Short-term and long-term solutions for noisy neighbors?
February 25, 2012 9:15 PM   Subscribe

Every Saturday, my downstairs neighbors have been having a noisy, extended get-together that disturbs my evening rituals and bedtime.

Here's what I've tried.

Playing music for background noise. Nope.

Pounding on the floor. Nope. (I know this is passive-aggressive. I did it once, after having been woken up.)

Talking to them. The past couple times I've waited for them to start talking loudly after the two-hour mark, then (once per evening) knocked on their door and asked them to keep it down. This sort of worked the first time, but most recently, the woman who answered told me that the other first-floor apartment was at fault (nope, that woman and her friends may be making noise too, but they don't speak Chinese in baritone registers). I'm not keen on the idea of more ineffective negotiations with dishonest people.

Calling my landlords. They didn't return my call.

Here's what I haven't tried.

Covering my hardwood floor. I like my floor the way it is.

Calling the police. When I stand outside, my neighbors and their guests aren't loud enough to convince me that this could be productive.

Wearing noise-canceling headphones. I don't own a pair any more. They don't handle intermittent noise well.

Moving. I've been looking, and I'm on a month-to-month lease, so it would be easy to move if I found something acceptable. Unfortunately, I live in a college town, and inventory will be very thin until summer begins.


In the short term, should I reevaluate my strategies?

In the long term, how do I find a unit that will actually be quiet (and smoke-free, which was my problem with the previous occupant(s) of the downstairs unit)? I ask because my landlords are advertising the empty unit across from me as being in a "quiet" building, which is, well, bullshit and/or code for "no undergraduates". The stakes are high because the standard full lease here is for a minimum of one year.
posted by questionable accounting to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
In the short term, should I reevaluate my strategies?

The noise that is disturbing you is -- they are speaking Chinese loudly in baritone registers for several hours on Saturday nights?

If so, I think almost anyone would see them as acting reasonable and you as not being reasonable. I seriously doubt the landlords or police will help here, I doubt your neighbors will forego their lively Saturday night chats.

So I think your strategy should be based not on forcing them to stop (I think you will have exactly 0 success there), but blocking out the noise from reaching you. Earplugs are the first step.
posted by cairdeas at 9:24 PM on February 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

What time is this happening? I think all answer will depend on if it's 9pm or 3am.
posted by fshgrl at 9:27 PM on February 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

Calling the police. When I stand outside, my neighbors and their guests aren't loud enough to convince me that this could be productive.

This doesn't make sense to me in two ways - first, its not clear if you've actually called the police. Try that. Second, why would it matter how things sound outside? The issue is the sound within your place.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:29 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Covering my hardwood floor. I like my floor the way it is.

This is just petty/silly, if it's that much of an annoyance. Especially if it will temporarily solve the issue until you move.

Long-term - if you rent in a small house with known quiet people or in a community known for its responsible adult workforce, that's probably the best you can hope for. You can also visit your possible next complex/area at night on the weekends and see what the nightlife looks like. No undergraduates is a big deal, noise-wise.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:30 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, earplugs.
posted by trevyn at 9:35 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Unless this is happening at 3 or 4 in the morning, I think you are being unreasonable. It is a Saturday. People have parties and get-togethers on the weekend. You are aware of possible solutions, such as getting an area rug, but you refuse to implement them.

Based on your post, it doesn't sound like your neighbours are acting unreasonable. They are living in a building that isn't very noise-proof; unless they're having a rave in their apartment, you just have to deal. If you insist on refusing to buy a rug, knowing that it will solve your problem, buy earplugs and put them in when you go to bed.
posted by asnider at 10:04 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

People are allowed to talk loudly in their own apartment. Use earplugs.
posted by parrot_person at 10:16 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

If this is happening before 10pm, you need to suck it up. If it's later than that, you need to communicate with your landlord.

