I'm getting noise complaints and now paranoid. Advice??
September 22, 2017 11:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm receiving noise complaints from my upstairs neighbour on a weekly basis and at my wit's end. Even my landlord seems confused. I live by myself and rarely have visitors. I love music but only listen with headphones without exception. The noise complaints have all been due to volume from my TV. Sounds simple? Ugh let me explain inside.

I am 27 years old with perfect hearing. Without exception, after 7 or 8pm I either watch TV with headphones or lower the volume so low that even with a centre channel, I enable subtitles just so I can understand dialog. I'm still getting complaints. I've offered my number, I've cooperated in every reasonable way I can. The floors are hardwood and my neighbours footsteps sound like an elephant wearing steel toed boots. I've never complained cause I understand that's the trade off for the flooring.

Again, I'm by myself. Unless I have my TV on at a low murmur, my nights consist of nervously listening to footsteps. Again, if I watch a movie I usually wear headphones. But just as it's not reasonable to ask my neighbour to pay down throw rugs, I don't think I should be feeling this nervous about watching tv at night at a low enough volume that I can't hear it with my bedroom door closed. I can't hear it outside my apartment. But my upstairs neighbour can, and although I don't know her name or what she looks like, she's complained to the apartment staff 4 times in a month.

I've lived in many apartments and I've never received noise complaints in the last 10 years. I'm tired of feeling guilty and paranoid about every little noise. Has anyone had to deal with this before? I want to be considerate but this is getting ridiculous.
posted by WhitenoisE to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What is your question, exactly?
It doesn't sound like your neighbours complaints have any basis.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 11:23 PM on September 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

If it was your downstairs neighbor I would tell you to put your speakers/tv on a sound isolation riser, but your upstairs neighbor? That's weird. Is your tv close to the wall? Try pulling it into the room some more, maybe consider putting a few acoustic tiles behind the tv. If it's ON the wall, that's the problem. Sound and vibration is travelling up the wall in that case.
posted by xyzzy at 11:29 PM on September 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is she sure it's you? Noise travels oddly in apartment buildings. I had repeated and increasingly angry complaints from a downstairs neighbor about noise from my apartment at night. (I'm asleep by 9:30!) and it turned out a vent was piping in noise from two floors under her.
posted by frumiousb at 11:46 PM on September 22, 2017 [38 favorites]

Best answer: Is your landlord in the building? Could you and the neighbor and the landlord all get together to investigate? Like have the TV on and send the landlord upstairs? Also have the landlord hear their steps?
posted by oneear at 11:47 PM on September 22, 2017 [30 favorites]

Can you go and talk to her? Ring her doorbell and try to start a friendly conversation? Ask her to come down next time the noise is too much for her? Be completely cheerful and not at all defensive.
posted by Segundus at 11:58 PM on September 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Don't interact with your upstairs neighbor, who may be a total weirdo.

- Yes, if your tv is on the wall, that's it. I plug in an Anker Soundcore portable bluetooth speaker to our bedroom tv with a loooooong headphone jack cord because that wall is shared with a neighbor. The speaker is beside me, sounds great, doesn't disturb anyone.

- Problem may also be another apartment or lack of insulation under her flooring, making this SQUARELY the landlord's problem. Arrange for them to investigate this by doing a test of some kind. If you trust them, you don't have to be home for this.
posted by jbenben at 12:02 AM on September 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Tell your landlord that you are going to experiment this week and not turn on any electronics after say 9:00 pm. And then, don't. If you are still getting noise complaints, your landlord will believe you and look for another reason. Your neighbor sounds vindictive and insane.
posted by AugustWest at 12:29 AM on September 23, 2017 [20 favorites]

Best answer: I had a neighbor who bitterly complained about my noise - and I was invariably in bed by 11, never played loud music, didn't wear shoes inside. She'd get out her broom and hit the ceiling if we literally knocked over a beer bottle that was sitting on the floor minutes after 9 pm. We walked on eggshells trying to be quiet. And then came thanksgiving week. We were out of town for the holiday and the weekend and she complained to our next door neighbor about how loud we were during that timeframe. She was either hearing someone else or imagining things. And based on her behavior, I'm going to go with option #2.

We made the effort to reduce noise because why not try to be decent within reasonable parameters. But if you have a crazy neighbor, there's a limit to what you can do.

