Noisy Neighbours Require Political Manouvre
November 23, 2006 8:13 PM   Subscribe

Apartment Etiquette - Dealing with a stereo hound next door.

I just moved into a new apartment building I quickly found out that my neighbour likes to invite his friends over regularly to show off his base-pounding stereo. Sigh. So this afternoon, when he was on a "trial run" before his friends showed up, I walked over, introduced myself, and politely asked him to turn it down. He did, but they're back to their regular habit this evening (even turning it up to full, then quickly down, as if I might not notice).

OK, so I haven't been in an apartment building in years. I haven't built the thick skin yet. I wonder though how I can go about enforcing my request without a) whining impotently or b) escalating the conflict.

posted by Popular Ethics to Human Relations (42 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Maneuver. I'm too tired.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:14 PM on November 23, 2006

Well, whatever you do, don't let it escalate to the neighborly version of drunk-dialing -- you being woken up at 3am by the stereo, and then pounding on their door and yelling half-understandable insults at them.

Been there, done that.

Seriously though, your complex probably has rules about this, and it may or may not have been in the rental contract. You can try being persistently polite about it, but if that doesn't work . . . It's the management's job to deal with it. So let 'em earn their pay.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:17 PM on November 23, 2006

Some questions:

- Do you live in a college town? If the answer is yes, then the response from most will be "what did you expect?"

- What time of day/night is this happening until? Does it continue past your bedtime?

Sometimes you just can't reason with people, but you may have to explain to him why you'd like him to keep it down (are you studying? trying to sleep?). The problem is this: if the person is legitimately an inconsiderate jerk, the only recourse you have is to either complain to the landlord or to the police. Doing this will potentially cause you problems depending on just what kind of person this neighbor is.

If the neighbor is reasonable, but just used to being able to listen to loud music, then you're very fortunate and talking to him a couple more times should do the trick. However, the "right" way to do it is to say something like: "hey, can we make a compromise? I know you want to be able to listen to your music, but how about after say 9pm it's kept down? I have to study at night and I get to bed around 11" ...

Basically, you need to make it clear that sometimes (and specify when) it's OK to listen to loud music.. if you don't, you just look like you're trying to control them.. you have to phrase it like you're offering him something...
posted by twiggy at 8:18 PM on November 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

You have to deal with this politically- if you become the crazy neighbor who comes over at any hour saying they have to turn down the music, they're not going to respect you (I can't believe you went over during the day- the middle of the day!). I would pick your battles. If they're playing it during the day, whatever, turn on your music, learn to deal. If they start playing it at night to the point where it's disturbing your sleep, that's when you go over and start bitching. Maybe you give yourself a schedule- you usually go to bed at 10 p.m., so anytime the music is loud after 9:30 p.m., that's when you talk to them. And I know that may not seem "fair", but unfortunately that's part of dealing with shared living spaces- sometimes you have to put up with shit you don't like.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:24 PM on November 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: "College Town" is every reasonably sized city in Canada. Although not really close to campus, this is a pretty posh building which (now unfortunately) seems popular with the rich daddy undergrad set. The music didn't start until my bedtime (10) and is still playing (albeit intermittently. I would love to know why one would crank the bass for a few seconds, and then lower it again, other than to piss off your neighbour)
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:25 PM on November 23, 2006

Best answer: We had this problem with a neighbour. First off ask them to move the subwoofer away from any walls or ductwork, it makes a huge difference.
posted by fshgrl at 8:28 PM on November 23, 2006

Response by poster: (and by afternoon, when I asked for the first time, I meant 8pm. I've been working late, so my schedule is a little delayed)

Good suggestions so far. I probably do need to try a second visit with some reasonably compromise terms. It would be nice if I had some bargaining capital though. Right now all I can think of is "Please".

I have no idea if the property management company / super will help, but I could look into it if he continues to act jerkilly. That option feels like tattling to the teacher. Maybe if I got some other neighbours to sign on...

I am (only half-kiddingly) thinking about buying a bigger and better stereo, placing it against his wall, and playing nothing but jazz or blues at top volume. I'm an employed professional. I could outspend his student allowance easily :) Fight jerk with jerk.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:35 PM on November 23, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks fshgrl. That's a good low-conflict first request.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:36 PM on November 23, 2006

Call them, if it does not stop call the police. Repeat. Eventually, they will respect your calls. They will hate you, but they will respect you. Sometimes respect is better than love.
posted by caddis at 8:38 PM on November 23, 2006

They will hate you, but they will respect you.