I don't understand how putting down an area rug would solve a noise problem (unless the downstairs neighbor was complaining about the OP making too much noise while walking on the wood floors). Anyone?
posted by Specklet at 10:16 PM on February 25, 2012

White noise machine.
posted by dame at 10:22 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Noisy gatherings on weekend nights are a standard feature of living in the world, whether you live in an apartment or in a house. You know what you would need to do to avoid this issue entirely, and need to evaluate whether you are willing to do it: be forewarned that the sound of roosters from properties miles away can still carry to your magical quiet dream house in the country, though, and awaken you before your preferred morning time.
posted by padraigin at 10:44 PM on February 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't understand how we're supposed to answer your question without knowing the times that these noisy events are occurring. Or are you omitting the relevant details on purpose?
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:52 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Having lived in a few college towns, the inventory is not thin if you want to move. Turnover is super high. Also, earplugs. I live in a house that's quiet and I wear earplugs religiously. I've lived in noisy places and loved them even more. Good earplugs plus a fan set to medium will cover any noise except loud bass near where you sleep.

I said good earplugs so try a few pairs. The only good kind I found were these purple tapered cylinders.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:15 AM on February 26, 2012

Best answer: Seriously people. Telling the OP that they never had it so good is not an answer. Noise can be incredibly disruptive and debilitating.

If it's not actionable - i.e. if you can't get an outside party to take your complaints seriously, then you have four real options:

1) Keep a noise diary. If it is sufficiently bad, and there are instances when the noise is taking place at antisocial hours, then a noise diary can form part of your discussions with your landlord or your local authority.

2) Go and speak to them. This is hard, because they are often inconsiderate jerks and you already think they are inconsiderate jerks and are in little mood to appeal to their sense of community spirit. But some people are just dumb, rather than malicious. Invite them round for a cup of coffee to your place. Be real nice. Get them to actually, properly empathise with you. It may not work, but it's free and you'll know soon enough if it doesn't work.

3) Wear earplugs. Silicon earplugs are great for low, baritone noise and are comfortable. It may not be your bag to wear earplugs in your own home but it should help you sleep better. It's also worth training yourself to not get agitated by the noise, which is easier to write and harder to do. But try. Don't get worked up by the noise early on that you think will become late night noise, for example.

4) Move. You don't own the place. Yes, lots of places have people who rip the arse out of things on the weekend. But lots of places have people who like their sleep too and don't do these things. If the underlying issue is that sound travels in your building and your neighbours' noise is on the cusp of some enforceable measures then cut your losses.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:47 AM on February 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Would the empty unit across from you be quieter?
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 1:01 AM on February 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've lived in apartments in cities for the last 30 years, and while I'm not terribly sensitive to ambient noise, I usually try to get a top floor apartment (so I don't have the clicking or stomping or furniture moving sounds over my head), and preferably one without shared walls in the essential rooms (ideally, no shared walls at all), and pay attention to traffic patterns that may make things miserable... but still, sound is a slippery thing, and you can't predict how it will act. The magic of acoustics may make people talking relatively quietly in their kitchen on the third floor an issue in your bedroom three floors up and two doors over.

When evaluating for noise, you will need to pay attention to things like small courtyards or architectural "shafts" that may bounce or convey noise (or scent – I've had the Smell Express wafting perfume and frying onions into my place before, even with all windows closed). Ideally, you need to check out the place with noise in mind at different times of day (rush hour, after-school, Friday/Saturday nights). I also lived briefly in one place that only shared the floor (my floor) with another apartment, but the exposed western wall that didn't abut another apartment or building a) introduced so much heat into the apartment it was absolutely miserable in the summer, and b) bounced up noise from several stories below, from another building.