You can politely ask your landlord if your neighbor has had this complaint with previous tenants in your apartment. It may be that your apartment was empty before you took tenancy and your neighbor' expectations are based on zero sound.
posted by sciencegeek at 12:53 AM on September 23, 2017 [15 favorites]

Best answer: In San Francisco (where I live), there are lots of old buildings with hardwood floors. And right there in the municipal code is a requirement that a large percentage (80%? I forget exactly) of the hardwood floor space be covered with rugs or carpet for noise abatement. So don't be too quick to assume that your upstairs neighbor has an unlimited right to tap dance in hob nailed boots and you have no say in the matter. Check your own municipal codes. Floor coverings also absorb noise, so it would be win-win.
posted by janey47 at 1:58 AM on September 23, 2017 [23 favorites]

I dealt with something similar on my daughter's behalf a few years ago, i.e., upstairs neighbors complaining about noise even though Daughter had no TV and no speakers (she always used headphones). Compounding the problem, the landlord was related to the neighbors and was threatening to evict her over these noise complaints. My daughter was so upset about the situation, and so intimidated by the landlord, that I moved in with her for several weeks to help deal with the issue.

We tried most of the above recommendations regarding attempting to have a polite, reasonable discussion with the neighbor, as well as looking into various potential issues that might be the "real" source of the problem. That wasn't enough for these people.

Having run out of ideas, we told the neighbors (and the landlord) not to contact us regarding noise complaints. Rather, call the local police and file a report—we even suggested that they record the offending sounds to make their case when the officers arrive.

End of noise complaints.

Unfortunately, in our case, this was not the end of the problems. The neighbors didn't like my daughter (and I'm sure they hated me) and they found alternative ways to make her miserable, i.e., noise was never the real issue. Hopefully, YMMV.
posted by she's not there at 2:18 AM on September 23, 2017 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers...the apartment staff has always been extremely nice about it and haven't sent me anything written, just a heads up when I pick up my mail, sometimes days after the complaint. I get the feeling they might also suspect my neighbour is a bit neurotic. I experimented during the early afternoon when I first moved in: turned my TV slightly louder than I ever listen and stood outside my apt. door during film scene involving multiple explosions. I could not hear anything outside even then...

She is the only neighbour I've never even seen since I moved 2 months ago. I asked the office staff to give her my number and to feel free to call or text me after the first complaint (the day I moved in...because I hung a picture on my wall. Yeah.). The complex is large but there are only two apartments per building unit. All of the complaints have been noted at times when I was asleep myself. Apparently I'm only loud at 4am...

My tv isn't mounted to the wall, it's at least 3 feet away sitting on a heavy oak entertainment table. I don't use TV speakers ever, but rather small bookshelf speakers that are positioned parallel to my couch on cushioned stands. My windows are never open. If I could communicate with her I could figure out the point on my receiver that she can hear, but doesn't seem likely since she either never leaves home or only when she is sure not to encounter me :/.

The apartment was indeed empty for at least a couple months to a year before I moved in. I think you are right that she has been conditioned to unreasonable expectations. I assume she is retired because she is home every day of the week for most of the day and all night.

Thanks for the input. I the best I can do is continue to be friendly and vaguely confused/apologetic when notified by staff. They can tell I'm cooperative and understanding. If it goes on too long I'm going to politely request the maintenance patrol or even local PD come by at anytime to assess it. As someone with an anxiety disorder, the only conclusion I can come to is that she may need my valium script more than I do...
posted by WhitenoisE at 3:39 AM on September 23, 2017 [10 favorites]

Make that request now - no need to let it fester.
posted by Omnomnom at 4:37 AM on September 23, 2017 [8 favorites]

I think it's reasonable to say "this complaint happened at 4AM, when I was asleep." No need to be apologetic about it.
However, it also might make sense to go and knock on her door with some kind of baked good. Then have a conversation in which you talk things through with her. Don't apologise for anything you've not done, just try to figure out what's going on.
posted by Acheman at 4:39 AM on September 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

the apartment staff has always been extremely nice about it and haven't sent me anything written

Okay, the actual bad actor here is your apartment staff. It is their fucking job to mediate these issues, not to just keep vaguely mentioning it to you when they remember and let you work out a solution if you feel like it.

Your landlord (or management company, or whatever) has to decide whether Upstairs Neighbor A) has a legitimate complaint, and B) what to do about it. The next time they pass along her complaint, tell them "I don't think I'm being unreasonably loud, and I'm not going to change my behavior. Please either stop passing along her complaints or take them seriously, but I am done worrying about it for now."
posted by Etrigan at 4:43 AM on September 23, 2017 [28 favorites]

How antagonistic are you willing to be? Because if this were me, I'd recalibrate her expectations by "forgetting" to turn off my tv a few days in a row.

