Beeeeep. Beeeeep. Beeeep.
February 17, 2012 8:19 PM   Subscribe

There is a smoke detector in my building doing the low-battery chirp, and it's been going off for DAYS. How do I make it stop? Please, please help.

For several days now, there's been a loud chirp every 30 seconds. After trying to locate the source of the beep, my husband finally contacted the landlord. The landlord visited the building and identified the source of the noise as our next-door neighbor, who is an elderly woman. However, the landlord refused to enter the apartment (saying it was "tricky," whatever that means) and said he would just try to contact the tenant.

But apparently no action has been taken, or the tenant can't be reached, or whatever, and the beeping is making us CRAZY. I called 311 to complain. They referred me first to make a noise complaint with the environmental protection office, and that office finally directed me to the local police precinct's non-emergency number. The very nice officer I spoke with said that, short of a strong belief that there's a dead body inside, they can't really do anything. All three of the city employees I spoke with said it's basically on the landlord (or the tenant, who technically has the responsibility to maintain the smoke detectors) to fix this.

My husband just called the landlord AGAIN, at 11 p.m. The landlord said there is a super who can handle this, but won't contact the super tonight "because it's a lot of trouble" or give my husband the super's contact info. In fact, he hung up on my husband just now.

So the beeping is continuing, the landlord won't deal with us, and there's apparently no authority who will take this on. What can we do? This is in NYC, and just to be clear, there is no fire. Please help before our brains turn to mush from the incessant high-pitched chirping.
posted by serialcomma to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you knocked on your neighbor's door and asked her if you can change the battery yourselves? (forgive me if that's a naive or stupid question)
posted by cooker girl at 8:22 PM on February 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

Is there a reason you haven't knocked on your neighbor's door and asked her yourself directly? That's what I'd have done before contacting the landlord, the super or 311.

You can even do it in a "friendly-neighbor" kind of way -- "hi, it seems like that's been going off for a while; do you need some spare batteries? I have a few, here. Want me to help you change them? I know that can get tricky sometimes..."

But yeah, why not talk to your neighbor directly?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:23 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I should have mentioned that we've knocked multiple times over the last few days, but there's been no response. The tenant typically has people coming by to check on her every day or so, but I haven't seen anyone recently, so it's possible she's traveling.
posted by serialcomma at 8:24 PM on February 17, 2012

so it's possible she's traveling.

Forgive me, but isn't is possible -- under the circumstances -- that something else has happened?
posted by scody at 8:26 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Can you contact the super? Short of that, earplugs.

(but are you sure the neighbor is traveling? not to be a worry-wort, but she's elderly...)
posted by cooker girl at 8:27 PM on February 17, 2012

Response by poster: Pretty much the first thing that police officer asked if there is a foul odor emanating from her apartment. There is not.

Unfortunately, we don't have the super's direct contact number, and the landlord refused to provide it. (It's kind of weird that the landlord didn't just contact the super when he learned of the problem, but that's another post entirely.)
posted by serialcomma at 8:30 PM on February 17, 2012

The whole thing is concerning. Call the super yourself. Keep pestering the landlord. Be the squeaky wheel.
posted by Miko at 8:31 PM on February 17, 2012

Pretty much the first thing that police officer asked if there is a foul odor emanating from her apartment. There is not.

You might consider saying whatever you have to say to get them to come out.
posted by Miko at 8:32 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Can other tenants hear the beep? Can they pester the landlord, too?
posted by scody at 8:34 PM on February 17, 2012

Response by poster: Miko, that is a verrrrry interesting suggestion.

Scody, that's a good idea. We're really surprised that no one else has apparently called the landlord, but we plan to knock on some doors in the morning. If nothing else, one of the other tenants might have the super's number.

(Sorry to threadsit, everyone, but it's not like I'm going to sleep soon!)
posted by serialcomma at 8:36 PM on February 17, 2012

Call the fire department and ask what to do. Say you are also concerned about the well being of your elderly neighbour. Maybe they have a suggestion. Depending on the fire department, they might be clever about finding a way to gain access.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 8:44 PM on February 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

This happened to me when I first moved in to my apartment. it's very very possible that your neighbor simply can't hear it. My 80+ year old landladies couldn't hear theirs at all, even when they were standing right under it. So, not that you shouldn't be somewhat concerned that's she's okay but there's a very good chance that her not hearing this is within the range of what you'd expect for someone that age. Though the knocking seems to strongly imply "not home"
posted by jessamyn at 8:45 PM on February 17, 2012

Is there a window you can access? Or perhaps a fire escape? Just to get a look inside?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:26 PM on February 17, 2012

What you do is keep calling your landlord every 5 minutes until it's fixed. All night. Tell him this is how it's going to be and he doesn't have any choice.
posted by rhizome at 10:12 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the meantime, put a note under her door, mailbox as well.
posted by artdrectr at 10:26 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

And when you knock or write a note, offer to change it for her. Have an extra battery on hand and a step stool - it could very well be that she's incapable of changing it herself when she is home.

