Should I try to get out of this lease?
December 21, 2013 4:16 AM   Subscribe

I recently signed a lease on a new apartment that I'm supposed to move into on January 16. Now, I'm having serious second thoughts and trying to figure out if I should talk to the owner about getting out of the lease. I paid a deposit, but don't mind forfeiting that. I've been looking for a new place for the last four months, ever since new neighbors moved in upstairs. I have insomnia, though my sleep had been ok earlier in the year; it got much worse, though, because the new neighbors are frequently up late talking loudly. Even smaller sounds, like their footsteps on the hardwood floor above me, started to bother me. It's been a huge problem because I haven't slept well essentially since they moved in, and though I tried to talk with them, I definitely want to move.

I hoped to move right away (i.e. by October), and got permission to leave my current lease early. But the market here (East Bay in the Bay Area) is insane, and after countless applications, I hadn't found a place. Finally, I found a place where the woman essentially offered me the apartment on the spot, and though I found that a bit strange, I took it, feeling desperate. I have to be out by the end of the month, and was increasingly feeling like I'd never find anything.

The apartment's charming, but it's on the first floor. I learned that the next door neighbor goes to bed early, but wakes up at 2am to get ready for work. I'm afraid that might wake me, and also afraid that the normal sounds of people walking around upstairs will be a problem, especially because I like to go to sleep earlier than usual (and it seems like if I miss a certain window, I just can't fall asleep...also wake up easily to small sounds).

Initially, the landlady had only asked me for a deposit, not to sign the lease, but since she offered me the apt immediately (and in the moment I felt I needed some proof that I was actually getting the place) I asked to sign the lease. This was last week.

Should I try to get out of this lease, and if so, how? (Note that if needed I can temporarily stay with family while I keep looking for a new place). What am I liable for if I haven't moved in yet?
posted by three_red_balloons to Home & Garden (17 answers total)
Part of living in an apartment is learning to maturely deal with others' reasonable noise. While some noise is unreasonable (loud talking or music late at night, door slamming, and the like) what you describe here (some footfalls from the upstairs neighbors, and the sounds of someone preparing for work) is reasonable. If you can't deal with these noises, you should try to find a place to live that is not an apartment.

Since I haven't read your lease, I can't tell you what you're liable for if you back out. How that plays out will depend on how nice your landlord is feeling, I guess.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:44 AM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just to add a bit of info--a house is not an option, because I live in an area that is extremely expensive and don't make that much money (the options I would be looking for are a cottage/in-law type of place or an upstairs apartment, both of which I've been unsuccessful in finding over the last four months).

I have been renting for over 10 years and don't expect neighbors to be silent, but the insomnia has become a major problem. Though my current neighbors are unreasonably loud, I am uncertain now if the current experience has also made me unusually sensitive to minor sounds. It would be helpful to hear from anyone who also has insomnia and has adjusted to noise from above.
posted by three_red_balloons at 4:52 AM on December 21, 2013

Where are you planning to find an apartment in the Bay area that has neighbors that have the exact same schedule as you and never walk around their apartment?

You might want to invest in earplugs and a white noise machine. I'm sorry about your insomnia, it sounds like a difficult struggle.
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:16 AM on December 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

I go through phases of insomnia, and I don't really think external noises are to blame, at least not minor ones like neighbor's footfalls. Things like that are just easy scapegoats because it's so frustrating to want to sleep and be unable to that you want to blame something. If you're sleeping normally, stuff like that will not bother you, so in the long run you're better off searching for a way to sleep normally rather than trying to find super-quiet neighbors.
posted by ella wren at 5:18 AM on December 21, 2013 [13 favorites]

And to answer the original question, the new situation sounds like a definite upgrade over your current one, and in your place I'd take it. You KNOW that your current neighbors are unreasonably loud, the new ones at least might not be.
posted by ella wren at 5:23 AM on December 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Agreeing with ella wren. I live in a nice quiet house with just my husband and when my insomnia is bad even his breathing (or the cat's breathing!) is enough to keep me awake and ragey throughout the night. Move or don't move - but go to the doctor to talk about why you can't sleep. There are a lot of options out there that can make things better. Step one for me would be earplugs.
posted by something something at 5:26 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is not legal advice. In most areas you can break your new lease by advising your new landlord you are doing so. You are potentially liable for payment of all rent during the period of the lease. Your landlord is generally obligated to act to minimize the damages from your breach by seeking a new tenant. It sounds like that's probably not too difficult in your area. Your lease may provide other measures of damages and/or methods of terminating. Read it. Follow any specific requirements for giving notices, e.g. in writing to a specific address, etc.

Your best bet is to talk with your new landlord to see if you can negotiate a termination. I would just make contact and say that you have found you will be unable to move in. The landlord may likely respond that "you will lose your deposit". Since you are willing to do so, that may resolve the issue.

However, as said, above, the likelihood of finding an ideal situation given your monetary restrictions seems minimal. Will living with your family be better? Seems like the ear plugs and white noise option may be your best bet, especially since you don't actually know if there will be a problem in the new apartment. You will have the same options as to breaking the lease if they don't work.
posted by uncaken at 5:45 AM on December 21, 2013

Agree to treat the insomnia first.

