Never ending cycle of horrible neighbors
April 1, 2019 9:45 PM   Subscribe

I live in a major city. Is this infuriating noise and unsafe neighbors life?

Currently live in an apartment between a teenager throwing multiple tantrums I can hear every word of a week and a neighbor in an unconnected house who gets in fights in the middle of the street and revvs his car for upwards of 10 minutes morning noon and night. Other people call the cops on this dude frequently. I’m scared of this dude.

The easy solution is move but it feels like (except for my college dorms) I always have horrible neighbors.

Growing up I lived across the street from 2 crack houses and down the street from aggressive pit bulls that killed other dogs and maimed small kids. (Including almost me) One neighbor shot another, and that wasn’t even related to crack household drama!

The last apartment had a screaming drug addict who eventually OD’ed.

I don’t want this to turn into chat filter but is this just everyone’s life in a major city? Tips on finding better neighbors? I’d like to buy a house as I think some problems will be solved by not having connected walls but selling a house if things get bad is a much bigger task than ditching an apartment.

I get that noise is part of living in a city. I really do. I expect noise, I expect parties, I expect overhearing fights. I don’t expect to feel like I’m living in a Sopranos/ Breaking Bad hybrid.

posted by Pretty Good Talker to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If you think unconnected walls will help but don't want to buy, you can rent a house.
posted by muddgirl at 9:57 PM on April 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've lived in a number of fairly seedy areas in cities, though not the biggest cities or very worst areas, but some of this is just part of the deal unless you have the cash to buy a spot in the more exclusive buildings or work to find places with good landlords and like minded tenants. It's that last element that has made the biggest difference for my own apartments and for those of people I've known who've lived in similar areas.

Renting in smaller or stand alone units/houses can help if the landlord is good, but the money involved might make that difficult. Some places do tend to attract certain types of renters, some have more turnover and younger renters others attract families, couples, or older renters, each have their own benefits and problems, so finding a fit can depend on what you do/need as much as what you want to avoid.

Some of it though is unavoidable since there's little that can be done to control over what goes on outside the buildings. The density of population, wife variety of activities and living situations lead to inescapable interaction with neighbors that won't fit a uniform standard of manners or shared expectation.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:50 PM on April 1, 2019

The increased population density of cities means you'll always be closer to trouble, but there are still usually nicer areas or streets relative to others - it's then just a question of affordability. You can trade off other factors too - people will pay a premium for access to public transport and facilities - so can find cheaper but still quiet / "nice" areas away from these.
posted by JonB at 11:01 PM on April 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

I live in a relatively minor city, have a mortgage on a detached single-family house, and it absolutely happens around here too. Cold comfort, I’m sure.

Without knowing which major city you’re in, or what your prospects are for relocation, I can still offer my best neighbourhood-quality smell-tests, for the next time you’re ready to move. In no particular order:

Visit at night, more than once. Every neighbourhood I’ve ever regretted, I judged by its vibe in broad daylight on a quiet day. You will learn a lot more at 11 pm Saturday than you will at 11 am Tuesday.

While there, check for “no one else gives a crap” indicators — these might vary by income bracket, but they’re reliable at any level. Do smokers and dog owners clean up after themselves when no one is looking? Do people block sidewalks with their scooters, or obstruct one-way streets with their cars? (A Dodge is no more offensive than a Lexus in this context. Remember that.) If it snows, does anyone bother to clear the walkways, or does nobody care as long as the roads are plowed? Can women walk a block without getting hassled? Can the young guys OR the old geezers stand to transport themselves anywhere without clamouring for auditory attention? Note: avoid the self-styled Mayberry, too. If no one locks their cars or houses, but they all have guns under their pillows “for protection,” you do not want to live there. This is less a thing in bigger cities, usually.

If you’re going through a rental agency or a real estate agent, are they shining it on? Did the listing lie about which neighbourhood it’s actually located in? Did the agent ignore when you said “nothing north of Street X or west of Highway Y?” Is the landlord living a hundred miles away, and you get the feeling they’re kind of a shyster?

How’s getting around? Are transit stops all by sewer grates or along popular motorcycle-gang drags? Does transit turn into a pumpkin at dusk? This will make things more unpleasant. Is the area walkable, or do you have to schlep four miles on foot to travel one mile “as the crow flies”? If cars are a necessary part of the mix, do they bully cyclists and peds?

