For review - a note to my upstairs neighbor
May 21, 2022 3:57 PM   Subscribe

Dear upstairs neighbor, Thank you so kindly for turning down your music recently. I'm so sorry we don't live in soundproof units! I have been trying to write this note for a while now.

First, I don't believe you are a particularly loud or noisy person, but I do believe this building has crappy or very old floorboards because a couple of them are really loud. Throughout the day I can live with noise from kids on both sides of me and I can live with some creaky floorboards, but it seems you are often up at 1am through 5am or somewhere in between, and I thought, maybe if you happened to identify the squeakiest floor spots you could avoid them in those wee hours?

It may be that I am unable to live with an upstairs neighbor at all, but I did not know that before I moved in and I've got several months on my lease. Your unit must have been empty for the several months I have been here, or perhaps a 10 lb ghost lived there!

In closing, I apologize for even asking. You seem like a very nice person and I don't want you to feel uncomfortable in your own apartment. But maybe in those wee hours if you could adjust just a bit, I would be very grateful.

Your downstairs neighbor

How do you feel about this note?

I did not even mention all the drawer opening and closing noises and the sporadic, startling dropping of things (a book? a stack of books? a bowling ball?) at 1 am for a bit, about 2am for a bit, about 3am for a bit, then she somehow wakes up at quarter to 6! I used to get up at 6:15 but now it's quarter to six, and that's fine. I don't even mind that!

In addition to my own lack of sleep, one of my dogs is quite anxious and startles with some of the louder noises. The loudest ones sometimes cause him to shake, and I feel horrible about that (he is a sweet neurotic rescue). So here it is 3am, I have to get up in a few hours and go to work, my dog is terrified, and the noises continue until 3:30 or later.

What could a person be doing from midnight to 4am walking around their apartment and opening and closing drawers and dropping things? Holy cow. Sleep walking? Baking with lots of pans and bowls?

It has been been about six weeks now. The first few were terrible but I assumed they were settling in and moving their things around to their final spots. Even if that were true, it's probably not anymore. I did speak to the management office and they offered to let me move to a different unit when my lease is up (Oh. Thank you. I can move when my lease is up? wtf.). They said let them try to reach out first, they would remind the person that they live very close to many people and to be polite. The leasing woman even said maybe they could just replace a couple floorboards. And that seemed promising until I realized it is probably unlikely to happen. That discussion was a couple weeks ago, and knocking on the neighbor's door because of the (SO LOUD BASS) music happened after I spoke to the office (and the neighbor was SO NICE and apologetic about that - she just didn't know what the limit was because she is newly moved in. It was an awkward moment but went fine). I have no idea if the office spoke to her or not and haven't been back to ask.

I have a white noise machine, and there is a large air/fan wall unit right next to the bed, but these do not help at all, especially with the squeaky floors. I can't do wax earplugs because I don't like not being able to hear anything at all. Though, I may try them. Won't help poor Toki, though. Does anyone have experience with brown or pink noise machines and think that might help? I would be willing to throw a couple hundred bucks at this problem.

I will say I feel I have acclimated very slightly in a few weeks, and Toki has a little bit as well, so I expect that will continue but will probably have a limit. Also, every few nights I seem to sleep through, mostly, so thank goodness for that.

I have like 5 months on my lease. Moving is terrible. I don't mind the apartment otherwise (my first in 20+ yrs). I'm paying slightly more than I can really afford and I just want to be able to live and sleep in my apartment. Like many of us, I am depressed these days for a variety of reasons and this is a serious, serious, additional bummer.
posted by Glinn to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would revise the note and strip it down to the basics. Don't mention them being generally loud, don't joke about ghosts, don't say you just can't live with an upstairs neighbor, don't talk about your lease, etc. Just give the problem and propose solutions.

Asking someone to identify and ignore squeaky floorboards in their apartment at certain hours is ridiculous. You could suggest putting down a rug and offer to buy one.

If there is a problem with floorboards, etc, that's for your landlord.

I've found that notes come off worse than friendly face-to-face conversations, plus that way you can interact in real time. If there's a way to knock on their door, start by thanking them, and then say you're still hearing a lot and would they be open to discussing solutions with you?

I hope you find a solution. Losing sleep is so stressful.
posted by mermaidcafe at 4:05 PM on May 21, 2022 [22 favorites]

I'll be honest, I would find this note very passive-aggressive. Specially the part about "identify the squeaky part of your floor and avoid it." I guess the part about a "10 lb ghost" is supposed to be humor?

