning for a 12 hour day of class. I'm using in-ear headphones and ear plugs tonight to remedy the situation, but long term -- what gives? Is there anything I/we can do to address his behavior?

Thanks for reading. Writing about it in detail has helped me blow off steam. Steam steam steam.
posted by dolce_voce to Human Relations (12 answers total)
Contact his landlord. if you have his apartment address, this will help.

There is probably more (likely there are city agencies you can report this to) but to start, I would call his landlord and see what they say. Then, escalate with the city.

Likely it'll be anonymous if you contact the city, FYI.
posted by jbenben at 12:57 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't see how the content of what he is saying is at all relevant; it's how loud he is being that is at issue. It seems that he should be able to say whatever the hell he wants in his own apartment, and that the insulation (or lack thereof) is much of the problem here. With things that are genuinely disruptive, such as a smoke alarm going off for hours, yes, contact the landlord. But otherwise? Earplugs, or move.
posted by parrot_person at 3:07 AM on January 26, 2012

Uh- it sounds like you haven't spoken to him directly- but you have gossiped about him with other neighbors. that kind of sucks, doesn't it?

He's not mentally stable? Yeah, I don't think you, your landlord, the city or any one else is going to get him to stop with the outbursts. This isn't something people choose to do. He's not killing time and he probably can't stop having outbursts.

You may be able to interrupt his outbursts, though. Some day in the afternoon, you can knock and say "Hey, I live next to you. Sometimes I hear you counting at night at night and sometimes it keeps me awake. When that's happening, should I bang on the wall or call you to ask you quiet down?" Be direct, polite, and don't use euphemisms. But this isn't going to work if you are going through your landlord. You actually have to confront him.

The thing about people with mental illness, is that there is a wide variety of capabilities and symptoms. If he's living alone, the dude has a handle on his shit at least to a point. The vast majority of people with mental illness are not dangerous, and can actually talk to you about their behaviors. So try that before you try to get the poor guy kicked out of his apartment.
posted by Blisterlips at 3:18 AM on January 26, 2012 [9 favorites]

I'm writing to you all because for the last 8 hours, his smoke detector has been going off. Beep beep beep. Beep beep beep.

just thought of something. Do you think he is home now? with the smoke detector going off? Is there a chance he is incapacitated? You might want to ring the non-emergency police line and ask them to check on him.
posted by Blisterlips at 3:31 AM on January 26, 2012 [9 favorites]

Is there anything I/we can do to address his behavior?

Has no one tried actually just asking him to keep it down late at night? Then if that doesn't work, you contact his landlord. Then if that doesn't work, you contact the city.
posted by sm1tten at 7:04 AM on January 26, 2012

You could try the police, for disturbance of the peace. Likely they'll come talk to him, ask him to resolve the fire alarm and leave. Of course that only solves the current problem.

I'd recommend against confronting him, since if he doesn't care if his loud noises at all hours are affecting his neighbors, he probably won't care if you bring it up to him personally either, and if he truly is mentally unstable, there's no predictable way of knowing how he might react. He could react calmly and respond appropriately, or he could drag you into the apartment and feed you to his cats because you're part of the conspiracy against him trying to prevent his contacting the alien lords.

Aside from speaking to his landlord, the only long term solution would be to keep contacting the police for disturbance of the peace. I don't know what they could charge him with, but I know from personal experience (having them called on me), that eventually they'll get tired of coming out there, and tell him that if he doesn't stop whatever he's doing, they'll be forced to take someone to jail for the night (If they can determine that he's causing a disturbance for themselves, i.e. they can hear it and see the problem). He'll either take the hint, or spend a night in jail.
posted by Monkeyswithguns at 7:26 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since you're a musician and make noise yourself, I'd hesitate to contact the police with a disturbance-of-the-peace complaint. You'd just open yourself up for retaliatory complaints.

Re the immediate issue of the beeping smoke detector: If you've heard the guy doing his normal stuff, call the landlord. If you haven't heard any signs of life, call the police.
posted by ceiba at 7:38 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

DO NOT knock on the door and confront an unknown and potentially hostile person on your own. Preferably, not at all.

You don't need retribution, you don't need harassment, you don't need the person fixating on you as a source of their problems.

