apartment living: is this noise a legit reason to complain?
February 15, 2013 7:27 AM   Subscribe

So I have a wonderful apartment in an old Victorian house. My landlord lives below me. He plays horrible trance-type music frequently but usually not at late night or early morning hours. It's just loud enough that the "waaa waaa waaa" of the bassline is audible in my apartment. It makes me crazy, however hasn't kept me awake (...yet). But, I am a superquiet person who lived for a long time in the country and maybe I do not have realistic ideas about how quiet an apartment should be. Am I in my rights to politely ask them to turn their bass down?
posted by genmonster to Human Relations (21 answers total)
...also, is there any way to block it out? Earplugs don't really work on such low frequencies.
posted by genmonster at 7:30 AM on February 15, 2013

If you can hear your neighbor in your apartment, it is perfectly acceptable to ask them to turn it down a bit. Whether he'll actually do it or not is a different question.
posted by griphus at 7:31 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think a polite request is totally fine. Most people have no idea how much of their noise can be heard outside of their walls and most people are reasonable enough to respond favorably to a polite request.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:32 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, I don't think you have grounds to complain if it's not happening late at night, unless maybe it's so loud that it's rattling your windows or vibrating the floor.

This is, to an extent, just a part of city life.

My solution in this situation (low level ambient noise that isn't worthy of a noise complaint, with neighbors I need to have a good relationship with) has been to make a habit of playing my own music or keeping the TV on for background noise. I don't know if that'll cover the bass (I've never been in exactly your situation), but it may help.

At night, a white noise machine might be good, though unless you go to bed very early, it sounds like it is happening late at night if it's still going on when you go to bed. Which is definitely something to complain about!
posted by Sara C. at 7:35 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're totally in your rights to ask him to turn down the music, regardless of the time of day. And, moreover, I think you are in your rights to hear NO noise after a certain hour (whether agreed to with your landlord informally, in the lease, or as a matter of local ordinance).

But I think you don't have a basis to do anything if he continues playing the music loud during the day (again, you can reasonably ask him to turn it down, but you really can't force him).

The guy below me plays video games loud and practices guitar (quite well, fortunately). I can hear it all the time in my place--but thankfully, he's mindful not to go after 10 on weekdays, and maybe 11 on weekends. I think this is as good as I can hope for.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:39 AM on February 15, 2013

Couldn't hurt to ask, but I find that bass noise transmits really well through old buildings, and even at a below-average volume in his apartment, you will still be able to hear it.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:39 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

There might be a third path. Bass frequencies carry further, and if the speakers are placed near something resonant I've found that kind of boosts the resonance.

I'd make a gentle inquiry, but focus on the bass part specifically. Maybe ask where exactly the speakers are located, and if he's got them right up against some structural part of the building that carries into your apartment, see if maybe him moving the speakers just a couple of inches would do the trick, like, if he's got them right up against a wall, maybe pulling them a couple of inches away from the wall. Do a lot of sheepish smiling be all "yeah, it's not keeping me up or anything, but the bass just carries and it's really weird".

I wouldn't be surprised if just moving the speakers helps. I've often been similarly surprised with other neighbor-noise issues like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:51 AM on February 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

He is considerate about the time of day at which he plays this music, and you can only minimally hear it. You're welcome to politely ask that they turn it down but you should have no expectation that they will do anything to accommodate you here. He might, because he sounds like a fairly considerate person already, what with the only playing music during the day, but he'd be doing so as a favor because he's a nice person, not an obligation.

Hearing other people make noise around you is one of the trade-offs of living in the city vs. the country and again with choosing an apartment over the expense of a single-family home, and again when you choose an old Victorian over a modern condo building.

If you're going to approach him, I'd come at him from the angle that he probably doesn't realize but the bass from his music is traveling through the house and is there something you or he could do to isolate it a bit? Rugs on your floors might help, for example, or him moving the speaker/sub-woofer away from the wall or putting it on a rubber mat. Be super friendly about it, because, really, he's not behaving unreasonably now.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:53 AM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Asking's no problem (though awkward as it's the landlord), but you might try putting down some rugs, especially if there isn't carpeting (and perhaps even if there is). That could help keep the noise at bay.
posted by asperity at 7:53 AM on February 15, 2013

I hear my upstairs neighbors & next door neighbors daily. I don't think they are being loud, I think that my building is poorly insulated and it's part of city / apartment life. Personally, I wouldn't say anything. If you need it to be quieter, you have to live in a building that is not connected to any other units - shared walls lead to a certain level of shared noise. The only time I have ever asked someone to turn something down was late at night (in a previous apartment).