If you'd prefer to go in the other direction, could you ask the rental company to move you into a different unit in the same complex?
posted by kevinbelt at 5:05 AM on September 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

But just as it's not reasonable to ask my neighbour to pay down throw rugs,

Depending on your jurisdiction, you may have a legal right to ask for exactly this. And it's possible that throw rugs could help provide some sound insulation for her, too.

I once complained to a neighbor about her noise after hours - which woke me from a deep sleep - and it turned out she was asleep at the time. I realized the sound was coming from a different unit. Buildings are weird and seem to magnify sounds as they travel.

I like the idea of getting your building staff to investigate and mediate this. Let them know you were asleep when the complaints were made. Ask them to help figure out what's going on so you and the neighbor can coexist in peace.

Please don't assume she's crazy or trying to be an asshole. Some people are very sound-sensitive and it's a horrible thing when not only can you not concentrate on your own stuff or sleep because of the sounds, but when you try to explain what you are experiencing, people treat you like you're being a jerk or you're crazy. In my experience this makes it even worse - you still can't sleep, you still can't concentrate, and you have to do something but if you complain they'll think you're a crazy asshole ... it's a shitty situation to be in and it doesn't make anyone act like *less* of a crazy asshole. I appreciate that you're trying to get this resolved amicably.
posted by bunderful at 6:24 AM on September 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

#1 do not accommodate your reasonable lifestyle to sensative neighbor. Sensative neighbor needs a house.

You have the right to the enjoyment of your apartment within limits.

#2. Find it what the local noise ordinance and and tell the landlord if she makes complaints outside if those hours "too bad." You hammered something in the wall at 10am? Too bad. Rearrange your furniture, use your TV, make smoothes all legal and normal.

#3 Within noise ordnance hours, be reasonable but your don't have to wear headphones and use subtitles.

Tell the landlord got are at your wits end and that they need to figure out why she is complaining because it isn't you.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:38 AM on September 23, 2017 [8 favorites]

It doesn't sound like you're doing anything wrong at all and frankly, I'd tell the landlord your neighbor is imagining things, tell the landlord you'll cooperate with any suggestions they make, and forget about trying to please the neighbor. I wouldn't try to befriend the neighbor or bring her cookies; it's past that and you don't want to open up your life to someone who's already focused negatively on you.

However, I will say that going outside your apartment and listening tells you nothing about how anything sounds upstairs or downstairs. (This is purely FYI because it doesn't sound like you're loud by any standard.)
posted by kapers at 7:51 AM on September 23, 2017

I am in New York City, and every single lease I have ever signed had a provision requiring that 80% of the floor surface be covered with rugs. So you might want to check your lease -- there is no reason you should have to suffer from the sound of your neighbor's boots.
posted by merejane at 8:20 AM on September 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

You should ask the apartment staff to stop tormenting you and do their jobs. They need to explain to this person what an "actionable" noise complaint is - and it's not "can, if strains ears, hear any noise whatsoever from other units" - and that life in an apartment means you will hear things, it's not malice, let your neighbors live their lives. They need to manage expectations.

And then they need to stop telling you about it if there's nothing you can do.

If this is what it takes, they can make an appointment to go upstairs to the neighbor's place, go inside, and then call down to you on the phone so you can turn your TV up, open and close doors and cabinets, talk out loud for a minute, run the shower, was a couple dishes - make normal noise while they are both on the phone with you to confirm it is your noise and listen for it in person. Maybe one of those things happens to carry freakishly and they need to do something to mitigate it, but mostly what they need to do is tell the neighbor that those noises are part of living in an apartment and buy a white noise machine and some rugs. (They can also do some walking around so you can report back about that.) But otherwise, you should not hear about this again unless you are actually causing a disturbance.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:23 AM on September 23, 2017 [12 favorites]


Heads up! The apt below you has been vacant because the neighbor upstairs is crazy and the apt management did not want to deal. Literally they are making their problem with this tenenant your problem.

Ask to move apartment units. Everything about this is wrong and crazy and I agree these complaints should never ever have been passed on to you!

Be professional and brief, talk to them ONCE. Tell them you have never been excessively noisy and that between noise complaints at times you are asleep or doing normal things like hanging a picture during the day + the constant clomping footsteps from upstairs, you are starting to feel harassed and uncomfortable 100% of the time when you are at home. Tell them you need to either move units or break your lease.

