How do I resolve a neighbor/noise issue?
August 12, 2014 6:06 AM   Subscribe

My newish neighbors keep complaining about the level of noise coming from my apartment, but I'm not being loud. How do I handle this? Sensitive details in the explanation.

For the past five years I've lived in a building of studio flats. They are small and you can hear the normal things you'd expect to hear in such a building. If I have no tv or music or other background noise on, I can hear my neighbors watching tv, talking, cooking or having sex, for example. I can hear toilets flushing, washing machines, vacuuming and so on. A few months ago a couple (probably mid-30s) moved into the flat below mine. As it's summer and hot, everyone generally has their windows open. A couple months ago my boyfriend and I were having sex when we heard the woman downstairs screaming to "shut our fucking windows". Point taken, we made an effort to shut the windows during sex. A few days after that the man living downstairs came and knocked on my door, introduced himself and nicely let me know that they could hear us having sex and that he understood that in an apartment building one would hear things going on, but it was really stressing out his wife so could we please keep the windows shut. I felt terrible, apologized and told him we absolutely would close the windows in future. We were both very nice and it was a pleasant conversation.

After that my boyfriend and I not only shut the windows, but also (to the detriment of our own enjoyment) started being much, much quieter during sex. I'm talking mouse-like. We have never done it since without being hyper aware of the potential to upset these neighbors. In my 15 years of living in buildings like this one, I have never had a neighbor complain about noise before.

Then a week or so ago we heard her screaming at us from her flat again. We had been having sex but were not being loud. The tv is much louder when we have that on. We didn't know what else to do and concluded that she must expect not to hear any sex noises at all. We decided to continue being quiet but not to worry about it.

Last night we were having sex and hear a banging at the door, then immediately more banging. It was about 9:30 p.m. We stop and my boyfriend offered to answer the door. When he did, the woman, who was in tears, started screaming at him (I could hear all this). She (while screaming) asked if we had jobs (we both work full-time), said she had to be up at 6 am and all she could ever hear was us fucking and me screaming every day, morning, noon and night and they were moving out. She screamed at him a bit more and then left. He didn't really have an opportunity to say anything though I'm not sure what he could have even said. He was really upset after she left and she was clearly quite worked up about the whole thing. After this we could hear her arguing with her husband.

The thing is, we aren't even here that much. My boyfriend doesn't live with me. We go out a lot. We both work. We have sex here maybe 3 nights a week and we have not been having crazy loud, wild screaming sex. Whenever I leave my apartment or come home I can see that my neighbors are home though--I had assumed that they didn't work full-time because of this and that they're sharing a studio. When we are home, we aren't loud. We sit and talk or watch tv or play games and I never have more than one person over here at a time.

I don't know what I can do about this. I wanted to go talk to them after she left but I don't know what to even say. I feel like she's being unreasonable but she obviously doesn't think so. I don't want my neighbors angry with me but I'm not going to stop having sex. I also don't want her screaming at us or coming to our door when we're having sex. I can't really soundproof anything. Is there anything else I can do about this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Stay away from her, she is going through something really awful and you are her excuse to act like a crazy person. Leave your t.v. on when you have sex. Start documenting when she acts out like that. The police can explain to her why it is wrong.
posted by myselfasme at 6:11 AM on August 12, 2014 [46 favorites]

"Is there anything else I can do about this?"

As a long-time renter, my answer is "nope, there isn't." Your neighbors (well, neighbor, since it sounds like one of the pair has a reasonable outlook) are being unreasonable. If they want to move, fine. If they pound on your door a second time, politely invite them to not bother you again. Should it happen a third time, involve your landlord.

I've lived in brand new buildings and ones so old they qualify for old age payments. That's one of the things about apartments: if you let it get really, really quiet in your unit (like your neighbors have probably done), you can hear everything. That's just a fact of life.
posted by fireoyster at 6:12 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Are they actually moving out, is it on the calendar? If they are, you win! Maybe one of you could ask the husband, if you see him?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:12 AM on August 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

They're moving out? Sounds like the problem has solved itself.

What I think has probably happened here is that it's a building where sounds--all sounds--carry. There was one, maybe two times that some noise could be directly attributed to you and your boyfriend having sex. After that, she seems to have started attributing ALL the noises in the apartment to you two having sex (that's the only way her timeline works).

I think you've done your due diligence here. There's not much more you can do, and even if you stopped having sex in your apartment entirely I bet she'd still hear you having sex at all hours.