I now live in just about the quietest place I've probably ever lived in my life, which happens to be a sort of bizarre aberration, since I live in the center of one of the loudest, most densely populated cities in the world. Geographical features, traffic routing, old-style narrow streets and a certain traditional demographic have collaborated to randomly create a tiny, serene neighborhood where the noisiest confab usually comes from the birds twittering outside. Nevertheless, my former neighbor was always complaining about noise. In such a quiet enclave, the dog barking two streets away, the guy using his jigsaw, somebody revving their motorbike or cranking the sound a bit for their birthday party, will all sound really loud, but wouldn't even register in the typical wall of sound you get in a big city.

Based on these observations, I'm guessing that you might actually live in a really quiet place, since some loudish talking voices for a few hours on a Saturday night would probably be a drop in the bucket in a typical noisy-soundscape city apartment. For example, we are very quiet (much, much quieter than this former neighbor who used to have screaming fights with her boyfriend every other week), but this neighbor actually came to our door to complain when a friend of ours visited briefly (a couple of hours, afternoon/early evening), because he has a naturally loud baritone voice. There was no ranting, drunken blabbering or arguing – he's just a naturally stentorian type.

She was regularly getting very, very upset by anything that registered as "loud" in our just amazingly quiet neighborhood... but now that she's moved (not because of noise, but because she needed a larger place), whenever I see her, she complains bitterly about how horrific the noise is in her new (more typical) location, and wishes she had stayed despite finding a larger place for less rent.

If you think at all that this may be similar to the situation in your case, it may be wise to evaluate the empirical evidence. Does this loud conversation stand out because everything is usually so quiet? Will it most likely be noisier overall somewhere else within your income range or logistical preference? If so, it's probably worthwhile to watch a movie, listen to music, or read with headphones for a few hours on Saturday nights if other aspects of your location are congenial.

Also, for a reality check, you might invite a few friends over and get their opinion on whether the Saturday night sound is overbearing or within the normal range. It won't change things, but it might help to mitigate your irritation if it seems that overall you have a nice, quiet location with a few limited noisy hiccups.
posted by taz at 1:21 AM on February 26, 2012 [8 favorites]

Ah, just one more tip: I stayed for a short time in an apartment belonging to a friend that made me crazy because it was situated on a hill, with a one-way street going up. It was an otherwise quiet neighborhood, and there wasn't a ton of traffic, but motorbikes and trucks would have to rev up to gain the hill, and it was completely random in terms of when it would happen, although, obviously, busier traffic times yielded more vrroomvroom.

Overall, I'd say that the mean vehicular sound in this apartment was relatively minimal, but because the laboring engine whines were mostly unpredictable I found it very jarring and bothersome, and I would startle every time.

Maybe if I had lived there longer that particular disturbance would have faded from my consciousness, but of all my city-sound experience, this was the most consistently bothersome to me while I was there.
posted by taz at 2:16 AM on February 26, 2012

Re: floor coverings --- many apartment landlords require carpeting for just this reason: carpeting and rugs help to deaden sound, whether it's the sound of a downstairs party rising or the sound of an upstairs dance party pounding on someone's head. What does your lease say? Every apartment lease I've ever seen has required a minimum of 75% of the floor being covered.

And as everybody else is noting, what time is this happening? Leases often specify times when noise has to reduce, often 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 11p.m. or midnight Friday-Saturday. If this is something like 7 or 8 p.m., you're probably out of luck.
posted by easily confused at 3:53 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Times vary; last night was maybe 7:30 to 1:30? I've knocked around my preferred bedtime, which is 10ish. I'd let it go if it happened just once or twice a month. My lease does not have specified quiet hours, so I assume theirs doesn't either.

I was angry when I wrote the question (note the timestamp) and didn't describe their noise very well; the median is loud talking, but the 99th percentile is furniture scraping, yelling, and short bursts of music (I don't know either; maybe a video game?).

