how to ask neighbor to be quiet
February 6, 2007 2:05 PM   Subscribe

My upstairs neighbor has become increasingly loud. He installed wood floors before moving in a year ago, which amplifies the sound. I can tolerate most noise, especially during the early evening. But he comes home after midnight, often with boisterous friends, and their noise keeps me up for hours. I've spoken to him on two occasions to keep it down. Now I want to write a letter. I want to be respectful and respected, but I'm not sure what to say other than to keep it down after hours. I know letter between neighbors can't be enforced, so how can I write it in a way that he'll be understanding and comply? Thanks in advance for advice!
posted by lunachick to Human Relations (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Letters are the worst thing you can do, in my opinion. They come off rude and passive-aggressive, and the worst part of the written word is that the recipient can read it over and over again and get madder and madder.

If you can't tell, we've been the recipients of a letter and it was NOT the way I would have wanted that issue handled. What do you think a letter would accomplish that speaking to him wouldn't? How did he react when spoken to about the noise?
posted by agregoli at 2:12 PM on February 6, 2007

Don't be this chick.

If you've asked him to his face to keep it down (and provided your request is reasonable, because frankly, wood floors alone aren't unreasonable what with having to live with other people on the planet and all) and he's disregarded, then I think the best tack to take would be to address it with your building management.

That way, a third party gets involved and can determine what sort of compromise (if any) needs to be reached.

Have you tried earplugs?
posted by mckenney at 2:19 PM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Plus you don't want to end up getting mocked by a bunch of high schoolers.

(Side note - there's got to be a term for this type of thing, a green/blue crossover. Is there?)
posted by jourman2 at 2:20 PM on February 6, 2007

Is there a way to compromise? Which of his rooms is overtop your bedroom? Can he add a rug there? He might be more receptive if you request a minor modification to his habits, not a wholesale change. Also, you might want to tell him what steps you have taken to make this situation better. Can you fall asleep with music on, or perhaps a white noise maker? They may help drown out the noise.

If he sees that you are putting in effort and expense, he may be more likely to do so as well. Or maybe not, but you gotta take your chances.
posted by taliaferro at 2:21 PM on February 6, 2007

mckenney, you beat me to the punch. i was about to refer to Sophina, too.

Letters are perhaps the worst way to deal with this sort of thing. Get to know this guy, be friendly and share cookies, and maybe someday lightly drop "It gets kinda loud sometimes..." in the conversation.
posted by Xere at 2:21 PM on February 6, 2007

Having dealt with obnoxious neighbor issues before, I think that if negotiation doesn't work then you'll get far more satisfaction from bribery than by escalation. I'd be the last person to advise rolling over for an injustice, but with neighbor situations they can easily turn adversarial, and you've got to deal with them 24/7.

If you run into them them occasionally I would casually pass along a bottle of wine or a six pack, not as an overt bribe, but "hey, I won't be needing this, maybe you'd like it". As with any stubborn person, the more you make yourself approachable and friendly, the more they'll be willing to work with you.

Normally the other option would be to call the cops anonymously, but this is so minor it's not worth doing, plus you'd get on the neighbor's bad side.
posted by rolypolyman at 2:22 PM on February 6, 2007

Can you talk to him one more time and arrange some sort of system - bang on the ceiling three times to let him know you want to sleep and his noise is keeping you up, with the understanding that you would only do so after, say, 11pm? If he is at all a decent person he won't object to such a system, and this serves his interests a little better than a blanket after-hours ban on all noise. As for you, try a white noise machine to drown out the softer noises.

If he is not interested in compromising I think you are justified in speaking to your landlord.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:23 PM on February 6, 2007

I agree with agregoli about letters. Not the way to go, IMO. I'm in your position, with some noisy upstairs neighbors on a different schedule, and the noise gets out of control from time to time, and whenever the noise is too loud, I go upstairs and tell them so right then and there. When have you spoken to him? By speaking to my neighbors right when the noise is too loud, I feel it's clearer for them to know what is over the top (dance parties after midnight on a Sunday night = too much!).