Local businesses should include more than just payday lenders and smoke shops with comic sans logos. A good hole-in-the-wall pizza joint and a great veterinarian’s office can cover a multitude of sins.
posted by armeowda at 11:04 PM on April 1, 2019 [59 favorites]

Not my experience exactly, but I have lived in cities for the past 15 years and the worst was the proximity to college kids who were so. loud. The party our upstairs neighbors had where our pictures literally fell off the wall was a real treat.

Our current place is quiet and non-crimey. My suggestion is that, if you live in a college town, find the spots geared towards grad students, or "young professionals." The apartments are more likely to be overpriced and crappy, but fellow residents are also likely to be quiet, non-partying, non-scary neighbors. Look for top-floor units!
posted by prewar lemonade at 3:41 AM on April 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've lived in a lot of cities, and unfortunately the cheaper the apartments where you live, the more likely this is to happen. Our old building had the upstairs neighbour that would steal people's mail and shout at people for "slamming" (closing) doors, the flat opposite that had loud parties and constantly set off the fire alarm, drunk people getting into the building and passing out in the hallway, that one time people blagged their way into the building and then went to shoot up in the back garden, that one time we called the cops because strangers knocked on our door and repeatedly asked if we had rifles (we're in the UK!)

The real issue was that the building was cheap for the area, and next to some dodgy, rough pubs.

Our new place is more expensive (we have the smallest flat in the building, every other layout is larger, and it's a nice old building) and in a nicer area and it's quiet. I hardly ever hear the neighbours at all, and those I have met seem nice. Of course, we still have issues - my husband and another tenant had to help a drunk man into his flat because he was stumbling all over the place. Mail sometimes goes missing. Somebody let their dog shit on the communal stairs and just left it, on carpet! But because people in the building generally care, somebody else cleaned the shit up before somebody stepped in it (and then posted on our communal facebook page about it because WTF is wrong with some people).

So my guess would be - get the worst flat in a nice building, rather than the other way around. Places with a higher percentage of people who own rather than rent probably care more about maintaining the building. Avoid living near dodgy pubs. (We looked at one flat that was described as "really quiet!". It was a) above a pub and b) next to a drying out residential centre for alcoholics, which had a drunk guy banging on the gate and shouting at the intercom whilst we were there. Agents lie through their teeth, come back in the evening).
posted by stillnocturnal at 4:31 AM on April 2, 2019 [11 favorites]

Another alternative: look for an apartment in a traditional (eg 60s-70s) high rise. I grew up in one of those, and the walls were super thick concrete. We could still hear the teenager blasting her music through the door - but not in another room.
posted by jb at 6:08 AM on April 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

This is super dependent on neighborhood. I live in Philly and I've lived in 3 totally different neighborhoods, and driven through plenty of places I would never ever live. I grew up in the suburbs but coming to Philly a lot, so I'm pretty familiar with the good and bad areas, and how this can vary just a block away.

My first neighborhood was safe, but a block away wasn't. Once I took the trolly a stop too far late at night, and had some guys follow me home in a car. Halfway down my block (the "border"), they stopped and turned around.

My second neighborhood was a step up, but I lived there much longer. Nothing much ever happened on my block, though someone around the corner did get shot by a neighbor over a noise dispute, a drunk driver plowed through the CVS window, and some people got mugged. Literally the only time I felt unsafe was when my roommate forgot to lock the door and I came home to a wide open door. But nothing in my apartment was touched.

My current neighborhood is a major step up, but closer to downtown. Stuff still happens, though it's more of a shock now. Several blocks away (in an area even nice), a local activist was shot dead in front of his daughter during a carjacking because he asked to take his other kid out of the carseat after handing over his keys.

I have never lived near crackhouses, major drugdealers, distinct gang violence, or anywhere I felt generally unsafe when leaving my apartment. I have had shitty neighbors with obnoxious parties, loud dogs, light domestic violence, etc. I have had friends in other areas of the city have their apartments broken into, get scammed, witness extreme violence. I've also had friends in cheaper apartments who chose safe areas have nothing happen. It's a function of neighborhood, and more generally a function of the city you're in - some cities are just doing better than others/nice areas are flat-out impossible to afford, etc.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:25 AM on April 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is not a ubiquitous city issue. I live in the third largest city in America and I do not presently have those kinds of problems. My neighbors are mostly professionals and families with younger children, but I till see gang tags on garages from time to time and I know there is crime in my neighborhood based on police reports. I used to live in a neighborhood that was a little more hardscrabble (and cheaper), and I occasionally had drug users passed out in our courtyard but just as often drunk frat boys passed out in our courtyard after a Cubs game. Another neighborhood I lived in was right on the lake, but the route from the train to my apartment had me passing a lot of panhandlers and drug-addicted people, and occasionally street fights.

