How to deal with noise from upstairs neighbors?
February 12, 2015 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Last week I had new neighbors move into the apartment above me. Their footsteps are very loud, occasionally there is other noise, and they are up very late. The past two nights I have gone over at midnight and asked them to keep it down. They did the first night, but last night they did not, and they were up until after 2:00 am. The woman who answered last night said it was her kids. I'm at a loss, what else can I do here?

I have been fortunate enough to never liver below someone before, always being upstairs or in a townhouse.

The previous neighbors had three teenage children, and I could hear them roughhousing at times, but it was not as bad as the new neighbors, and it ended when the kids went to bed (by midnight). I do not know how many live in the house or their ages, only the older (50s?) man and woman I spoke to on the consecutive nights.

I did try earplugs last night and it helped with the conversation noise, but not the loud stomping noises. I'm not sure white noise (either a fan or a machine) would help either.

We do have a noise ordinance in my area, but I do not think they are over the 55 db limit from 60 yards away. Also, I don't know how responsive the police are to noise complaints anyway.

The main factor that makes this difficult is that these are condos with individual owners - there is not an apartment manager who can do anything.

My lease is up at the end of September and I do plan to move at that point, but is there anything I can do so that I do not go on 4 hours of sleep nightly for the next 7 months?

I should note that I am not a super quiet neighbor. I practice my guitar (using Rocksmith on my PC) a few times a week, including last night for about an hour 8:30 - 9:30. My girlfriend can be loud during our intimate times, which is only 2-3 times per week for 10-15 min (I'm estimating), usually around 10:30 or 11. The coffee grinder in the mornings can be loud also (at least to half-awake me standing right in front of it). I can't think of other noises that I would make that might bother them. I do try to keep my noise down though.
posted by I am the Walrus to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A white noise machine and getting used to it are your best bets. The police aren't going to put a very high priority on a residential noise disturbance of this kind. (And really, what could they DO? Ask them to keep it down - you've already done that.)

You're not entitled to silence outside of the noise ordinances, which they don't seem to be breaking. Sure, you need sleep, but yours are not the only needs here and your neighbors are just as entitled to their habits (within reasonable limits) as you are to yours. This is just life in an apartment building with upstairs neighbors. Unless it's so egregiously loud as to really be breaking the noise ordinance, dealing with it somehow is your only option if they're not receptive to keeping it down.
posted by sonika at 9:05 AM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]

Are the floors in your building hardwood or pergo or otherwise hard flooring? Possibly your old neighbors had better or more rugs than the new ones. Best you can hope for in that case is some kind of regulation from the Condo Board on percentage of floors to be covered with rugs...

Some people are just heavier walkers than others. Nothing to be done about it except to get some kind of earplug or sound machine for yourself. Alternately, depending on the layouts of the condos, you could switch your sleeping area to a part of the condo that is quieter at night. (We did this when our upstairs neighbor worked second shift and liked to come home and lift weights at 3am.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:11 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is there a condo board or HOA? As a renter, you might not have a lot of sway, but your landlord might be willing to help you out, and at the very least be able to tell you if there are any bylaws requiring floor covering or building quiet hours.
posted by twoporedomain at 9:13 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

White noise machines come in varying degrees of effectiveness and can take care of the vibration aspect of noise (for me.)
For daytime noise, which may become a problem too, the white noise immediately put me to sleep though. So using sound defeating (too big to sleep in) headphones was my daytime answer.
At night I used those super cheap hearing protection earplugs--rolling them to a small diameter between my fingers before putting them in place increases their usefulness.
Beyond that all I can suggest is bribery. You know the noise they're creating, can you offer to buy them something to ameliorate it? For a hundred bucks it might be worth a shot.
cavet: you might want to put a smoke detector close by and one in your room. also the white noise machines can be addictive so plan on dragging it around when you travel.
posted by Twist at 9:14 AM on February 12, 2015

I was all set to be all GRAR on your behalf. We had upstairs neighbors who enjoyed loud parties and eventually got themselves evicted due to my numerous noise complaints. I'm talking about Nikki Minaj at 2AM, not foot steps. So I totally get it.