When I had a noisy upstairs neighbor who kept odd hours, I was way less cutesy. "I have to get up at XYZ for work, so I would appreciate it if you would keep noise to a minimum after XYZ-8 hours." If your lease mentions quiet hours after 11pm or whatever, just use those. I did this in person, and the neighbor was really nice about it (he was fresh out of college and just wasn't used to grownup hours).
posted by basalganglia at 4:08 PM on May 21, 2022 [26 favorites]

If your lease mentions quiet hours after 11pm or whatever, just use those.

As a night owl, I would not take "quiet hours" to mean "no walking around the apartment or opening and closing cabinets."

I think this is the kind of thing you can ask for, OP, but you're not entitled to. This is the building you live in, maintained as the landlord maintains it.
posted by praemunire at 4:28 PM on May 21, 2022 [17 favorites]

This note is incredibly obnoxious.

Walking around in a unit is the definition of reasonable use.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:28 PM on May 21, 2022 [43 favorites]

I also would find this note passive aggressive (and I completely sympathize with your situation, since I have trouble sleeping myself, and it started with an upstairs neighbor!). Just keep it short. If they can't/won't adjust, I would look at options for moving- if you're allowed to find a subletter, etc. That's just based on my own experience, but I unfortunately wasn't able to get used to this type of noise after it started waking me up.
posted by pinochiette at 4:30 PM on May 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

This note would land badly with me as well. It’s reasonable for people to walk around and open and close things at night - maybe they work weird hours, maybe they have insomnia, maybe they have medical issues that have them up and down all night, doesn’t matter. This is just apartment living, unfortunately.

You could try a much shorter note without the self deprecating asides, comparisons to other present and former neighbors, etc., but this might just be something you have to adjust to or lean on your landlord to let you move.

Why not try a brown or pink noise app on your phone? That might give you a sense of whether a machine would help before you drop money on it.
posted by Stacey at 4:54 PM on May 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

Leaving aside the passive aggressiveness, the note is quite unclear about what exactly it’s asking for. As far as I can tell, the only direct request you made was for them to identify particularly creaky floorboards. Why does that need a four paragraph essay? If you’re going to write a passive aggressive note about a possibly unsolvable problem, at least give it a coherent form and clear call to action.

But yeah, this is part of living in multistory apartments. How would you feel if someone asked you to only use certain cabinets?
posted by kevinbelt at 5:15 PM on May 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow ok. A little harsh, but thank you for the replies. I was trying to be light-hearted but very clearly failed. I find it all incredibly stressful. I haven’t said anything for this long because I am aware my neighbor is not obligated to make any changes. Plus I don’t see any point in both of us feeling bad if nothing can be done.

I’m not doing well with the lack of sleep and thought this might help a little, but I can see it is not the right answer. I need to decide where I am going to live next, it seems.
posted by Glinn at 5:20 PM on May 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

This is not a reasonable request. (on preview: I don't mean this to sound harsh!) The noisy floorboards are something to pursue with your landlord, not your neighbor.

I’ve been you and I’ve also been your neighbor. I am very sensitive to noise from other apartments and have had to ask people to keep it down. On the other hand I'm a night owl by nature and sometimes by necessity. With that background, I strongly recommend against the note for a couple reasons.

This kind of note to a neighbor will almost always read as passive-aggressive no matter how carefully crafted it is. Jocularity and a light-hearted tone don't come across well in writing when you’re requesting they do something differently. The most effective way to communicate with neighbors is to have an actual conversation.

More pertinent though, it seems like this neighbor is just living their life, right? They’re not playing loud music, they’re not using loud appliances or moving furniture. They’re just walking around inside their own apartment (occasionally dropping things, as we all do). And, contra one of the other answers above, “grownup hours" are not a thing.

One of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective solutions I've found is running a basic box fan in your bedroom. It's just the right kind of noise to blot out a lot of exterior sounds. And, as frustrating and stressful as it is, you'll probably continue to acclimate.
posted by theory at 5:21 PM on May 21, 2022 [8 favorites]

If you send this note and the noise continues, it will be so much worse because then you’ll feel it as an intentional attack on you.

I’m very glad to see that you’re reconsidering.
posted by jamjam at 5:28 PM on May 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

And just to clarify, your previous request to turn down the music was completely reasonable!
posted by theory at 5:36 PM on May 21, 2022

Best answer: Um, y'all are harsh.

