Help framing request to neighbor to limit noise
July 21, 2015 11:31 AM   Subscribe

We live in a fairly upscale apartment complex. I’d say that the ages in our complex range from late-20s to mid-60s ; it’s not a student-y area. The sound insulation is decent; we don’t hear a lot of everyday noise from our neighbors. Nevertheless, we’re having noise problems with our upstairs neighbors, and I’d like you’re help with fabricating reasonable requests, because I’m sleep deprived and feeling unreasonable. Venting below the fold.

I know that some noise tolerance goes along with apartment living. I’ve been an apartment dweller for 20 years and have only once felt the need to complain to a neighbor (and that issue had a quick resolution). I’ve never purchased earplugs until this year.

We have two things going on with our current neighbor. First, they throw parties about every three weeks. I’m not crazy in thinking that this is too frequent, am I? Even when we’ve lived in crappier places, we never had neighbors who threw parties more than a few times a year. Loud music and talking until about 2am. It pretty much means that one weekend a month is ruined because we start out missing half a night of sleep. If asked, they will turn the music down a bit, but not enough to, you know, actually sleep.

Second, each apartment has a balcony, which happened to be located outside one of the bedroom windows, which means their balcony is above my daughter’s bedroom window. I’ve gritted my teeth and told myself that it’s not reasonable or worth the trouble to ask them not to smoke out there. We just keep the window closed and brush cigarette ash off our stuff. But at least once a week, I have to ask them to take late night conversations indoors. Last night (Monday), they were talking from 12:30-1am, which is when I finally went out to ask them to stop. Yes, they were just talking, but the window doesn’t offer much in the way of sound protection. It’s like they’re in the room. It wakes my daughter, and she’s too young to wear earplugs. I was so angry last night that it took me another hour to fall asleep, which I realize is not entirely their fault, but I don’t feel like I should have to repeat this every week or so.

I’ve only spoken to them when they’re making noise. I’d like to take a shot at hashing out a fair balance between their enjoyment of their apartment and ours when we’re not in the midst of an issue, and I’d like your take on what that balance should be. I want to give them a fair shot before I contact the complex management (not that I’m sure that management would or could do anything).
posted by Kriesa to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I dunno, what they're doing sounds annoying but not unreasonable (assuming their lease permits them to smoke on their balcony). I'd try talking to them when things are quiet and see if you can hash something about with regards to keeping the music at a certain volume/bass level when they're having a late night party.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:47 AM on July 21, 2015

How many times have you asked them to turn down the music during a late night party and/or not be talking outside in the middle of the night? If you've asked two or more times (and I think you have), and they haven't learned that it's not something they should do in general, I'd bring in the complex management now. I don't see any downside- if it makes the neighbors hate you and you find out management is toothless, better to know now than several months from now.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:47 AM on July 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

Does your complex have noise rules? And how have the neighbors taken your requests for turning down music in the past?
I think that them smoking on the balcony is annoying but might be allowed by your complex. If you mean actual ash like they're not using an ashtray at all and just letting it drop to your balcony that is unacceptable and something that place I've lived get mad about.
posted by oneear at 11:56 AM on July 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

If you haven't started already, I'd start documenting every party and post-quiet-hours (does your complex have official quiet hours) conversation, along with your actions if any ("I asked them to be quiet") and their responses. Honestly, the late night conversations seem annoying but having loud parties every three weeks or so with loud music and guests seems like something the management should be able to take action against.

Also on preview I agree with oneear, is cigarette ash getting on your balcony?? Photograph!! and document each happening.

The trick for engaging with your management company is to (a) document everything (b) complain in writing and keep copies -- even if you have a spoken conversation about it w/management, follow up with an email or a letter saying "Thanks for having the conversation on XY date about XY issue" so they can't fake ignorance later and (c) be persistent and polite, not emotional. There's no benefit to you in getting emotional or talking overly much about your worry about your daughter. In my experience it's better to stick to documented facts and focus on stated rules of the apartment complex.