But, living in a multi-tenant building comes with noise. People have a right to live and breathe in their unit, and the noise you make is equally as obnoxious.

So try a white noise machine. Your bathroom fan may work as well.

Unless you want to be viewed as a crank, you'll have to pick your battles on this one. I didn't complain about noise unless it was after midnight on a weekday, or 2AM on a weekend. When it got bad, I called the police.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:22 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

I live beneath somebody who walks around, continuously and frantically, for four hours every night, starting at midnight. White noise machine don't really help, because the floor creaks include a deep bass sound that white noise doesn't affect. We asked them to be quiet, but they responded with hostility, even joking about stabbing us on their Facebook page.

There's nothing that can be done. It's the exact window between disruptive and actionable, the exact point where they can ruin your life through discourtesy and lack of consideration but nothing can be done.

We have requested to be put into a top floor apartment as soon as one becomes available, and will never again live beneath someone else, because you just don't know when they are going to be hideous human beings who cannot conceive of how their behavior can really make life miserable for someone else. And then we will do our best to be considerate upstairs neighbors.

As for what can be done right now -- if the neighbors are not assholes, you could buy them area rugs -- or break the lease. It's expensive, but not being able to sleep is torture. Literally.

I've heard "pink noise" machines can help. Have not tried one myself.
posted by maxsparber at 9:51 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I use sleep headphones plugged into my phone running the Sleep Pillow app. These are headphones sewn into a soft fleece headband so you can wear them comfortably no matter what position sleeper you are. They are not the greatest headphones but they are absolutely indispensable for sleeping through unavoidable noise! I just used them on vacation where our resort blasted awful, pitchy pop at rock-concert volume right under our windows and I was so happy I had them with.

As far as negotiating with your neighbor, they may not be at fault here... it may be that your building conducts noise down and amplifies it. To illustrate, my 80-year old mother was once accused by her downstairs neighbor of running around in high heels at night - and she is an extra petite, quiet woman who does not run or wear heels due to osteoporosis.

Tip: personally, I find it hard to sleep through traditional sleep sounds like ocean, rain, etc. because of variability. My favorite setting is the inside the airplane or brown noise. You want a consistent hum that bores your brain into a restful state.
posted by rada at 10:17 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Since you're leasing, you might be able to get the owner to either remedy the situation or let you out of your lease, through the "right to quiet enjoyment."
posted by Enemy of Joy at 10:22 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

They need rugs. This should be outlined in the condo agreement/HOA thing. If you have hard floors, they need to be covered by at least 80% by rugs or furniture.
posted by bensherman at 10:26 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't think they are making noise intentionally, and yes the walls are very thin - I can hear their conversations. My main issue is that it is late at night when they are up and about, and I'm trying to sleep. I bet I'm already viewed as a crank for the 2 times I've talked to them already, even though it was midnight on weeknights both times.

I'll look into the sleep phones and the white/pink noise machines. Any other suggestions of how to deal with it are greatly appreciated.
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:27 AM on February 12, 2015

The earplugs weren't working for the stomping probably because they weren't in far enough, and those low frequencies were slipping in and out of slit leaks between the earplug and your canal wall.

Try rolling up the ear plug very small, reaching around and pulling your ear back (to straighten the ear canal) and then inserting the plug until the top of the plug is flush with your ear canal (NOT flush with the tragus or concha, but flush with the actual opening of your ear canal - it's deep) and holding it there while it expands. Should give you about 20 dB attenuation, though you may still feel the stomping a bit.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:32 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

In addition to what's been mentioned already, you may find that you start to acclamate after some time. When I moved close to a bus stop, the noise would wake me, but after a week or two my subconscious learned to accept it and tune it out.
posted by Candleman at 11:32 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

You need to speak to them again, and explain to them clearly that this is a serious problem. Yes, you have a right to do that and it's not a matter of whether it's "illegal" that they be making these noises at this time of night. You should ask the parents to speak to their children, if it's indeed the children that keep you up. This is not unreasonable and you're not being a "crank" for doing so. Being neighborly means being concerned when your neighbor says you're making possibly preventable noise at mid-night that is keeping him from sleeping. Moving out and breaking your lease at this point when barely anything has been done to tackle the problem seems extreme. Also, you can absolutely call the cops on this, they will come and they will have a conversation with them. However, it's probably much better that you two try hard to resolve it on your own first.

