How to best to deal with crazy noise disturbance from the cafe below us?
March 22, 2015 5:11 PM   Subscribe

The cafe below my flat play music so loud it vibrates our furniture, when I ask them to turn it down they're angry and hostile and it just goes straight back up the next day. I'm getting no help from the manager and my husband hates it but will not complain. What are my next steps? How best would you deal with this?

So, my husband and I live above a raw vegan cafe in the inner west in Sydney. The unit is old and no doubt the floors are thin. We've had trouble intermittently with noise from them - not the normal hustle and bustle of a cafe/restaurant, but playing music really loudly (like enough to shake our furniture and vibrate through my legs - at certain times, usually before customers get in at around 7am (on both weekdays and weekends), or at 4 when they're cashing and cleaning up (I'm sometimes in the house then). I've been down to ask them to turn down the music about four times and each time the staff were very angry and hostile (the music is nightclub-loud, like you can't talk or even yell over it), but have complied. FWIW I am never angry or impolite when I go down down there, I ask nicely and don't have anything against them personally, I just don't want to be forced to listen to their music at extremely loud volume.

I've spoken to the manager who was initially more polite but then started equivocating that the tenant before us never had any problems with the noise and it's normal as there are lots of customers etc. This Sunday my husband had a really bad migraine and was throwing up when I finally went downstairs to to ask them to turn it down for him, and again they eventually complied after a really hostile, shouting girl spent some time basically treating me like her mum who's being such a massive bitch. The other staff were standing around smirking.

I've texted their owner who I've done a couple of favours for (staying in to let in electricians for their shop as the board is in my flat, etc) to ask him to please talk to the staff about this, but have had no reply. I called this morning but they are not picking up the phone.

Bottom line, I would like to be able to live in my property peacefully, I'm willing to accept the normal noise of a cafe but don't want to have to keep dealing with music-venue level noise. My husband is SUPER conflict avoidant and would rather put up with being vibrated and not being able to watch tv etc for two hours than go and ask them to please turn it down. He uses earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones when this is going on. Most of the time I let it go because I know they're going to be shouty and I just don't need it. But I'm nearing the end of my tether. What should I try? I ask the staff, politely, to turn down the volume, they 're rude as hell and it just goes right back up the next day. I talk to the manager who doesn't think it's a problem because it's not affecting her. I can log noise complaints to the council but that could take months. If anyone has any ideas on this I'd be very grateful!
posted by everydayanewday to Human Relations (22 answers total)
The city of Sydney has laws around noise pollution.

I would contact the owner once more and let him know how serious things are and that you would like him to intervene. Let him know that you are considering reporting the cafe to the city for noise pollution violations.

The cafe could get all kinds of noise blocking stuff to put on the ceiling and the owner might consider doing some sound proofing.
posted by brookeb at 5:27 PM on March 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

Under NSW law, they aren't allowed to play loud music before 8am.

Tell them to cut it out, or you will call the cops and complain to the council.

If they are rude, stand firm. You have the right to the quiet enjoyment of your space.

Keep a record of their infractions, and make your case to the council ASAP. I'm sure they've recieved complaints about these people before. Make sure you are the one that sounds reasonable and balanced.

Finally, if you share the same landlord, consider reporting the non-compliant behaviour of the cafe to the landlord.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:27 PM on March 22, 2015 [22 favorites]

The city of Sydney has laws around noise pollution.

[A note: As an 'inner west cafe', this may not be in the City of Sydney's jurisidiction - their jurisidction ends at Glebe. However, if you can specify the particular suburb, the hivemind could be more specific about relevant noise regulations. The cafe might also be in violation of the terms of their development consent, depending on the council and the cafe].
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:30 PM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ah, OK - I'm in Enmore, which would be under Marrickville council. Thank you for the great advice!
posted by everydayanewday at 5:32 PM on March 22, 2015

You can call or email the council and speak to a council officer about how best to work out what your rights are, and how to make a noise complaint. I would recommend this; Marrickville council are pretty decent in my experience. Again, councils deal with a lot of angry, entitled, shouty people; if you are the reasonable party in this mix, it will go a long way.

The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 also includes some regulations about neighbourhood noise; the council can serve a notice under than act on the cafe if necessary, requiring them to keep it down. Here's some info from the EPA. And a bit more.

At the end of the day, calling the cops is a one off measure - they're less likely to respond multiple times. You're more likely to get long term change by getting the council to enforce the law.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:48 PM on March 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Update: just received message from co-owner- 'Sorry I missed your call, [other co-owner] is looking into the lease agreement and what is permissible in terms of noise levels and will call you back as soon as possible. In the meantime we've asked the staff to keep the music at an appropriate volume, regards'

So it looks like they're trying to find out what they can get away regarding noise rather than letting us inhabit our flat peacefully (?)
posted by everydayanewday at 6:34 PM on March 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

It might help to be really specific with your landlord, if the cafe and flat have the same one. If the landlord thinks it is just the regular cafe noise that it the issue, then she will think you are the problem, and her best bet is to let you leave. But if it is made clear that the problem is when the cafe is closed, and it is noise not necessary to a busy cafe, she may conclude that no tenant will tolerate that, and speak to the cafe manager.
posted by girlpublisher at 6:37 PM on March 22, 2015 [29 favorites]

'Sorry I missed your call, [other co-owner] is looking into the lease agreement and what is permissible in terms of noise levels and will call you back as soon as possible. In the meantime we've asked the staff to keep the music at an appropriate volume, regards'

The lease is unlikely to contain anything other than a condition that say they must comply with applicable laws and regulations, including conditions of development consent.

I would suggest that you be ready to inform him about the applicable laws.