Somehow I seriously doubt this.

My father had an old, "broken" radio transmitter that would send out a blast of electromagnatism across all bands. Whenever neighbors would crank up the noise, he'd simply step into the back room and flip the sucker on. Anything with a speaker withing about a block radius would instantly feedback, particularly the offenders' stereo which had the volume cranked.

No one ever figured out it was him. Worked like a charm.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:58 PM on November 23, 2006 [16 favorites]

How sure are you that the sub spikes are intentional? As an audiophile, I know that I crank my subs for the Largo of Eccles' Sonata for Double Bass in G minor.
posted by The White Hat at 9:02 PM on November 23, 2006

Best answer: Oh, c'mon Pop E.

No need to outspend. Just borrow a 15" bass cabinet from one of your more musical friends, put it up against the common wall, and run a tone generator at 30-40 HZ through it. Turn it up until you can't stand it, and then go out for the night. Once enough of his expensive toys crash on the floor, I'm sure he'll be more than willing to turn it down.

Seriously, though - don't even deal with the guy. Go through the apartment manager. I lived next to a guy in my previous building that would play the same track (bass pumping) on repeat for 30-40 minutes at a stretch, between 1-2am. I only had to call the front desk 2 or 3 times before it stopped happening for good.

But you can get a tone generator for $30 Online. I'm just saying.
posted by god hates math at 9:02 PM on November 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Call the police.

I had horrible neighbors like this. We're talking stereo on 11 at 0300 am on weeknights sometimes. I complained to the management, but they weren't incredibly responsive.

What I did was:
1. Call the cops multiple times.
2. Turned my extremely powerful stereo up and left on several occasions.
3. Moved.
4. Resolved to never live in apartments again.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 9:08 PM on November 23, 2006

Here's what I did: the first weekend I moved in, the neighbor above me had a party that started at about 3:30am, and continued until around 5. The next night, my neighbor on the same floor had a party, once again around 3-4am. I figured that anyone who played their music that loud at that hour of the night obviously didn't give a shit what their neighbors thought, but I was hoping it was just a fluke. Two weekends later, same thing from the upstairs neighbor - this time it was so loud that I could tell it was "Take Me Home Tonight" just by the bass. I called the police, but when they came by, they couldn't hear the music from outside, so they left.

So...I just called the landlord the next day, mentioned the problem, and then specifically said what I try to do to keep my noise level down - taking shoes off in the house, for example. The landlord said that what my neighbors were doing was unacceptable, and letters would be sent to them immediately to tell them to keep it down. Haven't had a problem since - I still hear the upstairs neighbor during the day (she also likes "Born To Run") but that's fine by me.

Note to Twiggy : I live in a neighborhood that's close to one of the most rabid fan bases in college football, but it has a mix of professionals, teachers, grad students, and undergrads. Before I moved in, I specifically asked the landlord about the current tenants, and he assured me that they were all long term - one was a teacher, the rest grad students. Quite frankly, this entire city shuts down when there's a home game - even if I moved out to the 'burbs, I probably couldn't escape college-related partying - even by otherwise tame middle-aged folks!
posted by Liosliath at 9:08 PM on November 23, 2006

Pollomacho, I'd love to know more about that transmitter.

Also, if you have to resort to the childish stereo wars, selection of the right music is critical. I found that a combination of Flipper's "There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly" and Ministry's "Stigmata" (the 12 inch single) played simultaneously, was more than effective.
posted by adipocere at 9:11 PM on November 23, 2006 [4 favorites]

An old housemate of mine had a stereo that would vibrate my bed on the other side of the wall. If recall, his had presets on the remote where you could set different levels and volumes. The "Shake Yorrick's Bed" setting was the first preset, so if someone hit the preset button on the remote accidentally, things would get very loud very quickly. It would take a few seconds to turn everything down. This may explain why the bass would get turned up only for a few seconds.

fshgrl has a good point about moving the subwoofer if you get to the point where you can discuss alternatives with your neighbor. We have also put foam padding under the speakers to keep some of the sound energy from transferring to the floorboards.

Politically, it sounds like the guy is making some effort to curb the noise, so maybe you should praise this and try to work with him about quiet times. It is possibly the guy has hearing damage and really does not realize how loud the music is at times.