This is no way to live. They have a problem tenant and are trying to ignore that either she or the building construction (or both) are the issue. Stand up for yourself.

This is no way to live. Stand up for yourself.
posted by jbenben at 9:25 AM on September 23, 2017 [10 favorites]

All of the complaints have been noted at times when I was asleep myself. Apparently I'm only loud at 4am...

Just to throw out another idea, are you sure you don't have sleep issues? I had a coworker who had no idea he was experiencing (noisy) sleep problems until his roommate told him that he was hollering in his sleep. Might be worth setting up a webcam to make sure nothing medical is going on.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 10:31 AM on September 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Even people who are otherwise mentally healthy can suffer from hypnagogic hallucinations, which basically, as I understand it, occur when your brain starts you into REM when you aren't quite actually fully asleep. She doesn't have to be "crazy", basically, to be hearing things. She might be willing to swear up and down that she's being woken up by noises, but that doesn't mean she really is. And, well, 4am is kind of prime territory for the explanation to be that she's got a sleep disorder. Diagnosing that really isn't your problem, but I'm just saying, there are a lot of ways this could totally be something that isn't you, and that's why you need to push back against your landlord continuing to bother you about it without evidence. If she never complains about your noise during the day, then I'd just continue your habits as normal.
posted by Sequence at 11:00 AM on September 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you have done everything you can and this constant complaining from your neighbor combined with unhelpful warnings from the staff borders on harassment. Tell them they need to make this stop by taking concrete measures to find the problem and giving you specific things to do depending on what that is. Make it clear you will comply with all reasonable instructions that do not interfere with your own right to enjoy your own home. And in the meantime, let them know not to give you any more "heads ups" until they have a plan.

Then get on with your life. This is not your problem.
posted by rpfields at 11:20 AM on September 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Same as frumiousb - I had an apartment where a woman below me complained bitterly about all the noise I was making. She came to me once after I'd been away for four days, with all this anger about it and I was like, I wasn't even home. Eventually she moved out. More tenants came and went and they all complained. Finally the maintenance man let drop that there was a vent running beneath my apartment, that through acoustic oddities concentrated and magnified the noise from all the units in the building in that one apartment.

So it may not even be your TV that they're hearing.
posted by Crystal Fox at 11:44 AM on September 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

It might not be or TV. I heard super loud music that I thought was one of my neighbors, but then I traced the sound to one of the apartments above me. You could try an experiment, where you only listen to your TV with headphones exclusively for a week and then see if they heard anything. It could just be someone else.

Or, if the neighbor doesn't seem crazy or unreasonable, ask if you can turn on your TV and then go down to test what they hear in their apartment. I actually did this with my neighbor next door over -- her music was waking me up every morning, so one day I knocked on her door and asked if she could turn it down a little because it was waking me up. She seemed surprised, let me in, and played the music, and I could hear the music actually wasn't very loud -- what was getting into my apartment was the bass. I could feel the vibrations and I could hear it. I said, well if she could avoid doing it before 8am so it doesn't wake me up, I'd appreciate it and she said she would. I am not sure what she did to fix this, but I haven't heard it since, even during the day. Maybe she just turned down the bass on her down system since that was the only part of the sound that traveled.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:11 PM on September 23, 2017

1) some people do hear things. I mean, things nobody else hears. Sadly a relative was being spied on by the fbi from the radiator, which sounds funny but for her was terrifying. The radiator would gurgle. 2) some people with autism are super-sensitive to noise and older ones aren't diagnosed. 3) law in UK is you have to have soft floorings, that's prosecutable not having soft floorings. Oh, the nightmare of neighbours.... 4) I use silicon earplugs ('bioears' brand) because you can turn on your side safely in them, for sleep help
posted by maiamaia at 2:07 PM on September 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

also, test your tv with the headphones in but not on, i didn't realise for a year that my radio sometimes the plug of the headphones came loose so everyone else was listening to it really loud (what was quiet in headphones was loud through speakers) because it was loose, it could somehow play both at once, and it was too loud for me to hear the speakers because i had the headphones in my ear. It's probably not, but it's worth checking if it can come loose but not out and do this
posted by maiamaia at 2:09 PM on September 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

If I were you I'd be going outside at 4AM to reconnoiter. Set your alarm, then walk around the building; walk down each hallway -- it's my experience that non-rhythmic noise in the wee hours can often be attributed to an older resident falling asleep with the TV on, which may be easy to pinpoint to one door. This may also be the only unit with a light on inside, then.
posted by Rash at 3:50 PM on September 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

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