That said, I think it's okay to ask where the speakers are - especially if you have an okay relationship and don't think that asking will damage it.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:56 AM on February 15, 2013

I have people above me who play techno off and on, and they also have a new baby (whose crying my fiancé doesn't notice but I sure as hell do). The music is far less annoying than the baby, and nothing can be done about the baby. That's life in an apartment.

White noise is a godsend for masking sounds. Have a fan running all the time. An old radio set to static, volume set at an appropriate level. Bass-y sounds are far more noticeable on their own in quiet than when higher pitched noises are in direct competition.
posted by ergo at 8:13 AM on February 15, 2013

isolating the subwoofer or speakers from the floor should help some; perhaps he will be willing to do that
posted by thelonius at 8:20 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have routinely asked neighbours specifically to turn down the bass. You should not hear your neighbour's music in your home with the windows closed.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:22 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you can hear your neighbor in your apartment, it is perfectly acceptable to ask them to turn it down a bit. Whether he'll actually do it or not is a different question.

i completely disagree with that. Living in an apartment sometimes comes with annoyances like this. If it's an everyday thing I might bring it up, but I'd more like t use it as a constant reminder to try and better my life and get out of that living situation. I currently live in an apartment.
posted by zombieApoc at 10:24 AM on February 15, 2013

I also think it's unreasonable to ask him to turn it down, though mentioning the travelling bass noise and asking about moving the speakers a few inches away from support beams seems reasonable.

I am very noise sensitive myself, so I understand your frustration completely. My solution has been to wear earplugs more often than not. It took awhile to find some that work for me (oddly, the ones that are most comfortable initially aren't the ones I can stand for long periods of time.) I have to throw them out every day or I end up with outer ear infections (TMI?). I order large quantities at a time, lest my earplug habit beggar me.

Many people use fans or a white noise machine but for some reason white noise jacks up my anxiety about a million zillion percent, so that solution hasn't worked for me.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:34 AM on February 15, 2013

I think it's OK to ask, but it's not OK to complain.
posted by mskyle at 12:13 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've lived in old houses, and was once the observer to a long drawn out battle over bass noise similar to this (as in, two of my housemates really went at it over the issue). Unfortunately, I think bass is one of those things that just crazy carries in old houses. We went down and listed to how loud the music was turned up in the music-player's room, and it really, truly was at a perfectly reasonable level; yet, the bass in particular carried up not one but two (!) stories of the house. I think it's fine to ask gently if a speaker might be moved, etc., but ultimately this is really more your problem to solve through carpets, putting on your own music, getting out of the house if it's really driving you nuts, learning to get used to it over time, etc.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:42 PM on February 15, 2013

From your description, it sounds like your apartment is less noisy than any city apartment I've ever lived in has been (and that's a lot of apartments). I thought it might be useful to say that since you said that you're used to living in the country and don't really know what's normal for city living. That said, you could ask, but I would be apologetic about even asking.
posted by hazyjane at 1:18 PM on February 15, 2013

Let me just point out that this is the kind of thing that can lead to resentment even when its' between two neighbors of equal standing.

You are talking about your landlord.

If you like living in the apartment, I'd leave it be.
posted by corb at 1:51 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was in college, I lived in an on-campus apartment with a good friend. We were on the bottom floor, and two other women lived upstairs. My friend and I were quiet, don't-bring-the-party home types. Our upstairs neighbors started to complain about our noisiness, and we were really surprised, and eventually really annoyed. One of them knocked on our door at 5:30 PM and complained that our low-volume music (tinny speaker, ipod dock, Joni Mitchell) was disturbing her nap! The other roommate came downstairs to yell at my roommate for talking too loudly on the phone. My roommate was not talking loudly. What the fuck?

We eventually had a meeting with the RA, in which we discovered that the previous occupants of our apartment were never home and lived with their boyfriends, and thus, did not make any noise. We were noisy in comparison to the previous downstairs neighbors because we were not silent. We also showed how incredibly low-volume our music was to our RA and our neighbors, who felt pretty silly. The RA suggested that the noise might travel through the pipes, and then everyone went their separate ways.

In sum: Old buildings let noise carry in weird ways. There are reasonable accommodations that neighbors should make for each other, but not listening to music in the afternoon is not one of them. And people who are used to silence are going to be disturbed by any noise at all, and they need to get over it.

Ask him, politely, to turn down the bass. And then acclimate yourself to city living. If you can only minimally hear his music, you really need to let this go.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:04 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think it's fine to ask, as long as you're clear that you're asking for a favor, and not for something to which youre entitled.
posted by Ragged Richard at 5:43 PM on February 15, 2013

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