TLDR: face-to-face is better than written if you're going to attempt such delicacy, and I support that effort!

I think the reason it's _possible_ to interpret the note as passive-aggressive or whatever is that it's written, rather then presented in person by a human who can convey her _actual_ emotions. So, some kind of emotional context (which I can clearly see you do not intend) is being imposed by people whose imaginations are fired very differently from mine.

SO, what you can do is find a way to spend actual in-person time with your neighbor. Which is a great idea even (especially) if you don't have any issues.

No need to be disingenuous. Go frickin' knock on the door, and/or give a written invitation to tea, a walk, whatever sounds good, and/or present options. Promise to have cupcakes or bagels or a neighborhood feature she probably hasn't found yet. Then when you see her: "Hey, I was ruminating about the inevitability of noise, thinking about sending you a note, when I realized that I should just _Talk_ to you! I mean, you're right upstairs, so it would be awfully convenient if we got along. [ask friendly questions, tell some nice story showing that you are a human with feelings, then: ] We don't have to focus on this next thing too much, since it's important to me to stay positive, but: I have to confess, and I am embarrassed by this, that the thing that spurred me on to actually meet you like this is curiosity about some noises I've been hearing...."

Be up front, but also make it clear that you realize that human relationships are important, and that you recognize her as a complete human with potentially fascinating stories -- who also happens to live above you and thus, be caught in a weird noise-front relationship.

Good luck!
posted by amtho at 6:10 PM on May 21, 2022 [10 favorites]

Have you considered something like these earplugs? They dampen noise without cutting it altogether. You really should try to adjust your own experience as much as possible before asking them to adjust theirs.
posted by crunchy potato at 6:15 PM on May 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

I mean the point of your note is to say what--please don't move around your apartment, and please go to bed at the same time I do?

All the other verbiage is back tracking and trying to make sure they understand you are a nice person-- I am sure you are!

And I don't know how becoming friends with this person will result in less nighttime noise, it still would be an odd ask.

Good luck with your new place, hope it is a better situation.
posted by rhonzo at 6:16 PM on May 21, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: A lot of what is coming across as really "passive aggressive" in this note, to others, is reading to me as you being unsure of what exactly you want to ask, being unsure about whether it's okay for you to ask it, and really, really being afraid that the person is going to be angry at you for asking. So you're leaning on trying to do humor and trying to ask really gently, but it comes across as condescending and confusing. The other person will likely be left very unsure of what exactly you want them to do, and possibly confused about why you're acting like they're going to be mad at you for even asking.

Here's a useful worksheet from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy called "The Dime Game" that is meant to help you figure out what tone to use (or how strongly/firmly to ask) when asking for something.

Here also is a guide to how to structure a conversation from DBT, which is acronym'd DEAR MAN. I find this structure to be very helpful, because it focuses me on succinctly explaining why I'm asking for what I'm asking for, and lets me express how I feel about it before making the request.

Have this conversation in person. Don't do it in a note. If you really feel bad about asking, bake cookies and take them over and say "Hey, I baked you cookies because I need to talk to you about the sound from your apartment again, and I feel real embarrassed (or whatever emotion you feel) about it, so I thought these might sweeten things a little."

You do need to try ear plugs to dampen the sound. Wax ear plugs are clearly too much, but the soft sound-dampening ones that are good for flying on planes with are very good for sleeping. Your dog might still be bothered by the sounds, but she's also going to take a lot of cues from you in this respect -- if you can act like the sounds are fine and not a sign of danger, that will help her a lot. If you're reacting very strongly to the sounds, she's going to be more attuned to them, as well.

Apartment living is hard to get used to when you haven't done it for awhile. You can work on changing your experience with earplugs, work on talking to your neighbor about the sound coming from her apartment, but you also have to work on accepting the reality of apartment living -- you are close to other people at all times, your sound spheres overlap, there is no way to feel really and truly alone. Try to adjust your attitude towards feeling like you're part of a community, with all these folks who are sharing space with you. Or, if you can't, then wait out the five months as best you can and find somewhere with really good soundproofing.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 6:23 PM on May 21, 2022 [29 favorites]

Hey, I have been the upstairs neighbor, and I’d rather not get the note or a message through the landlord but rather have a friendly chat. In my case, the downstairs neighbor was incredibly awful to deal with, and eventually my landlady let us BOTH out of our leases to get rid of the problem. I tried rugs and walking quietly and everything, but I worked nights! And during times I was sleeping at night, even getting out of bed for a midnight bathroom trip apparently made elephant sounds. I think the new vinyl flooring in the unit transmitted sounds much better than whatever came before. There wasn’t anything to do about it, and it just stressed me the heck out about living in my own home.