I really try to be fair- I always ask myself- is it the noise that's keeping me awake, or is it my own annoyance/anger/frustration? Sometimes, I have to let it go and turn up the fan.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:23 PM on February 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Not all letter writers are insane kooks like the linked example. If you're doing to do nice-talky, that does work better in person. However, seems you are renting: go to the landlord. Depending on the house rules, putting your complaint in writing is the way to go.

It's really hard to go do nice-talky when you're incoherent from lack of sleep, but it is best to address it right then. However, drunks will still not get it. Again, landlord.
posted by Listener at 2:42 PM on February 6, 2007

Thanks to everyone for sharing advice and your experience. I will definitely forgo writing the letter -- I don't want to be that scary Sophia woman. It looks like another talking to is in order. Before, I would talk to him at the height of the noise, and he would keep it down for that night, but his resolve didn't last beyond that. And yes, I've tried earplugs (noise machines keep me up). And the noise is all over, not just above my bedroom ... We're both condo owners in our complex, and association doesn't get involved in such disputes. I think I have to suck it up until one of us moves.
posted by lunachick at 2:55 PM on February 6, 2007

Chiming in to say ixnay on the etterslay. That won't get you anywhere.

But he comes home after midnight, often with boisterous friends

Is alcohol involved in the noise? You don't mention it directly, but it might be an important factor. I once had a neighbor who would frequently come in late and make astonishing amounts of noise. If I went over and knocked on the door to say, "hey, it's 3 am, can you keep it down?" I wouldn't get much traction. If I went over the next day to say "uh, you may not realize how thin these walls are, and I heard every word of your story about the time you and Dave got arrested for stealing the flag from your high school, if you could keep it down next time that would be great" then he would be super apologetic, falling over himself to make up for it. Until the next time he came home drunk. This went on until he moved out.

So if your neighbor is a loud drunk, that's a hard one to fix, other than by somebody moving.
posted by ambrosia at 2:56 PM on February 6, 2007

Sadly, as you observed in your follow-up, you're probably going to have to wait until one of you move. I've had this problem so many times and even if it is resolved for one night, the racket is back the next weekend. I had an upstairs neighbor once that my g/f and I were convinced was not actually human, but instead a caterpillar wearing 40 pairs of danskos. It was miserable.

An extreme possibility would be a drop ceiling with a layer of insulation.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:28 PM on February 6, 2007

I think its the same with all conflicting lifestyles-- one can only go so far to behave a certain way to keep a neighbor happy.
Hardwood floors can amplify even the most minute sounds to incredibly annoying levels without someone realizing it.

I like the bribery idea, I'm a loud guy and I bet that'd work wonders on me. Luckily I live in a nice house now, so no one can hear my drunken late night lunatic ramblings.

When we had neighbors below us call the cops on us one Friday night at 10pm when we had 10 people over, we went to talk to them in person the next day. They turned out to be really nice folks, (and were impressed some college students had the balls to come talk to them face to face) and we quickly built a mutual respect. Instead of being like 'aw screw the neighbors!' we started bein like 'aw... i think we were pretty loud last night, lets really keep it down'. Things worked out nicely (at least on our end?) eventually.
posted by ZackTM at 3:37 PM on February 6, 2007

It doesn't say where you live. However, I know in our condo bylaws it states you must cover 70 percent of the hardwood with rugs (though of course people don't unless someone complains). I am also confused what you mean when you say the association "doesn't get involved." I'm pretty sure someone, somewhere can enforce your bylaws, like the board. This all probably means a protracted fight, which might better be avoided, but I do think you have some recourse.
posted by dame at 3:51 PM on February 6, 2007

You are wasting your time. The problem will be fixed when one of you moves.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:10 PM on February 6, 2007

Isn't this very reason why God made brooms?
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:22 PM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

There's no solution to this. The best thing you can do when moving is ask if the other tenants keep the same schedule as you and hope for the best. 9-5'ers cant mix with the retail/student crowd. Studybugs cant mix with the party crowd. This doubly applies to roommates.