You don't say what city you live in, but it is likely that yours also has neighborhoods and each one has a different flavor with different types of crime and different varieties of people. You're experiencing some confirmation bias, so it might be helpful for you to know the crime statistics.

At least here in my city, a lot of people make their choices of which neighborhood to live in (if they have a choice) based on the character of the neighborhood which is, if considered, in part controlled by the Alderman - our local city counsel and the "president" of the ward. They have a lot of control over things like zoning, policing, property, development, and services. Your city might have something similar, so if you're looking to move, investigate who is in charge of your desired neighborhood before moving in. You can learn a lot that way. For example, in the neighborhood where I regularly had drunk Cubs fans peeing on the alley side of my building and passing out in my building's courtyard, there was no point calling the police or complaining to the alderman to get a better fence, because the Cubs and their fans provide so much money to the ward that no one is going to make it in any way inhospitable to them.

There's an old saying, that insanity is dong the same thing again and again expecting different results. You say you've lived in cities with these problems your whole life, so ask yourself what it is about the places you're choosing to live. Are you picking the nicest place in a bad neighborhood instead of the shabbiest place in the nicest neighborhood? Are you choosing neighborhoods based on proximity to something, regardless of the location? Are you visiting places during the day and at night before deciding to live there? Do you look at crime stats, property values, and google street view? Those are all tools at your disposal in our information age that should help you find your next and better place to live.

I am a lifelong city dweller except for a short college detour, and I mourn the day we'll eventually move out to the suburbs to raise the kid. I wish we could afford the space we want right here in the middle of everything.
posted by juniperesque at 7:18 AM on April 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

You could put an up on Craigslist or another site advertising as a non-smoking Christian tenant looking to rent in an similar circumstances. Also try checking out neighborhoods around older churches. A friend did this hoping to find like-minded neighbors, and found what she was looking for. Please don't do this if you hold regular coven meetings.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:19 AM on April 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have had some experiences with apartments where I could hear everything, and they're also the crumbling wrecks that are ~impossible to heat in winter. My last apartment search, my biggest criteria was a quiet unit. You might be able to make a space quieter and cozier with rugs and heavy curtains, but it helps to start with walls that aren't like, made of paper.
posted by bagel at 7:43 AM on April 2, 2019

I don’t want this to turn into chat filter but is this just everyone’s life in a major city?

No. I live downtown and this is not my life. Consider renting in a condo building, which will have mechanisms for dealing with problem neighbours.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:48 AM on April 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Eh, kind of? I've lived in cities all my life and always had to put up with some kind of noise, because people are people. The noise I hear varies depending on how much rent I'm paying. The last three places I've lived (successively more expensive), I've gone from gunshots, vibrant neighborhood life, and hearing everyone in their backyard on the whole block because of how the houses were to college children who are not yet ready to be members of society to noisy toddlers and street traffic. I'm actually finding the traffic/plane noises the hardest to deal with. (I don't love the toddlers with the screaming habits, but it's not like it's their fault and they won't be toddlers forever.) The next time I move, it'll either be to a much more expensive, quieter part of the city or a much less expensive rural town.

Everyone else in the thread has given excellent advice. I'd add -- look for neighborhoods with a really close-knit vibe. If I'd lived further west in West Philly, away from the college kids, I'd have had the benefit of a warm community and considerably quieter neighbors. When you know everyone, you all kind of work together to not be assholes.
Also, look for older buildings, maybe even pre-War if that's available in your area. They're never going to be perfectly silent, but at least you have walls made of something other than tissue paper and prayer.
posted by kalimac at 7:53 AM on April 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I rent in a condo building. Given that a lot of neighbors own their units, things tend to be a little more sedate and respectful. The trade-off is all the illicit airbnbs also in the building, but honestly they don't really bother me (the building is all tiny units so there isn't much in the way of groups or parties.)
posted by mosst at 7:58 AM on April 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

To some degree, there is a correlation between bedbug reports and bad landlords who allow crap tenants and/or run shitty, unmaintained buildings. If you'd like to find a medium-large apartment building that doesn't have crap neighbours, check the bedbug reports in your city for anything under consideration, and turn down anything with a pattern of bug activity. Also, look for larger management companies that have multiple buildings -- and then do google searches on their names to see if you can find complaints about their management style + cross reference with bed bug reports.

We did well moving into Toronto with the above technique; our rental high-rise wasn't the cheapest or the most expensive, but it was professionally run, clean, had no bugs and no bad-behaving neighbours. To my mind this is one of the bigger draws of living in a larger rental community with professional management, as opposed to basements or what-have-you.