You mentioned other neighbors sighning on, some of them might be on more friendly terms and could act as a mediator. If you do decide to out-annoy them, my downstairs neighbor playing Indian wailing music at full volume at 3am was enough to not only make me move but vow never to live in an apartment complex again.

Good luck, try to keep it civil.
posted by Yorrick at 9:11 PM on November 23, 2006

Best answer: Apartment rules usually have 'quiet time' provisions for between like 10PM and 6AM... but may have no mechanism for enforcement. So, like thePinkSuperhero said -- also see How to Persuade Your Neighbors to Quiet Their Chronically Barking Dogs .
posted by Rash at 9:17 PM on November 23, 2006

Next time you see him, say something like 'You know, your stereo sounds great, but it's so cold and sterile. Man, you need to get a tube amp. Do any of your buddies have one?' He'll think on this, and eventually he'll buy one. Give it a little time, then, next time you run into him in the hallway or whatever, say 'That new amp sounds great, but now you can hear all the noise from the power lines. You ought to get a power conditioner.' Wait a while longer. Then, next time you see him, say 'I've got to upgrade my interconnects. What brand do you recommend?' Repeat until he can't afford to live in your building.
posted by box at 9:24 PM on November 23, 2006 [5 favorites]

I'd also like to know more about that device, Pollomacho.
posted by Rash at 9:24 PM on November 23, 2006

I wish I knew more. He's a collector of all things junk and had it long before I was even born (could be WWII surplus?). It looked like an old ham radio transmitter but it never really worked to send out any sort of signal you would actually want to receive. It was his pride and joy and he giggled with glee at his little secret. Eventually it gave out.

A radio head around here may be able to tell you more about. Anyone?

It was about 3/4 the height but of the same width and length as a microwave oven (a bit larger than modern radio components). Would have undoubtedly have been tube driven. Two big dials on front. Hummed a tiny bit as it warmed up, and by "warmed" I mean got HOT (and I've had some tube amps in my day so I know tube hot, this was HOT).
posted by Pollomacho at 10:00 PM on November 23, 2006

Two big dials, several smaller ones and can I throw in some more haves in there.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:01 PM on November 23, 2006

It doesn't sound like another confrontation with the neighbor will help. Some people seriously cannot be reasoned with. And it's possible that a "my toys are louder" contest will frustrate you long before it'll start to affect him.

I suggest telling apartment management about the problem whenever it happens. They can note the neighbor's file whenever there's an incident. If the office doesn't make any sort of effort to stop the noise and it continues after the office is closed for the day, feel free to call the NONemergency line to the police department. Call the number every single time the noise happens. Seriously - it's what the nonemergency number is for. The police will alert the office about the noise violations and the neighbor will eventually get kicked out if they keep it up enough.

As someone who used to lease apartments for a living, I can vouch for this tactic - at least in north Texas; we had quite a few people evicted because they thought the office was joking when they sent the "TURN YOUR RADIO DOWN AFTER 10PM" notices. They'd usually call the office and complain, and then after hours would turn their stereos up full blast. Eviction was never that far behind.
posted by damnjezebel at 10:37 PM on November 23, 2006

If you opt for a stereo war , I highly recommend Mana Mana on repeat for a minimum of 8 hours at full volume.
posted by four panels at 11:15 PM on November 23, 2006

Best answer: Please don't increase the amount of passive-aggressive crap in the world. There is a straightforward way to make the problem go away. But you've got to build a case, not just bring off some (isolated or chronic) confrontation, because idiots are immune to confrontations. You need power here, not politics.

Keep a log of when he does it. Keep a log of when you talk to him. Keep a log of when you talk to management. Follow up with management to make sure they talk to him. (If they're college-town landlords, odds are they're lazy gits, begging pardon for my cynicism. Especially begging the pardon of damnjezebel, who knows how to do the job right, and would she please buy out 8 of my last 13 landlords?)

After four or five bass nights, three or four neighborly talks, two calls to management, or one visit paid to him by management, if he's still up to it, you should complain to management in writing, with the full chronology out of your logs. Send your neighbor a copy of the letter, and keep one for yourself.

This is also the proper time to check the city website for the details of the noise ordinance. (Best practice: Just pitch the city name and "noise ordinance" into Google. Beats municipal site search every time.) Write down the hours and the non-emergency police number. Now, if he keeps it up, you know when and how you can call the cops with a noise complaint. And log those, too.

By this time your management ought to be putting some serious heat on him, and you can assist them in the process. And if they are the more regrettable type of landlords (i.e., not like damnjezebel), the cops will put the heat on them, and you can assist that too. This is power, which is what you need.