Wash your hands of this. It will make you crazy.
posted by phunniemee at 6:14 AM on August 12, 2014 [31 favorites]

they were moving out

Problem solved. Also, don't answer the door in the future when you think it may be these dingbats. To the degree possible, feel pity for both of them for being so sensitive and reactive to the world around them that they're fixated on this.
posted by arnicae at 6:40 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, Phunniemee has it. Lots of everyday sounds can probably erroneously be attributed to sex if you've got some sort of complex about hearing sex noises. I'm not sure there's anything else you can do. I mean, in tears because of hearing neighbors make a little noise at 9:30pm? That's beyond the realm of your control.
posted by misskaz at 6:52 AM on August 12, 2014 [9 favorites]

Yes she's probably nuts, but one idea- my upstairs neighbors have sex at weird hours and it's not them, it's their bed and the walls and floor. The pounding sounds carry. Make sure your bed frame is as tight and non-squeaky as possible and move your headboard one inch from the wall and if you have hard floors, put down rugs. Again it's mostly her crazy and poor building construction but if it goes to the landlord you can point to all the extra steps you've taken to mitigate on your end
posted by slow graffiti at 6:57 AM on August 12, 2014 [21 favorites]

I've been your neighbor (well, I never said anything but I still get fighty thinking about it 4 years later), and the thing that really irritated me was the timing. It seemed like they'd start up just as I was trying to fall asleep, and that's a really annoying noise to try and fall asleep to. It's kind of like a crying baby or an argument in that it's hard to ignore. If it was happening every other night in a studio where I couldn't move to another room, I'd also probably be tired and frustrated and looking daggers at the ceiling. And like phunniemee said, it was definitely a situation where I'd hear a floorboard creak as I was getting ready for bed and I'd think "Oh here we go again" and sort of steel myself for not getting much sleep that night, even if nothing happened.

Your response depends a bit on what you want from this. If you want to appease her, save the lovemaking for the morning or early evening. If you don't, make zero changes and when she comes screaming just tell her that human beings fuck and hand her some earplugs, and cross your fingers that moving day is soon.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:57 AM on August 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

when she comes screaming just tell her that human beings fuck and hand her some earplugs

This. Report her complaints and harassment (screaming is not an acceptable way to deal with neighbour complaints) to the landlord. And hope that "we're moving out" wasn't just posturing. Snag the apparently more reasonable half of the pair and ask when that's happening.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:16 AM on August 12, 2014 [15 favorites]

If it's just this one couple who's let it be known that they're bothered, and they're moving out, I would just keep on as you are until they're gone.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:19 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is your bed squeaky? Does it knock against the wall?

Do you have rugs on the floor?

If not, do all of those things.
posted by jbenben at 8:05 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

It has nothing to do with you - ignore them/her.
Sounds are part of living in the city - I once lived in an apartment where I could hear my neighbor breathing at night. If you can't live with human noises at night, you need to move out of the city, not bother your neighbors.
posted by mumimor at 8:28 AM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

the woman, who was in tears, started screaming at him (I could hear all this). She (while screaming) asked if we had jobs (we both work full-time), said she had to be up at 6 am and all she could ever hear was us fucking and me screaming every day, morning, noon and night and they were moving out. She screamed at him a bit more and then left. He didn't really have an opportunity to say anything though I'm not sure what he could have even said. He was really upset after she left and she was clearly quite worked up about the whole thing. After this we could hear her arguing with her husband.

This is really, really not about you. You have made more than reasonable efforts to be polite and considerate and to pacify her. She is suffering from some sort of anxiety or something, or they're having major marriage problems, or both. She is being totally unreasonable.

Inform building management about this issue.

It's ridiculously hypocritical for her to be screaming and yelling and banging on your door and inconsolably ranting in reaction to the sound of you having sex with your windows closed. She is creating a far greater disturbance than you are.
posted by desuetude at 8:55 AM on August 12, 2014 [14 favorites]

I once had a downstairs neighbour complaining to the building board because he could hear me type. The building board apologised to me because the guy had filed complaints against every upstairs neighbour he had ever had.

It is not you - it is your downstairs neighbour who has an issue with something she is taking out on you. As in all these situations, document as much as you possibly can.
posted by kariebookish at 9:00 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with everyone else that your neighbor is the one with the (major) issue, not you. Clearly they need to be somewhere far more isolated and sound proof then your particular building, and I say this as someone who is particularly noise sensitive myself.