And finally, is there another unit in your complex that you could switch to, if this doesn't work out? Unfortunately some management companies are crap and the only way to solve the problem is to leave. Keep this in mind -- moving is a hassle but there's no substitute for sleep and a peaceful home.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 12:03 PM on July 21, 2015

I think a lot of this comes down to the specific rules in your building. I've lived in places where there were really strict requirements of "no noise that bothers people after 9pm on weeknights and 11pm on weekends)" and other places where there was no requirements (i.e. you could call the cops if things were "call the cops" levels of loud, but otherwise out of luck. Similarly with smoking rules -- your building should have specific rules on this and I think you'll have a hard time enforcing much beyond that.

So, number one I'd figure out what the specific rules are for your building and see if they're breaking any of them. Then I'd go for a polite conversation at a non-loud time and see what you guys can come to an agreement on. Don't necessarily lead with the apartment rules, but know what they are so you have a sense of where you can push a little harder.

For example, if I were the young/loud tenant in your situation (which I have been at times in my life!) I think a request along these lines might come off well: "My daughter sleeps right under your balcony, and unfortunately the window offers little in the way of sound insulation. Would it be possible to keep smoking and conversations on the balcony to before 9pm (or whenever her bedtime is)?" Maybe bring an ash tray for them to keep out there -- there's no reason they should be shaking ash down onto your balcony.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:04 PM on July 21, 2015

If none of these work and you're still on decent terms with them, I'd ask for a heads up for these once-every-three-weeks parties, so you can make plans to sleep in the next day or go for a short getaway.

And I agree, if they don't know already, make sure they know there is a little girl involved and that the windows don't block anything. People might react differently about children.
posted by bread-eater at 12:10 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing on finding out what the house rule and/or lease says. An upscale apartment complex surely has some general guidelines.

I think have a friendly conversation first before going to management is important. Points I would make in that conversation.

- Acknowledge that they have the right to entertain friends in their home and smoke if they wish.
- Be 150% clear that you are not asking them to completely cease these activities.
- Come prepared to the conversation with some ideas for reasonable compromises like - ending conversations on the balcony around bedtime, always having an ashtray handy, giving you some advanced warning about an upcoming party, having guests take off shoes and be quiet in the halls, etc...
- Ask them how they would want you to handle any issues you might have in the future.

If these are nice, normal people and you approach them in a non accusatory way they most likely won't get defensive and will be willing to work something out with you. I would give those people a month to change behavior.

If they are not reasonable people and shut down your attempts to reach a compromise, then I would give them no additional chances to change their behavior. I would go straight to management.

In both cases I would continue to document all incidents and conversations.
posted by brookeb at 12:17 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Figure out the rules, talk to them, be nice. If that doesn't work go to the management.

First, they throw parties about every three weeks. I’m not crazy in thinking that this is too frequent, am I?

For people who like parties, that's not a crazy frequency at all. My group has a small-medium party every Friday, for instance.

If the building has no noise restriction... This might be precisely why they moved in. I know I moved into an apartment with no rules about noise for this exact reason before, I want to have a lot of parties and didn't want to bother anyone so I found an unrestricted living space.

The ash thing is rude though. That's not necessary.
posted by French Fry at 12:19 PM on July 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

Check the lease. There may be a clause about unsociable noise after 10 pm. If that's the case, I wouldn't get into the detail of how many parties a month or what time they're on the balcony; I'd jut remind them that these are the terms of their lease and ask them to be considerate and abide by them.

And I would CC the rental office and start keeping a noise log.

In terms of the smoking, you're out of luck, sorry -- they can't smoke indoors, but the balcony is outdoors.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:34 PM on July 21, 2015

Switch bedrooms with your daughter, or use white noise in her room.
posted by metasarah at 12:53 PM on July 21, 2015

Sorry for threadsitting, but I’ll respond to a few questions / comments.

- Our lease only has a general statement about all tenants being entitled to quiet enjoyment of their premises.

- City ordinances call for 65dB after 5pm, which I gather is about normal speaking level. The parties probably exceed this in our apartment, but I’m not sure how to use this information. I’d be reluctant to call the police.

- Cigarette smoking is allowed. I’m not exactly objecting to that, I sort of brought it up just to show that I don’t think they have to stop every damn thing just because it happens to annoy me. And I suppose I brought up the ash to show that they kind of don’t care about their neighbors. I would sweep up piles of ash if I could trade that for decent sleep.