If you're really committed to politics over power, i.e., you would rather make a scene than make a difference, I do heartily second Mana Mana. Four panels, you are beautifully evil.
posted by eritain at 1:52 AM on November 24, 2006 [5 favorites]

Re stereo wars - if you are like me and actually enjoy bagpipes, this might be your time to shine (and at a relatively low volume too).

But seriously - make friends with your neighbour. He probably has no idea how much the sound carries and doesn't understand how to damp it. See if he'll insulate or move the sub-woofer or reposition the whole shebang for you. Offer to help him do it. Bring beer, establish rapport, make friends. Be reasonable. Loud music before 9pm is considered fairly acceptable most places I've been.

And if he continues, have no qualms filing a noise report as most excellently outlined above. Don't do the top-volume stereo war thing because the fall-out will annoy other neighbours and things will get ugly fast. You're obviously an intelligent person so being reduced to a twitching, screaming wreck with floam-flecked jowls is not where you want to be at. Try the low-stress option first. It might actually work...

If not, then perhaps you need to give more weight to these things when next choosing your accommodation because hearing other people going about their lives is part and parcel of apartments.
posted by ninazer0 at 1:56 AM on November 24, 2006

You have three options:

1. Complain to the landlord who will hopefully talk to the tenet with positive results.

2. Make friends with your neighbor and hope you can sweet talk him / bribe him through kindness into keeping quite...


3. Call the police. Seriously. At two in the morning most cops are bored. Call them. Dial 9-1-1. Say your neighbor is having a noisy party... make sure you tell the dispatcher how the cops can get into your building (if there is a pass code, etc) and what the guy's apartment number. Sit back and relax while you tax dollars shut down your rude neighbor.

I don't know how much your rent is, but if you're paying as much as I am then you probably take your peace and quite seriously. For what I pay I expect my neighbors to quite down after 9pm... and if they don't, well then Chicago's finest can handle it. Sit back and relax while you tax dollars shut down your rude neighbor.
posted by wfrgms at 3:03 AM on November 24, 2006

You have a right to be able to enjoy your living space without its being vibrated by a neighbor, even in the afternoon. Many places have specific ordinances prohibiting the kind of stuff you describe. Investigate.

turning it up to full, then quickly down, as if I might not notice
Unless this also happened before you talked with the neighbor, it's no accident. It is a typically infantile tactic of the noisaholic, when someone makes it known that their music is not universally adored.

Do not launch a noise war by using a bigger stereo. It doesn't work, and your other neighbors will not be amused. Even if you 'win' the volume war, it will almost certainly escalate to other areas of your neighbor relations.

Go to neighbor again, and ask if there's some compromise the two of you can reach. If that doesn't work, go to the landlord. Call the cops only as a last resort, and be prepared for retaliation. (If there's a community laundry, don't leave your clothes unattended.) I started calling the cops on my Cro-Magnon neighbors only after they accused me of doing it when I hadn't. (Some other neighbor reached that point before me.)

You may never resolve this. I didn't - I moved.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:07 AM on November 24, 2006

Oh, and do not call 911 with a noise complaint. Look up the police department's business number and use that. 911 is for emergencies. Unless the noise is so loud that your walls are actually crumbling, it's not an emergency, and the cops won't appreciate your treating it like it is.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:10 AM on November 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

eritain, that is politics. Power is what the police use.
"Politics is the process by which individuals [e.g. you] or relatively small groups attempt to exert influence over the actions of an organization [e.g., landlord, city, police]."
posted by clord at 5:27 AM on November 24, 2006

Involved the management. They have ways of handling this stuff and usually have some experience with it.

I live in a house next to some apartments. I let the music in the afternoons slide - but whenever the friends of the teenager that lives there came by and played loud teenager music out of their cars at midnight, I politely talked to the parents the next day. Unfortunately that didn't work. Next I called the management. Again I was polite. That resolved it completely.
posted by dog food sugar at 6:48 AM on November 24, 2006

Oh and Pollomacho that sounds like a good AskMe question.....
posted by dog food sugar at 6:49 AM on November 24, 2006

I had this problem too, with someone who was living above me and unemployed. I paid many polite visits, and he would always turn the volume down immediately and apologise, but the next time he got drunk or annoyed the volume would go back to 11.
The problem eventually solved itself when he was forced to get a day job - humans all need some amount of sleep and rest.
posted by spherical_perceptions at 7:09 AM on November 24, 2006

Best answer: Nothing beats Songs of the Humpbacked Whale (the blue whales track) for sonic attack. You don't really hear it so much as be suddenly surrounded by ... pressure.