With a little luck, they will in fact move out, but one thing you might try in the future: When you do have sex with your boyfriend, rather than just closing the windows, have you tried turning on music and/or the TV? It seems like it's the sex itself that is bothering her more than anything else, so maybe blocking out that would help. Again, she's the one with the major problem, so you're not obligated to do any more than you've already been doing, but this might be worth a shot just to make your life a little easier.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:31 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

If they're actually moving out, fantastic: problem solved!
If they're not moving out, then as jbenben says: carpets, not knocking the bed on the wall, etc.

Also, consider complaining yourself to building management: nobody has a realistic expectation of 100% total silence in an apartment building, and they certainly have no right to harass you with these continued screaming fits. And while I don't want to listen to other people having sex, at 9:30pm? In most places, the rule is reduced noise levels at 10pm or even 11pm on weekdays, so even if she can hear every single sound from your unit, she's still being unreasonable.

And finally: honestly, in multi-unit buildings, sound travels --- who knows where the specific sounds she's bitching about originate?!?
posted by easily confused at 10:00 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just be glad they are moving out. I've lived in an apartment building where I could hear what seemed like my upstairs neighbor's every footstep. People need to deal with stuff like that or live somewhere else. Now that she's gone, have sex as loudly as you want and don't give it a second thought. It sounds like you've already been courteous enough. Asking you to change your reasonable way of living for your oversensitive neighbor is ridiculous.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:21 AM on August 12, 2014

I was the upstairs neighbor in this scenario. We call her the "I can hear you and you can hear me" lady. We let the landlord know almost immediately when she started to complain. He was our buddy in the sense that he liked us and didn't like complainers. She moved out within a few weeks.

I've also lived upstairs from a screaming, fighting, racist, crazy couple with a boyfriend who also played Playstation and gangsta rap at 3:00 AM on a Wednesday. We moved out of that place in less than a week.

Since they already mentioned it, I'd offer them money to move out if they have any doubt about it. Seriously. She's crazy and you can't argue with crazy people. I'd offer to pay part of the cost of movers for them to get lost. In the interim, I'd shut the door right in the face of anyone screaming at me, and wouldn't entertain any more non-productive discussions about the issue at all.
posted by cnc at 10:57 AM on August 12, 2014

This lady is totally crazy and I would not do a single thing to appease her. If you don't want to hear people fucking, don't live in an apartment building, much less one full of studios. This is just the reality of urban life. Banging on your door and knowingly interrupting you having sex to have a screaming match to me crosses a major, major neighbor line. If that happened to me I would consider future incidents to be harassment. The above suggestion to tell her to go fuck herself is probably exactly what I would do (I'll admit I'm kind of a dick about stuff like this though and have no patience). It sounds like her partner realizes this is way over the line, probably the more productive angle is to get him alone and have a frank talking to about what steps you'll take if she throws a tantrum again. My guess is if you do that, he'll keep a lid on it or they'll move for real.

I mean I live in an area where I leave my apartment windows open year round and I'm sure my neighbors are all well aware of my taste in music and love life, just like the guy in the building next door constantly bounces a tennis ball against his fence for his dog (he's doing it as I type this) and that the guy upstairs has his daughter over on weekends and she sprints back and forth all night. I used to live in a place with such paper thin walls that I would say "bless you" if the guy next door sneezed. Who cares, that's life, if you want piece and solitude get a house with a big yard.

The whole social contract of living in an apartment is that you are as respectful as possible in regards to your noise, but also tolerant of other people's even if it's late or way too loud or even if sometimes they should really shut up. That's life. Anyone who goes beyond a friendly and tactful, "Hey sometimes we have to get up early and can hear you at night because this building sucks amirite?" is completely out of line unless you're regularly blasting music at 3AM or you're regularly having porno level screaming sex every night.
posted by bradbane at 11:24 AM on August 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

Some people cannot deal with apartments. At one place, the guy above us always played the complete hits of Lionel Ritchie on Sunday mornings about 10am. Thankfully, Lionel Ritchie is easy to sleep through, so we got over it. (It's possible they were having sex and that was the cover noise; we didn't care). We were chill about it because it was better than the super who beat his girlfriend till the cops were called above us at one place, or the guy who played techno at 3am and refused to answer his door when we pounded it on at another.