- Breaking stereotypes: they are older than we are, probably 50-ish (not that it matters; I just saw some assumptions that they’re young).

- Trading rooms with the baby is not practical furniture-wise. She has a white noise machine, and doesn’t always wake up when they’re on the balcony. But once they do
wake her, she can’t go back to sleep.

And thank you. There are some good suggestions here.
posted by Kriesa at 1:15 PM on July 21, 2015

Our lease only has a general statement about all tenants being entitled to quiet enjoyment of their premises.

Well there you go. That's the golden ticket you require. Cite that.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:31 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Our lease only has a general statement about all tenants being entitled to quiet enjoyment of their premises.

Well there you go. That's the golden ticket you require. Cite that.

Nope. IANAL, but "Right to quiet enjoyment" is a legal term in leases, it basically means that the landlord can't hassle you for no good reason other than what's laid out in the lease. It has nothing to do with actual noise, or anything to do with how you interact with your neighbors. "Quiet" is a bit of a misnomer.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:42 PM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Or rather, it can sometimes be used as a basis for a claim in noise cases, but it's not the legal meaning of the phrase. I'd do some googling for more info on what exactly the phrase means if I were you.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:44 PM on July 21, 2015

Go to radio shack and buy a sound pressure level/spl/db meter for like $50. Use it for the length of the return period then return it.

Keep a notepad of the noise levels every party and every outside talking instance.

Don't lead with this information, just holster it in case both they and the management aren't helpful. The likely will be with that info. I've been on the receiving side of "sir you exceeded bla decibels" complaints. They're bulletproof.

The rest of the advice is good, but that's the equivalent of having a video of someone stealing a box off your porch. It's objective, not an opinion.
posted by emptythought at 3:32 PM on July 21, 2015

I don't know, I think all of the cited instances are completely within your neighbors' rights. Especially talking on the balcony at night... that's like the #1 benefit of having a balcony ! If you require that much quiet I think you should move. I don't think you are being unreasonable at all, but your needs don't match up with your living situation.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:12 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

IAAL and a landlord (but not your lawyer or landlord) and have not seen your lease. Your neighbors have a right to talk on the balcony, but not the right to do so at 1 am so that it disturbs sleep. Ditto for parties - have your friends over but if the commotion makes sleep impossible at 2 am, that is not reasonable.

Also, regardless of any possible lack of noise restriction in the lease, your local noise ordinance controls. The behavior you describe is not within your neighbors' rights.
posted by Tanizaki at 5:26 PM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Have to agree with pintapicasso. Since you asked for opinions, talking on a balcony at 1am in any neighbourhood I've lived in is fairly normal and I hardly think a gathering that ends about 2am at a weekend counts as a party let alone a wild one. It's not unreasonable to ask them to keep things down if it's annoying you at a particular time but they aren't acting outside of normal city life social norms. Using a product with the intention of returning it from the beginning is arguably far worse.
posted by turkeyphant at 6:58 PM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

The apartment complex is outside the city and has a very suburban feel. It is generally quiet at night. There are probably 400 apartments that are dark after 11pm. I don't believe that "city life" applies here, as if they want city life, we are very
close to actual urban areas (Boston) that THEY could move to. We are paying a higher suburban rent and doing longer commutes in order NOT to experience city life.
posted by Kriesa at 3:50 AM on July 22, 2015

I think you have just been super lucky up until now with neighbors in general, because these people sound not great but not abnormal. Every three weeks is fairly frequent, but not unreasonably frequent. (And I am definitely coming from a suburban perspective, this is a thing that is normal in our neighborhood which is all two hour commutes.)

Smoking is terrible and awful just in general, but unfortunately hard to get rid of if they're doing it on a balcony.

I don't think you're going to get much traction on this from talking to them. I would spend more time on what you can do on your side instead. Have you looked into removable noise insulation for the window? Heavy curtains block a surprising amount of noise, or maybe a piece of foam which you can easily place over the window just when you need it.
posted by anaelith at 1:13 PM on July 24, 2015

« Older The Name of That Band I Liked Last Year   |   Hit me with your best shot Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.