I've had a few talks with neighbors and their habits, sleeping patterns, and sense of entitlement are much stronger their their worries about what the neighbors are hearing. Its human nature.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:27 PM on February 6, 2007

The condo association should have regulations on flooring. A lot of them require acoustic foam when hardwood or laminate is installed. Unfortunately, most of the time it seems like a case like yours has to occur first, in order to bring about the regulations.

Check with them if such regulations exist. If not, they should.
posted by ODiV at 4:46 PM on February 6, 2007

I've been the obnoxious upstairs neighbor, and I can tell you from personal experience that there sometimes just isn't anything that can reasonably be done.

In my case, the hardwood flooring was already present, and my roommate and I put down rugs. We kept strange hours, but rarely had people over, and generally walked around the house in socks or slippers. We were both in graduate school and spent most of our time studying.

The point of this is that despite our lifestyles, our downstairs neighbors thought we were the neighbors from hell, and would constantly beat on the ceiling over everything and nothing.

I frankly have no idea what it sounded like down there, but as time went on, and frivolous complaint after frivolous complaint (from our perspective) piled up, we frankly became much less concerned with how loud we were.

I suppose my point is that if you could see your neighbor, you might be surprised by how reasonable their behavior looks from up there, and repeated complaints may only make them less responsive.

Personally, I refuse to live anywhere but the top floor.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:13 PM on February 6, 2007

Had this issue, we used earplugs and eventually moved out. I know in UK it is not legal to have wooden floors. I noticed the next tenant did complain, and the upstairs floor was changed to carpeted.

Didn't help that the people upstairs were that weird freak kind of people who wears shoes inside.

posted by lundman at 6:16 PM on February 6, 2007

My wife and I once lived in the upstairs of a two story apartment and had neighbors beside us who had speakers taller than my wife. I used to bang on the wall, bounce a basketball on the wall, yelled at the wall. Nothing worked.

The neighbor who lived beneath them, a charming Englishwoman, one day simply invited them downstairs and said, "Do you understand how this sounds from my apartment?"

They had no idea, and it pretty much stopped.
posted by 4ster at 6:32 PM on February 6, 2007

The asker asked for advice on how to do it, not to be told not to do it.

As for the contents of your letter, be friendly and open. I'm not sure how you've approached the situation before on the occasions you've spoken to him, but open with something like "Look, I'm sorry to bring this up again, but the situation remains the same, and I'd rather settle this between us and not have to involve the landlord."

Follow through with a description of the problems (including that you can hear his friends) and perhaps a few suggestions (some rugs, for instance).

Keep it polite, straightforward, and to the point, but advise that you will get the landlord involved if things don't improve within a reasonable period of time. This is not something you need to or should be dealing with.

Two questions - 1) Have you tried going up there to talk right after he's arrived home? You might embarrass him in front of his friends, and he may wish to avoid that in the future. Shaming people doesn't always work, but perhaps it's worth a shot.

2)Do your other neighbors have any problems with this guy? I don't know if anyone else can hear your neighbor, but you might be in a better position if you can get others to back you up. Might be worth asking.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:37 PM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd say your approach should be to go over there at a time when it's not happening at the moment (so not on edge or furious) and try to make a friend. Or at least friendly neighbor. You're going to have to frame it as a problem you have that maybe he can help you with, rather than an accusation/blame/threat thing. It's not his fault living in apartments is like this - it just is. Being considerate and keeping your neighbors' comfort in mind goes a long way to making it better, but is not usually possible to force on someone who doesn't get it. He will not get it if you put him on defense.

I'm against the embarass him in front of his friends plan, especially if he is young. You'll put him in a situation where his first instinct is to act cool, make snarky comments, etc.