Noise levels are totally down to the construction of the buildings, frankly. People make noise, that's just a thing. Bigger towers are often, but not always, built with poured concrete floors and between units (though this is not always the case). Mid-rises less often, and probably nothing older than 40-50 years. In our 50 year old, 24 storey rental tower we heard the neighbours above interacting with the floor (unpadded parquet, so pretty transmissive, but not obnoxiously so) and that's about it because poured concrete walls/floors. In our current 40 year old, 20 storey condo tower we hear essentially nothing except occasional water running -- again, poured concrete (this time with requirements for floor padding).

AS far as street life goes, our neighbourhood is kind of mixed, with a lot of social support services and people who use them, plus a lot of people in expensive condos. It's generally quiet but in the the alley next to the apartment buildings across the way there are sometimes arguments at night. But it's like, yeah, life can be dire and not everyone copes quietly. It's not the safest neighbourhood, but on the other hand, it's Toronto, and it's, per capita, much safer here than in the mid-sized city we came in from. Bad behaviour is often down to wealth stratification/desperation as well as young men (military or university) blowing off steam.

To a certain degree you'll pay for peace and quiet, but also it does come down to neighbourhood and region. If your city is overall depressed, it's going to be harder to find a quiet place to live.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:14 AM on April 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

I mean, some of it too is just finding an apartment/house with good soundproofing. I live in a neighborhood that has gone, over the last decade, from pleasantly middle-class to legit fancy, and our neighbors have basically always been loud -- screaming toddlers, screaming couples, loud bass, top-floor DDR, indoor jump-rope, high heels, playing "The Office" at max volume in the middle of the night (honestly, WHY). Outside there's construction noise, screaming toddlers, drunk people, loud cars, airplane sounds.

Before this apartment though we lived in an old, non-renovated building, and I gotta tell you it was SILENT in that apartment. We had an upstairs toddler and hard-of-hearing wall neighbors and damn if I ever heard a sound from their units. If it hadn't been 400 square feet and full of mice I would have never left. It was definitely the cheapest building in the neighborhood, even then, and it was a billion times quieter than any $700k new construction condo.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 8:15 AM on April 2, 2019

I’m marking this as resolved as there’s enough good advice and answers to talk me out of moving to Antarctica. Thanks all.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 8:36 AM on April 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

Will just add, check out crime stats for neighbourhoods you’re interested in.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:15 AM on April 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I live in a 12 story building built in the 1910s, converted into condos in the '80s. The walls are thick and mostly made of brick with an extra layer of sheet rock and probably some insulation between. It's in a big city and filled with young people who do loud things. Except for the gentle sound of my closest neighbor's door closing every morning, which I can only hear if I'm in the hallway or bathroom, I've literally never heard my neighbors. I hear the trains two blocks away and the ambulances. . . but, that's it.

My spouse lives in a recent loft-style building that was converted from an old factory three years ago. You can hear the toenail ticks of the dog next door. Not to mention laughter, television, fights, sex, and lots of other things. It doesn't really bug me, but it keeps my spouse up at night.

Moving isn't a terrible idea. The key is to move to the right building. It's hard to know which ones are good without spending some time in them, but something old that has walls that aren't recently added wooden partitions is a good start.
posted by eotvos at 7:53 PM on April 2, 2019

Seconding living in a 60s-70s mid- to high-rise. My neighbors have to WORK to make me hear them. (Occasionally, they do.) I also live near a medical center and the former VA, and although there are plenty of young people there are also retired nurses who bought a condo 20 years ago and overall, the vibe is pretty chill. Good luck to you!
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 8:03 PM on April 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’ve lived in nice parts (not the most expensive areas, but nice) in some pretty posh cities (located in SoCal, Scandinavia, and fancy cosmopolitan continental city in Germany)... all were noisy and had annoying parts. Most annoying were the loud students in Germany and in that building we had some seriously irritating neighbors keeping us awake until 4am when it was too hot to sleep with the windows closed and we couldn’t wear earplugs because we had a newborn. Moving 10 minutes drive away to a terraced house helped a lot. But honestly, at the moment, because I have two small children I am most happy now in a small suburb in a detached house with amenities a 5 minutes drive away. It’s very similar, in a way, to where I grew up in a master planned community in Orange County. It’s not flashy or cool, but OMG am I glad to be away from a noisy city. If I didn’t have two young kids I think I’d just pop in some ear plugs because I miss some parts of city life- but to answer your question- yes, cities are noisy u less you are a millionaire and a half.
posted by catspajammies at 9:22 AM on April 3, 2019

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