In regards to making a decision (which only you can make, no one here can tell you what to do):

- current place is noisy, you definitely want to move.

- temporary place with family is on the couch or in a guest room? There will be other people around that are potentially noisy. You will be a guest. How long will it take to find a new, better apartment? How many cottage/in-law type places or upstairs apartments are on the market if you could not find any since October?

- new place: neighbor goes to bed early = quiet evenings. Wakes up at 2am to get ready for work. So they leave at what, 2:30am, 3am-ish? The rest of the night will be quiet (from that particular apartment at least). Upstairs neighbors in the new place are an unknown - but at least you know someone who wakes up at 2am can sleep through whatever sounds there are from upstairs. If they turn out to be loud, there will be at least two people (you and your next door neighbor) who can ask the upstairs neighbors to keep it quiet because you go to bed early.

So, at what time do you go to sleep? You say it is earlier than usual, maybe it is around the time the new next door neighbor is going to bed and being quiet as well?
posted by travelwithcats at 5:46 AM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

This place sounds like an upgrade. Take it.

I agree with ella wren. You are trying to solve the wrong problem. The answer for insomnia is not finding a magically sound proof apartment. I have struggled with the wake up at 3am type of insomnia, so I sympathise, but the answer in my case was lifestyle changes and therapy to treat the underlying anxiety, not taking an air rifle to the kookaburras.
posted by arha at 5:46 AM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I sleep with a fan on most nights as a sort of white-noise substitute and that helps dull the sounds of other apartment dwellers; have you tried something like that? Part of living in the city is, unfortunately, getting used to others' noisemaking. I think the apartment sounds good.
posted by mlle valentine at 7:14 AM on December 21, 2013

I agree with others about go ahead and moving in. Insomnia is a medical condition, NOT an other peoples noise condition. Try and see a doctor to help get it treated. Little tricks may help (earplugs, white noise) but ultimately if your having this much sleep disturbance, see a professional. Lack of sleep will make you loopy. It can cause you to have lack of concentration, increase your anger, and your sensitivity among many other things. Your lack of sleep could literally be causing you to feel anxious about outside noises.

If you are still determined to get out of your lease, contact your local tenant rights organization. They work with people for FREE/ low cost and will advice you on the correct way to do it in your area. I'm not sure exactly where you live, but I found: for San Francisco only. They request that you google tenants rights YOUR AREA if you live out of their service area.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:14 AM on December 21, 2013

No advice on the lease, just a recommendation for a small water fountain or fishtank to mask non-extreme neighbor sounds.
posted by rakaidan at 9:33 AM on December 21, 2013

You should be looking for a top-floor apartment.
posted by désoeuvrée at 10:40 AM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would move in and see if I can make it work first, before trying to break the lease. But that's just me. Your local tenants rights folks can best advice you on breaking your lease.

I have insomnia which is caused by anxiety. Sleep aids (pharmaceutical or herbal), white noise, sleep hygiene [having a relaxing routine for going to bed at the same time every night] have helped me.
posted by sm1tten at 11:06 AM on December 21, 2013

If you have serious insomnia, moving into an apartment below a dude who does his regular getting up for work stuff between 2 and 3 a.m. seems like asking for trouble to me. Some people are super-sensitive to noise from above, and I bet it's worse in the Bay where nothing is insulated. The walls in my rental house in the Bay were made of tissue paper.

I think you should look for an apartment without neighbors above- top-floor apartment, duplex, cottage, etc. Maybe you could even consider being a roommate in a share house situation where your bedroom is the cottage, in-law suite, etc.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:19 AM on December 21, 2013

My boyfriend and I were living in a first floor apartment with two different apartments directly above us. I was going to college in Davis and having to get up at 5:30 in the morning to catch the train. When I was kept up or couldn't sleep, it kept me from falling asleep until 3 or 4 in the morning. We had some horrible upstairs neighbors that would come home at 3 from their restaurant jobs and stop around, slam drawers, and even have a bunch of friends over at 3:30 am. I was a wreck, so I know where you're coming from. We were not in a position to move, so: we got a white noise (brown noise, actually) app for the iPod. I also started taking melatonin, as well as valerian extract about half an hour before bed. Those things helped immensely, as did eating/drinking more foods with lots of B vitamins. In light of your issues with finding a place to live and insisting on signing a lease, I think maybe you should try this out- you don't know that the noise will be a problem. I've lived under housemates that I never heard at all, in the same apartment as the terrible stompy noisemakers. It really might be alright. But get a white noise machine. It helps immensely.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:23 PM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

It would be helpful to hear from anyone who also has insomnia and has adjusted to noise from above.

I was actually in this situation (twice, in two different apartments - a loud upstairs walker once, and a loud talker once). I resolved my insomnia in both cases with melatonin and increased exercise. If these methods and other common "cures" don't work for you, see a physician for his/her help. Fix the insomnia and you won't need to fret over reasonable noise.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:53 PM on December 21, 2013

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