If she’d come and talked nicely to me about it, maybe we could have identified the causes specifically and tried to mitigate them, but since she never spoke directly to me, we couldn’t (and maybe we couldn’t have, considering her attitude, but you seem considerate to a fault). Passing notes about it would have been way better than getting me threatened with eviction, but it’s still not great.

All this to say, your neighbor is probably not being an asshole on purpose, and not being direct with her only makes it less likely you’ll get what you want.
posted by hollyholly at 6:33 PM on May 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

I've been the upstairs neighbor and I feel for you!

I agree with people that face-to-face is preferable, but if you don't feel up to it, I might write a note more like:

"Hi, I'm your neighbor in Apartment B. The sounds from your apartment at night unfortunately carry strongly into mine. This isn't an issue with you, but with the building; I've spoken to the landlord about additional soundproofing between our places, and am considering moving when my lease is up. Yet in the meantime I wanted to ask -- knowing that it's totally your prerogative to refuse -- if [[insert ask here]]. If that's not possible, I understand. best, Glinn"

Good luck, I know that having your sleep disrupted is hard.
posted by hungrytiger at 7:43 PM on May 21, 2022 [21 favorites]

You should find out what the regulations in your area are about soundproofing in rental units. The upstairs neighbor may be required to have carpet or soundproofing that meets a certain standard.
posted by kms at 8:15 PM on May 21, 2022

Dear neighbor,

I realize it's not fun or easy to make changes to your own behavior in order to accommodate others, especially when you barely know them.

I also realize that the noise situation is significantly exacerbated by properties of the building that are beyond either of our control.

Still, because my comfort in my living space is affected, to the extent that you are able to reduce noise during the periods of (reasonable hour) to (reasonable hour) I would be so very appreciative.

Might I demonstrate that appreciation in advance with gift of chocolate or a bottle of wine?

Thanks again for whatever changes you can make to help me out with this,


A. Neighbor
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:02 PM on May 21, 2022

I will say I feel I have acclimated very slightly in a few weeks, and Toki has a little bit as well ...

I don't mind the apartment otherwise (my first in 20+ years)

Everyone else has already made useful suggestions, so I thought I'd address this parenthetical comment.

I wonder if your difficulty acclimating to your upstairs neighbor has to do -- in general -- with your having moved from a house, where you don't share walls or ceilings with your neighbors, to an apartment, where you do. After so many years in a detached living space, this sounds like it was a jolting transition in many ways. Because dogs are so empathetic, I also wonder whether Toki is picking up on your unease as well.

Anyway, I hope you find living quarters that work for all of you, whether it's here or somewhere else. Home is a place where you should be comfortable.
posted by virago at 9:20 PM on May 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I don't find the note passive aggressive.
It reads to me overwhelmingly as a desperate attempt to say something without offending. Signaling in all kinds of ways that you are not blaming them, using humour to try to soften the fact that you are making a demand that they might ignore. Trying to find a way to ask something in such a way that the person will be disarmed and friendly, rather than defensive.

Problem is that the fact is that you are already in conflict with this person. You have needs that are not negotiable to you. You want them to change their behaviour because of your needs. No amount of politeness or self deprecating humour will soften this fact.

Using humour, softening statements, self deprecation to avoid conflict come across as passive aggressive because people are sensing the underlying frustration and the cloaked demand. Ironically, the very things that are being used to avoid conflict and project "I'm not your enemy, let's just get along" come across as dishonest and manipulative.

Because, and I say this gently, with compassion and no judgement, the letter is dishonest and manipulative.

My heart goes out to you because you are in a bind. But you have to face the fact that, no matter how you phrase this note, or how you approach a face to face meeting (which is definitely better than a note) this person might not cooperate.

You can't control them. You also can't avoid conflict with them because you are already in conflict with them.

You need to accept that fact and figure out how to get through this situation in the most efficient way.

Before communicating with them, figure out what you want. Check that it's reasonable. Be honest. Be vigilant and remove all attempts to soften, or apologise. Excise everything that comes from your discomfort in making this demand. Let go of all attempts to control this person's behaviour.