Whether you're absolutely always silent seems pretty irrelevant. If your two seconds of coffee grinding or occasional music playing are bothering them, surely they are free to speak to you about that. As of what you know, these are two separate issues ( or I should say one seems to be a non-issue).
posted by Blitz at 11:51 AM on February 12, 2015

Also, when I was a teenager if a neighbor told my parent I was keeping them up at mid-night, I would absolutely be told I had to learn to keep it down. I don't know what this parent is thinking. It just doesn't matter?
posted by Blitz at 12:01 PM on February 12, 2015

I've been the top neighbor.

We put in rugs AND thick rug pads everywhere, it really kept the main complaints around "walking around" down.

This is best nipped in the bud early on since you don't get a second chance to "retrain" the new neighbors - as long as you are not being unreasonable.

If my kids were keeping someone up at 2am in an apartment situation I'd be apologetic and try to fix the situation and check in after putting in rugs. If you aren't getting that I'd escalate.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:11 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sometimes people really don't realize how loud footsteps can be in a place with no insulation/no rugs. In a former house, we got into a thing with a downstairs neighbor who seemed initially to be insanely sensitive, but eventually they had us go down to their apartment and listen...even if pretty light footsteps, that house just had TERRIBLE acoustics, and clearly something needed to change (in our case, it was a very strict no-shoes-inside rule + extra rugs). I would propose going up sometime when there's not an active issue, perhaps with a peace offering of some brownies...maybe a weekend afternoon?...and ask to talk through the problem in a non-confrontational way. I think most people don't respond well at 2am, especially if it is the case that they were asleep and a teenager was making the noise with the parents unawares. Ask them to come down to your place to hear how loud the noise actually is, and work on troubleshooting the problem together -- that is, "Never walk around in your apartment" or "I get to dictate your kid's bedtime" are not reasonable solutions, but things like eliminating shoes inside or pitching in to help them purchase a large area rug are things to suggest.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:24 PM on February 12, 2015

Brown noise from Simply Noise (will autoplay ambient noise) helped me with impossible, stompy, drawer-slamming, furniture moving, up-from-3am -to-4am-on-weeknights upstairs neighbors. Your condo may have a floor covering ordinance too, so check with the association.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:26 PM on February 12, 2015

Carpets or no shoes are good suggestions to make. Others are "not above my bedroom" (could involve rearranging their place which they may not like) or shoe coverings to soften the footfalls of indoor shoes. Concrete easy-to-do suggestions are best.

Yes, try going over on a weekend afternoon to talk about it. But I would also suggest it might get better- if they just moved in, some moving-in type tasks require more walking around and noise. Also the parents might indeed have spoken to the kids.
posted by nat at 3:33 PM on February 12, 2015

Ugh, i live in a building that has this issue and NO rug requirement. Check, as others have said, ASAP to find out if in the HOA agreement, condo board papers, lease, anything it mentions some requirement of rugs covering X percentage of area, or having them at all.

You really need to find out what the deal is with that. Condos seem to almost always have it, apartments are hit or miss. You might be lucky here and have the building rules on your side.
posted by emptythought at 6:23 PM on February 12, 2015

I found the foam earplugs useless as they always popped out. Wax earplugs are kind of gross but wicked effective.
posted by srboisvert at 8:54 PM on February 12, 2015

Omg... I really feel your pain, I used to live underneath a couple who had really loud, furniture-banging sex late at night every night!

Around the time that this happened I was about to move anyway. I noticed a powerful increase in the noise from upstairs as I packed my stuff away and the room grew barer. Furnishings absorb sound. If you were considering buying some wall-hangings anyway that could be another reason to do it. But obviously, I'm not recommending you do that unless you were planning to anyway.

Talking to my upstairs neighbours did NOT help. But earplugs and a very powerful fan pointed away from me at night did.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:32 AM on February 13, 2015

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