I'll try earplugs when I go to bed, but they make it difficult to listen to music or watch TV.
posted by questionable accounting at 4:20 AM on February 26, 2012

This is not a problem with your neighbours; it is a problem or at least property of the building you live in. In other words, if all they are doing is talking - not playing loud music, screaming, or throwing parties - this problem is not theirs to solve. As much as you may resent it, you need to make reasonable concessions to the reality of your physical environment to get the evening quiet you're after. Ear plugs, rugs and white noise machines have been suggested. If those interrupt your preference for TV or music, may I suggest an iPod for music and wired or wireless headphones for TV watching?

On that note, in a building constructed as yours apparently is, is it possible the sounds of your music or TV is entering their apartment and causing them to have to speak more loudly over it?
posted by DarlingBri at 5:48 AM on February 26, 2012 [8 favorites]

I am very sensitive to noise and I also go to bed early. In one house we lived in, some college kids moved in next door. My bedroom wall was against their driveway/patio so when they had friends over I could hear every word of their conversations. They weren't being particularly loud or rowdy for college kids -- but it made it impossible for me to sleep.

Here are a couple of things that helped:
- Get earphones you can wear in bed and put some 'white noise meditation' on a loop on a listening device. I am particularly fond of Ocean Wave Entrainment by White Noise Meditation but you can look around for one you like better. Another option is a white noise machine.
- Home Shopping Network is your new best friend. If you have a TV in your bedroom, turn it to HSN (or any other shopping channel with quiet hosts) and turn the volume to barely audible. I found clothing and jewelry particularly nice to fall asleep to, but the hosts were always too animated when selling electronics.
- Make sure you get a rug for your bedroom floor. It will help keep the noise from filtering up.
posted by LittleMy at 6:00 AM on February 26, 2012

Response by poster: This is an old, solidly constructed building with ceiling tiles installed below the original ceiling (at least on my floor). If not for the front door, the stairs, and some gentle thumping, I would never know that my upstairs neighbors exist. I'm pretty sure they don't have a rug either. I am skeptical that anyone else can hear the low-volume audio from the built-in speakers on my laptop and TV and extremely skeptical that my downstairs neighbors are raising their voices over it.

It's worth reiterating that this being a weekly occurrence is raising my frustration level significantly.
posted by questionable accounting at 8:05 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

But it's a regularly scheduled weekly occurrence! You can prepare yourself for it.

What you do is you change your Saturday night rituals. Sometime in the late afternoon you put in your earplugs. (If you like to listen to music or watch movies, no problem: use headphones or earbuds over the earplugs. Works great!) You start to think of Saturday evenings as peaceful, relaxing times. Because you've put in your earplugs before the noise even begins, you stop thinking about your neighbors and getting annoyed about them.

I get very annoyed about loud neighbors, but these guys are just talking once a week with friends. They don't sound like your usual inconsiderate neighbors. You sound contemptuous of them, but it's just as likely not warranted.
posted by trig at 8:31 AM on February 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Ditto DarlingBri. The building may be structurally sound and well-built, but at any point someone could have renovated the floor-ceiling interface between your units and cut corners by skipping noise-reducing measures. Was there ever a fire or flood that would explain why your apartment is insulated from noise from above but not noise from below? (Could the ceiling-below-a-ceiling itself be a way of cutting corners and skipping a costly popcorn ceiling asbestos removal?)

Could you make friends with the super, learn more about the building, ask if they have any future plans to add noise reduction, and ask if there's anything they could do in the meantime?
posted by slidell at 10:57 AM on February 26, 2012

Seconding getting a white noise machine. I sleep terribly and wake easily and have to be up at 5:30 am. We had much worse neighbors above us who would begin slamming drawers and moving furniture around for HOURS starting at 3:30 am on weekdays. White noise meant I could sleep through that, and the parade of garbage and recycling trucks, and the bums who like to sit right outside our bedroom window and drink and argue.

Otherwise there's not much you can do. I don't think your neighbors are being unreasonably loud at all. Talking on a Saturday night is not really in the realm of jerkiness that a landlord is going to care about.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:14 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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