Figure out what you want. Ask for that politely and clearly. They will either cooperate or not, and that's OK. Once you know where you stand, you can decide what to do next.

Good luck.
posted by Zumbador at 10:18 PM on May 21, 2022 [12 favorites]

I don't think the note is passive aggressive, but it is long and confusing. What is the ask? This note should be 3-4 sentences max. Something like "Hi, I'm your downstairs neighbour. Wondering if you could do me a favor and try to keep noise down after midnight? Much appreciated."
If the offending noise is literally just them moving around in their apartment you're probably SOL but yiu could ask them to get a rug if you think that might help. Also, earplugs? I think you'll eventually get used to it. I once lived on a very noisy street (large bar on the corner and my window faced the alley where their trash was...3-4 times a week the bins of glassware were empited at 5am) After a couple of months i could sleep through anything.
posted by emd3737 at 4:05 AM on May 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'd start by attempting to meet your neighbour. I wouldn't say anything to them about it if I do manage to meet them.

You basically need to reframe the noises they make as reassuring, not intrusive, so that when you hear the sounds you don't really wake up because your subconscious tells you that is just Gloria getting up to pee again, and she can't have carpets any more because of the time she tripped over the edge of it in the dark, and if there was a fire Gloria would break her shoulder to get into your apartment and rescue your dog and you from smoke inhalation.

If you have a dog you are almost certainly producing as much noise for the upstairs neighbour as they are producing for you. If small noises of floor boards and cupboards are waking you up, then birds twittering outside of your open window and a motorcycle going by are either also going to wake you up and upset you, or else you are developing an ongoing resentment with having a stranger too close to your personal territory.

Get a fan to make white noise, sleep with earbuds in, take melatonin, be aware that when people are barely awake we are often unreasonably grumpy, and list fifteen good things about having an upstairs neighbour.

Also consider for the future only taking a top floor apartment. - Maybe in a year or two your upstairs neighbour would like to swap with you so you have the upstairs and they don't have stairs.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:55 AM on May 22, 2022

I once broke a glass at 2am and vaccuumed it up so my cat wouldn't walk in the shards, and my downstairs neighbour sent this note, which I thought was perfect:

Hi - How's it going?
I'm pretty sure you didn't realize I was home, but last night I was woken up around 2AM by vacuuming. I know it's tricky in this place seeing as there's essentially no sound insulation -- and I think we have different schedules -- but if it's possible to avoid making too much noise in the early hours, I'd be grateful!

Or, I might send,

Hi! I'm your downstairs neighbour, Name - nice to meet you, via note! :)
I wanted to check in with you about something I've noticed. A couple times in the last few weeks, I've been woken up by noises coming through my ceiling - it sounded like something being dropped on the floor or a chair being scraped on the floor, late at night? Unfortunately the sounds really carry through the floor/ceiling. If it's possible to minimize noise after midnight, especially the bedroom floor, I would be grateful!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 2:06 PM on May 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

I live in a 3rd-floor apartment and have been there for well over four years now. I feel terrible when the floor squeaks when I walk (I'm a big guy and I'm a night owl) but everything is carpeted and I don't know how to make it any better.

One thing I do know is this, though: apartments have referred sounds so not everything you hear is necessarily coming from this neighbor. I have received a complaint from a downstairs neighbor only once in the past 4+ years. They knocked and nicely asked if I could keep my kids from running around stomping. I invited them in and showed them that all three kids in the apartment at that time were seated or laying down using Kindles or laptops. Whatever running around and stomping they were hearing, it wasn't coming from my place, even though I was directly above them. They apologized and I never heard from them again.

My point: living in apartments is messy and noisy and it's not always clear who is doing what. But hey! At least we don't have to mow the lawn or buy a new dishwasher when ours breaks, right?

(My downstairs neighbors' bathroom fan is located about four inches under my toilet, so when they go in their bathroom and turn on the light, my toilet vibrates loudly. But I can't reasonably demand that they dismantle their fan or only use the bathroom at certain hours. I just have to deal with it.)
posted by tacodave at 3:51 PM on May 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

If I write to strangers I try not to assume that they have a sense of humor or that they can read above a 6th grade level. Many people do not like to read and will not do it. Please be as simple and direct as you can in this note, if you write it.
posted by Vatnesine at 10:37 AM on May 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

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