In your shoes, I would get a copy of the development consent from the council and check whether it has any conditions of consent regarding noise (bars routinely have highly specific conditions, but I'm not certain about cafes); failure to comply with those would cause real trouble for them with the council.

If it's an old consent which lacks noise conditions, then you can still rely on the applicable legislation.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:48 PM on March 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

[A few comments deleted. Let's keep it away from revenge/prank scenarios please.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:45 PM on March 22, 2015

Check your memail.
posted by jrobin276 at 11:22 PM on March 22, 2015

Such rudeness from Vegans.

If they won't turn it down, ask them to pay for soundproofing. Else, you'll ask the cops to come by as much as necessary.
posted by kschang at 2:13 AM on March 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Keep a record of their infractions

I just wanted to emphasise this from His thoughts were red thoughts' answer. Keep daily records of start/end times and a description of the noise, plus notes on any contact with the people downstairs or your landlord. Councils hate dealing with noise complaints, but extensive records will make you slightly harder to ignore.

Also, call tenants NSW. I bet they've heard this one before.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 2:40 AM on March 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

Even reasonable noise from an upstairs apartment can create unreasonable amounts of noise in the room below. Are you ever home when the cafe is open? It sounds like the owner is only interested in complying with the letter of the law, not in what is reasonable.

I'm not suggesting you take a sledge hammer to the floor but stomping around, loudly "rowing" with your husband, maybe slamming some doors - during business hours - nothing too out of the ordinary and nothing that would technically be louder than local law allow but could be very disruptive to their business might get the message across.
posted by missmagenta at 3:30 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Raw vegan? Hipsterish? I would think they are quite dependant on social media. Record a video showing how it is affecting you, how much the furniture vibrates, put the camera on the floor to capture the vibration more dramatically, walk down the stairs and show the front of the cafe, maybe even try and ask them to turn it down while casually holding the camera in your hands, capture the employee's reaction.

Send it privately to the owners first. Give them the opportunity to fix it, maybe they didn't realise how bad it was. Don't threaten them, don't mention the next step.

Find their Facebook page, their Twitter, their Google+, their YouTube channel, their Yelp. Post the video everywhere. A lot of vegans are very civic people. If they are not, their customers probably are. They will care now.

This, of course, is to be done in parallel to the legal actions suggested by others above.
posted by Promethea at 5:38 AM on March 23, 2015 [16 favorites]

The landlord should be involved on your behalf. Meanwhile, if you can put down rugs, and if you can find rubber feet for the legs of chairs, it will help a small amount. There have been many Ask.Mes about noise management.
posted by theora55 at 5:48 AM on March 23, 2015

Might help also to get a db meter app on your phone (if you have a smart phone) or borrow a meter from a musician friend and keep a record of how many decibels the sound is. This will help substantiate your claim that the noise level is not normal 'busy cafe' level noise.
posted by tuesdayschild at 12:32 PM on March 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

You should call the landlord and get them to agree that you can move out and break your lease without penalty because there is a noise problem that they are unable to resolve. Then move.
posted by w0mbat at 12:42 PM on March 23, 2015

Update: Owner does not have development consent to use the flat we're living in as residential space - we are being rented the apartment illegally, so it looks like we're moving soon. Also of course the cafe owners are breaking the terms of their lease agreement re: noise. I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who's responded here, I would never have expected this help and am so, so grateful! Thanks for being your amazing selves!
posted by everydayanewday at 6:39 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ugh, jerks. Once you move out, make sure that you report them both to the council so they don't do this to anyone else. Get your bond back first, though. And if the landlord is resisting giving you your bond back or letting you break the lease, you can also threaten to report them.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:31 AM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

One more gratuitous update for anyone interested!
the music in cafe was vibrating through my legs for almost an hour beginning at 4pm today. This time manager was actually in the cafe whilst this was happening. I went down and spoke to her, she said:

Her staff have worked hard and have the right to listen to loud music at the end of a long day and no one should complain about it
I should expect loud music from the cafe, it is part of their business & atmosphere and I don't have the right to complain about it
They’re not a music venue so why am I complaining about music? They're a cafe that plays music loudly as part of their atmosphere. I should have known this when I moved in (?)
Everyone has a different conception of what 'loud' means. Who can say what 'loud' really is?
Staff should not be rude, but maybe they have a different idea of what 'loud' means so it's a 'miscommunication'
I'm using a decibel app on my phone as I'm telling her the decibel level is too high and she asks what is the maximum decibel level she is allowed? I tell her I don't know, will have to get back to her on that
She says she's been sat there when I came in and turned the music down myself. I told her I had to do this to speak to staff, who couldn't hear me over the music and were refusing to turn it down. So this is happening while she is there, it's not something staff are doing behind her back after being told to keep it down. (I doubt her truthfulness about being present for this, why not come over and help resolve this dispute? I didn't see her so assume this is fiction built up from second-hand stories from staff.)


Thank you all and I hope everyone is super glad tonight to be resting in their lovely peaceful homes! :)
posted by everydayanewday at 1:33 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, at least you're in the clear for moving out without the landlord being able to give you trouble.

But DO report them and make that video. I'd be down to try a raw vegan cafe, but if I stop by your city I will not want to give them my business, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.
posted by Promethea at 5:16 AM on March 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Ha, I'm amazed that so many people have such a generous view of vegan cafe patrons. :) In any case, it sounds like you've got a good plan in terms of moving. I will suggest that AFTER you get all deposits back and are situated somewhere new, please please please report this landlord so that they don't end up roping someone else into an illegal rental with these terrible neighbors. The fact that the entire rental is illegal makes this a lot more clearcut than just "these neighbors are being obnoxious."
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:21 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

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