If you do go with the letter plan, keep a copy and send a copy to the homeowner association. One letter may not mean squat, but by the time you have a dozen, it's history that can go towards showing bad faith on his part - for whatever that's worth, if it ever comes to that.
posted by ctmf at 7:40 PM on February 6, 2007

One suggestion, if you're on relatively friendly terms with him, is to get him to come down to your place and hear what it sounds like. If he's moving around normally, it may seem unreasonable to him that it's so loud for you. If he hears it for himself, he might be more understanding.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:02 PM on February 6, 2007

President Elvis described my situation so exactly I checked that they weren't my roommate in disguise.

The problem may be structural if you're hearing noise all the time. Assuming it is, here's what I've learned: The fastest/best fix is for your neighbors to put in carpet. The expensive fix is to redo the flooring with vibration-control fixtures and dead spaces. (Given they just put the hardwood in recently, either of these may be a hard sell) If they don't get carpet, they can put down lots of padded rugs. They can put felt on the bottoms of chair legs. They can wear slippers. They can rearrange the place so they don't walk over your head. They can be extra-careful when setting anything on counters or floors. They can be warned about "typing too loud" during the middle of the day.

This may sound extreme, but we did all these things and it wasn't enough because our wood floors were so poorly built in terms of soundproofing. Problems escalated between us and our downstairs neighbor. We felt put-upon with all the extra restrictions, and she thought we were wildly inconsiderate. That problem didn't go away until we moved (and I hear the new tenants have some problems too).

On the other hand, if the noise is only occasional (eg: they throw a party or crank up the music), maybe one of the suggestions above will help.

Just keep in mind that your upstairs neighbors might be hearing the quiet clink of a glass on the table where you hear crashes like a bowling ball being dropped directly over your head.
posted by lorimt at 8:10 PM on February 6, 2007

Have you signaled your discomfort by banging on the ceiling? It's frequently almost miraculous in effect.

Instead of a carefully-thought-out letter, you may get a better reaction with a brief note. "Tried to catch you, but you were out. Hey, work comes early in the morning and you guys were keeping me awake with the partying again last night -- can we work out a signal?"

(A letter to the landlord is a fine idea, though. Keep a paper trail of all correspondance with landlords, if possible.)
posted by desuetude at 8:26 PM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've been the obnoxious upstairs neighbor in a house with hardwood floors (still am!) and in my case, a perfectly reasonable note was followed up with a completely un-reasonable in person conversation in which I was told that my walking into my own apartment at 1030PM with my shoes on created so much noise that I could be heard in other states.

I now take my shoes off when I enter the door of the building and hate my neighbor so much that I dream of not only taking up clogging, but putting tap shoes on my cat.

It's not the method. It's not WHAT you say. It's how you say it. The note that I received was "Hey guys, could you be more aware of the noise you make? These floors carry sound really well." Totally to the point and non-accusatory. I had no problem with that and actually felt really bad because I hadn't previously realized that the noise was an issue.

However... the drunken followup in which I was told that I made his walls shake and that he referred to me to his friends as "Thumper"... not so well received.

If you'll excuse me, I've got some tap shoes to order.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:31 PM on February 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'll be curious how this works out because I've just this morning started similar negotiations with my upstairs neighbor, who is actually not doing anything obnoxious- just wearing hard soles in a no-rug apartment. She runs around like a maniac from 6:30 to 7:30 in the morning, so that even earplugs don't help.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:38 AM on February 7, 2007

Oh, geez, having read this I'm going to go buy some rugs for my apartment -- my downstairs neighbors must hate me.

I second all the recommendations about talking to him after the fact -- I think he's much more likely to take you seriously when he's not in a boisterous mood.
posted by treepour at 1:41 PM on February 7, 2007

Thanks, damn dirty ape, "[They're] sense of entitlement are much stronger their their worries about what the neighbors are hearing."

That frame of reference helps me to understand the neighbor's irratability when approaching them cordially about their door ajar cooing above my tv show from 40 ft. away for 20 minutes for no productive reason...
posted by prodevel at 3:10 AM on April 4, 2007

« Older Where to find law memorabilia?   |   Trying not to screw myself. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.