Anyway, apartments: they come with noise. A person who lives in them has to deal with that. You learn to ignore things when you can, and put on earphones when you can't. You guys have done your best. Don't be afraid to tell your landlord they are acting crazypants, though.
posted by emjaybee at 1:22 PM on August 12, 2014

Ignore this crank. You are not doing anything wrong. Live your life, use your apartment in the way you want.

They're moving out anyway, so who cares what they think?

Give your landlord the heads up in case she makes an unreasonable screamy complaint to them.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:14 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a downstairs neighbor, I'll do an awful lot to not have conflict with the upstairs neighbors. I have earplugs (you can get very good foam ones at CVS for under $3 a box.) I can put a fan on for white noise. I'm willing to sport you until 11 on weeknights and midnight on the weekend. After that, all bets are off.

Our former upstairs neighbors once had an all-night party. I put in the ear plugs and let the office know. They were sent a letter.

Another night, they were up partying, I put in the earplugs and turned on the bathroom fan and went to bed. At 4:00 AM I was awakened by Nikki Minaj, Superbase pounding throughout my bedroom. I went up and yelled. I had the ear plugs in my hands. "I CAN HEAR EVERY WORD OF THE SONG! I'M WEARING EARPLUGS! TURN IT OFF!" The one roommate looked at me like I was a loon. Her mascara was smeared all over her face, her hair was a nest. Either she was on a meth binge or...I don't know, I think she was on a meth binge. Apparently she didn't believe that I'd do anything because the music came back on, so I called the cops. They nearly beat in the door, but when it was answered, the music went completely off. I sent a copy of the police report to the office.

Then at around 10 on a Wednesday, they were playing Dance, Dance Revolution. Thumping and loud music. I went up and told them to knock it off. They said they would but it started back up. So I sent Husbunny. He's tall and big. Fearsome. I reported it. After that, it wasn't my problem because they got evicted. My point is, it takes some pretty serious noise issues to get people evicted.

I'd send a letter.


This is an apartment building. Apartment buildings have many people in them, people who live life and make noise occasionally. You appear to be hyper-sensitive to noise so I am gifting you a package of earplugs. I understand that they're very effective for blocking noise. Another thing you may find helpful is to have white noise in the background, a fan is good for this.

I will say that while I understand that noise when you're trying to sleep is distressing, it is not reasonable to expect perfect quiet in a multi-tenant building. We have made many efforts to appease you, to no avail. I hope the earplugs help.


Apartment 3-B

Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:40 PM on August 12, 2014

Just as a heads up, you want to be the one to talk to the landlord FIRST on this. My friend almost got evicted because of a crazy person like this, who started complaining daily to the landlord, and eventually started complaining even when he wasn't home. I had to deal with a completely groan and eventually rage inducing downstairs neighbor like this that the landlord was determined to be a shitty fence sitter about.

You should start telling her to call the police when she comes to your door.

Oh, and as was said above, frame this to management as her harassing you. And don't give them much room to go "well were you being loud?". You shouldn't have to do much more than the bare minimum expected from someone in an apartment here, and you certainly shouldn't have to tiptoe around this asshole.

As someone whose lived in apartments almost exclusively my entire life, i actually cherish the loud neighbors now, because i know they wont do shit like this(at least... usually).

Also, i don't think that you should talk to or contact this person again AT ALL. I regret every time i've done that in the past. Whether i was trying to be nice, or express my righteous anger, or whatever. You now talk to only the landlord. You are not friends, or "neighbors" anymore. And from everything i've seen, trying to work this out with directly them is not only pointless because they're being unreasonable and irrational, but will likely only anger them more and escalate the situation/stupidity.

My door had all the dog poop from the sidewalk piled in front of it near the end of last time i went through this. I'm completely serious.
posted by emptythought at 5:01 PM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

They are moving, so that problem is solved.

If you are curious, once they are out, coordinate with the landlord. Have her go downstairs with a recording device - a phone will do.

Now, you go back up to your apartment *with another phone*. Record as you guys move around the apartment, both normally and exaggeratedly. Get in and out of the bed, bounce on the bed, flush the toilet, clang pans, open and close all the doors. Narrate your actions so you know what noise is what.

Then compare the two recordings with your landlord. Problem solved going forward - either the acoustic situation in your apartment is so bad the landlord needs to mediate, or you're covered.

I'm pretty sure that sort of insane overreaction is about a whole lot more than you and there would be no winning there. I wish their future neighbors luck.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:24 PM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

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