Good luck. The beeping emanating from the building next door is going on 10 months now. Surprisingly, you do get used to it.
posted by buzzkillington at 10:41 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please do not take Miko's advice and file a false report with police or fire/rescue. I can go into all the reasons why but I think you can deduce why doing this to get a beeping smoke detector fixed faster is a bad idea.
posted by itstheclamsname at 2:41 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Try using HPD online to get the name and contact info for your super (link to find data about your building is at bottom of the page). You can also enjoy finding out all the fun violations in the building.

Something I've learned in my long dealings with a bad landlord is that some classes of buildings (and possibly all tenanted apartment buildings) are required to have a super. If you are not allowed access to a super, it is possible that there is none. You can let 311 know. This is of course, pretty adversarial, and I'd not recommend it if you want to keep on good terms with your landlord.

Ear plugs might help. Ambient noise, like a fan, might help, although high pitched noises are the worst.

I've been in the same situation (in a different city) but it was a beeping noise that went off when the oil tank for the building's furnace ran out of oil and they needed to switch to the secondary oil tank. For the first few times, I'd call the super and he'd come and deal with it. After that, he'd just ignore it and go back to sleep because he was in a part of the building where he couldn't hear it. I finally reached the point where I asked for the key to the boiler room and to be told how to switch the oil tank, that was when they disconnected the beeping sound.

Good luck.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:56 AM on February 18, 2012

Are the smoke detectors hard-wired? Probably. Are the smoke detectors in your apartment hard-wired? When you take down one of your smokes, does it plug into an electrical wire?

If so, then the battery is a back-up power source. The main power feed is the electrical wire. (This is current NFPA / NEC code).

If that is the case, that you are dealing with a hard-wired smoke detector, then there is an easy solution. Go down to the basement, and turn off that apartment's main breaker.

If not, then the battery in the smoke detector will die soon, and that will silence the thing.
posted by Flood at 5:03 AM on February 18, 2012

Main breakers in apartment buildings are often locked up.

I would not assume that the neighbor is traveling, unless you have definite information. The smell of decomposition does not develop overnight. The DAYS that the alarm has been going off may just not be a long enough period for the smell to escape the apartment.

Do you have any way to find out who does the daily checking-up? That person or agency would know about any traveling, and might even have a key.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:10 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everyone. We called the landlord again first thing this morning, and he said the super will be by at 1 to fix the errant smoke detector. Fingers crossed!
posted by serialcomma at 6:11 AM on February 18, 2012

Please do not take Miko's advice and file a false report with police or fire/rescue.

To clarify, I am not recommending filing a 'false report.' I would simply say that when asked things like "Is there a foul odor?" you could say "It's hard to tell" and "I'm concerned, this is quite unusual," and talk about the lack of landlord response and how you haven't seen her or her visitors in days and usually there is X amount of activity. In other words, I thought it was worth encouraging someone in responsibility to step in and take more action -- the beeping is a concern but the neighbor, and her inability to respond and/or inability to hear her fire alarm is a legitimate and serious concern as well, and I wouldn't minimize it or hem and haw if I thought it was time for the authorities to step in where the landlord is shirking duty.

Glad to hear there seems to be action going on today though.
posted by Miko at 6:34 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: In case anyone's still checking in, we have a resolution! Turns out that continuing to call the landlord was key, because his cooperation finally got us started on a solution.

The super came to investigate and still couldn't access the apartment. When the landlord still couldn't reach the tenant, he became concerned about her wellbeing and called the police.

Two members of New York's finest arrived and entered her apartment through the window (via our fire escape, just as Cool Papa Bell suggested). They found a wheelchair, medication, a neatly made bed--and no tenant. The officers then removed the batteries from that infernal noise machine, and we have been living in blissful silence since.

Thanks again for your ideas, everyone. Hopefully we will not need your suggestions at any point in the future!
posted by serialcomma at 3:01 PM on February 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

That's great! I hope you leave a note that says the batteries were removed and that you're happy to help put them in. (Maybe include some.)
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 5:30 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

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