If the neighbor isn't mentally ill, but is doing something criminal? This x 100.

The reason why people in big cities (and more true, the bigger the city) tend to adhere to the "don't confront, don't get involved" model is because confrontation and involvement can be hella dangerous. The reason people will take the passive-aggressive approach to neighbors, in this situation, is because it is even more dangerous to have that situation in which the other party knows where you live. You do NOT want to make yourself a target.

Although I would also point out that there is a striking similarity between a person who is mentally ill, and a person who is simply idiosyncratic and weirdly creative - and your description makes me wonder if that isn't the case here. I would also like to point out that I do not keep a regular schedule, and keep my home darkened due to my vision, and there are times when I look at the clock and have to struggle to figure out when it is AM or PM - in other words, there is a small but definite possibility that he is not aware of the appropriateness of his timing. These are by no means the most likely possibilities, but they are possibilities.

Now, as far as the beeping smoke alarm - after eight hours? That definitely signifies a potential problem with the inhabitant - he could be in medical distress. Call the police and the landlord and make them aware of this, for the person's own good.

Long-term, I'd say you're going to want to think about insulating your apartment, foam or something, to try to block what you can. What have your neighbors had to say about this guy - has anyone seen him, talked to him, have there been any complaints lodged with "official" parties, etc? This will give you and/or us a much better picture of what you're dealing with. You seem to indicate that the apartment in question is fairly pricey - indicating that the guy's not what everyone thinks he is, OR there is another person 'caring for him', providing lodging, etc., OR perhaps he is a friend or relative of the landlord or owner - and any of these are going to significantly affect how the situation can be dealt with, or whether it can be altered at all. Bottom line, the only thing you have control over is what you do with your own situation - which is probably to just noise insulate as much as possible (or if nothing else, one small room or area that can be a "quiet room" for studying) or get the best damn headphones possible - and after that, see if a broader solution is possible.

But if you do decide to confront him? DO NOT do it as, "hey, I'm your neighbor, keep the noise down". Tell him what you told us: "Hey, I'm your neighbor, and I'd really kinda like to record you for this dubstep remix I'm making. Are you a musician, too?" In the first instance, you immediately become his adversary - in the second, you present yourself as sympathetic, and a potential ally. That difference, right there, can change everything that comes afterwards.
posted by mie at 8:10 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Several years ago, while I was out of town, an alarm in my place started making a regular alert that it was not functional. Not a fire alarm, but nearly as loud - and certainly loud enough that the beep beep beep must have driven the neighbors batty (shared wall). They went to the landlord. Maintenance came in, disabled the alarm, and left me a note explaining what had happened.

The next time I saw the neighbors (a week or so later), I apologized & thanked them for letting maintenance know (for me, it would have have been a sure sign I wasn't home which could have invited more trouble). We joked about it and the various other things we had heard over our time living next to each other and shared numbers in case we ever had to get in touch with one another for some reason. We never really spoke again (other then the very occasional "hi") and the mumbling wall was still an occasional annoyance, but that conversation made it less so.

So, while mie has a point and it'd probably be best to reach out to the landlord, getting to know the folks next door definitely made life a bit better (at least less annoying) for me.

(now if I could only find a few good porn tracks to play for the current folks living there - she's a screamer and they're in that constant sex stage of the relationship. morning. noon. after work. after dinner. before bed. the occasional mid-sleep romp. sigh.)
posted by imbri at 8:33 AM on January 26, 2012

Oh, imbri, I definitely agree that getting to know the neighbors is a good idea, in any context - but having that first introduction be in the form of a complaint can be a really bad idea, if the person being complained about isn't as level-headed about it as you were. ;)
posted by mie at 8:51 AM on January 26, 2012

...argh, clicked wrong button. But instead of porn tracks, if you wanted to be really evil, you could play recordings of couples arguing about money, taking out the trash... or the wail of a baby crying...
posted by mie at 8:53 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a neighbor with Tourette's whose outbursts were very much like you describe. He was perfectly cool, just interesting in a very different way. I think it's valid for you to speak with the non-emergency police number and tell them that you hear the alarm, but not the usual sounds you expect from him. Seems like the fire department should have knocked, though, just to check it out.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 1:50 PM on January 27, 2012

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