And my 2 cents with this is to talk to the neighbor and offer a) a weeknight cutoff (as late as you can stand) and (THIS IS IMPORTANT) a weekend night, or at least a night every other weekend when he can go late.

The idea is to offer a compromise where _both_ of you make sacrifices. I'll admit that I've been on the other side of this problem, but people whose whole argument is 'screw you I am the one that is right here' get no respect, and people that recognize that noisy people do in fact have some rights, and that when people live squished up next to each other you have to deal with things you might not like about your neighbors, and compromise a bit, get nothing but politeness and consideration from me.

If he likes playing music late - my problem is I make music, need to play it loud when I make it, and am at my most inspired at 11-12pm, there has to be some time, however infrequently, that he can do that. Otherwise, ruin.
posted by 31d1 at 8:00 AM on November 24, 2006

Dial 9-1-1. Say your neighbor is having a noisy party...

NO. Jesus fucking Christ... you don't dial the emergency number for a loud party. 911 is for "help I'm being stabbed" not "help my neighbour is annoying me".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:50 AM on November 24, 2006

(In some areas, 911 is also used to route non emergency calls, and listed as the non emergency number in the phone book. In Hawaii, for instance. Find out the local rules before using it, though.)
posted by Nothing at 9:04 AM on November 24, 2006

I think fshgrl has the right idea. You can really cut down on noise being transmitted by properly isolating your sub. Just getting it up off the floor has helped a lot in my apartment.

Perhaps suggesting this in a friendly way could help?
posted by utsutsu at 9:14 AM on November 24, 2006

I would not advise getting into a stereo war with the neighbor as it will eliminate any leverage and legitimacy you have.

Things to to:

- Get a copy of the house rules from your landlord/building management and see what they say about noise provisions.

- Invite your neighbor over to hear what the stereo sounds like from your side of the wall.

- Ask him to see if there is something in addition to turning it down that would lessen the noise: Move speaker away from the party wall. Don't let the speaker touch the floor. Put some sound absorbing material on the party wall (hang bookshelves or some heavy tapestry) or under the the offending speaker (a small piece of carpet, or soundproofing material).

- Ask your neighbor not to play after certain hours.

- Ask your neighbor to give you some warning if he's having guests or a party, so you can make other plans.
posted by brookeb at 10:35 AM on November 24, 2006

I'd also suggest checking with other neighbors in the building to see if they also have the same complaint. If it's that loud and you can hear it, no doubt others above and next to him can hear that music too. In that case, the rationale about having several neighbors complain together rather than just one is much more effective.

I once had a neighbor who loved to party at 3-5 am. The first time I asked her politely to cool it. The second time, I pounded on the walls. The third time, I asked my friend to come over and help me break up some firewood. With his chainsaw. Sunday morning. At 7 am. Right outside her window. Left a note on her door and said that the chainsaw decibel noise was about the same as Willie Nelson blasting through my walls at the crack of dawn. One more incident and I would call the police. Worked like a charm.
posted by HeyAllie at 10:57 AM on November 24, 2006

In some areas, 911 is also used to route non emergency calls

Ah, OK, didn't know that, sorry.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:22 PM on November 24, 2006

The guy opposite plays banda and ranchera really loud once of twice a week. Really loud. Maybe the other neighbors call the cops, but I don't. I drift off to a broken sleep thinking how happy that guy must be, bumping his ranchera, and reflecting that in this at least I am treating someone how I'd like to be treated.
I get these weird ranchera dreams out of this, too, so bonus.
posted by Methylviolet at 3:12 PM on November 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Call his parents. I'm serious.
posted by I Foody at 8:53 PM on November 24, 2006

The laws vary from place to place, but a number of places have noise ordinances that are in effect 24/7. It amazes me to see so many people suggesting that you compromise with him and let him do what he wants except in time periods where ~you~ can justify why you need silence. You pay your rent, there is no reason why you should have to be listening to his music. He needs it loud? That's what headphones are for.

You've already tried talking to him. If it continues, go to the landlord. That's part of what you pay for, the ability to get things fixed. It's their job to confront their tenants, not yours. And if that doesn't work, yes, call the cops. Sometimes that's the only way to get through to people.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 2:17 PM on November 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

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