How do I write a nice note to my neighbors asking them to keep it down?
September 9, 2007 8:37 PM   Subscribe

How do I write a polite note to my neighbors letting them know that I can hear everything that goes on in their apartment and asking them to keep it to a reasonable minimum?

I live in the lower story of a two-story building. My upstairs neighbors are quite loud.

The noise from their apartment is sometimes social noise - people yelling and chanting, running around the apartment (it sounds like a soccer game), conversation, etc., at what seems to me a less-than-considerate volume and sometimes at odd times (loud laughing and talking at 12:30 AM on a Tuesday, for example).

Other times it is noise of a more intimate variety, also at odd times. I can't put into words how obscenely loud they are, but suffice to say I find it hard to think that they don't know others can hear them. This also goes on frequently (on Labor Day, a record-shatterer, they got started at 7:30 AM, with the last of seven bouts starting up at 2 AM and cooling off abruptly when I tapped the ceiling). Often they get going between 1 and 2 AM, including on weekdays. I teach every morning at 8:30, which means I get up around 7, so this is problematic.

I rented a two-bedroom apartment for myself so that I could use one bedroom as an office and do my work at home (I'm a grad student) rather than staying at the library and dealing with infrequent buses, walking half a mile home from the bus stop in the dark, toting my books back and forth, etc. I am fully aware that a certain amount of noise is to be expected, but they don't seem to consider others at all.

How do I write a polite note to them asking to keep it down without escalating this into something bigger than it needs to be? Part of the problem is that both types of activities need to be addressed, and I'd rather let them know that it's a problem for me, before taking it to management.

I know I should be happy they have great sex/social lives, but that has no bearing on my desire for a little peace and quiet.
posted by bijou to Human Relations (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This may not be helpful, but it's what I'd be inclined to do:

Forget the note. Record them. Play said recording back in their general direction, at volume.
posted by deCadmus at 8:42 PM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Haha, exactly the problem I have with the people above me. I feel like I know a little too much about their sex lives. One time when they were going at it at 4 AM on a school night, I went up there and left an anon note. It basically said that their noise was a disturbance and that it revealed quite a lot about their personal lives that no neighbor would ever want to know. It probably could have been nicer, but it did the job. I haven't heard since.

Of course, you live in a situation where they would probably know it was you, so you have to be more nuanced about it if you leave a note. Simply say that the walls are very thin and their noise makes it difficult for you to do your job.
posted by melissam at 8:44 PM on September 9, 2007

Just write a polite note, use your own words, forget about making it anon since they're gonna know it was you for sure. Sure, they may confront you about it later on, but if your note is earnest and polite you have nothing to fear.

Don't be afraid of a little confrontation, bullyish/inconsiderate people are used to getting away with being selfish, because us normal folks are usually squeamish about standing up for ourselves.

Or, just turn up the stereo all the way up and leave it on as you leave for work. They'll get the message.
posted by papafrita at 8:53 PM on September 9, 2007

I've been on both ends of this situation, and I've found that the most effective tactic is to approach the offenders with a sense of concern for their privacy. "You probably didn't know this, but I can hear, um . . . everything . . . that goes on in your apartment at all hours. I just thought you might want to know" has worked for me in the past. Then it's not like you're the bad complaining neighbor (which might annoy them into being loud on purpose), you're the nice, sensitive neighbor. I'm not sure how well this would work for fixing the loud TV/stomping/etc. but it should cut down on the other noises. I know you "find it hard to think that they don't know others can hear them," but I think people find it easy to believe nobody can hear them until somebody informs them otherwise.
posted by vytae at 8:56 PM on September 9, 2007 [5 favorites]

Why write a note? I'm sure mentioning the noise casually (as vytae suggests) would work great. Besides, a note about hearing everything is a bit creepy.

(or make some of your own bedroom noise. They'll put 2+2 together.)
posted by kamelhoecker at 9:05 PM on September 9, 2007

Include cookies or flowers. That will go a long way toward friendlying up the note.
posted by amtho at 9:06 PM on September 9, 2007

Dear Upstairs Neighbors,

I don't know if you're aware of this, but unfortunately, our building's ceilings and floors are not well-soundproofed. I both live and work out of my home, so as a result, I've unfortunately been privy to a lot that's gone on in your apartment.

I have no desire to intrude upon your privacy (and as things stand, I've unfortunately been privy to sounds I'm sure you would prefer be shared only between the two of you), and some of the social engagements and ... other moments ... have been sufficiently loud enough to either prevent me from going to sleep or keep me up late into the night.

I hope we can work this out between the two of us. If you'd be kind enough to do whatever you can to lower the sound level coming through your floor (my ceiling), I would appreciate it. This website has a list of techniques you could consult if you like:

[URL you find]

Please let me know if you foresee a problem with this request — we can then ask the landlord to mediate the dispute. Hopefully, though, that won't prove necessary!

Thanks much,

posted by WCityMike at 9:10 PM on September 9, 2007

The other thing I forgot to mention is that it might help to make friends with them, first. Next time it's noisy in a "we're awake and hanging out" way (not a "we're doing it" way), grab a couple beers to share and go introduce yourself. Tell them you figured it'd be nice to know your neighbors. Make small talk, be friendly. Don't mention the noise. The "didja know I can hear you guys" conversation at a later date will probably be (a) more clearly friendly, and (b) more embarrassing (and thus more effective) if they already know you a little bit. Plus, you might make some new friends.
posted by vytae at 9:14 PM on September 9, 2007

what vytae said.

It's polite (as long as you word the note politely). Making your own noise on purpose to teach them a lesson is so passive aggressive. The note is also less confrontational (and embarrassing for everyone) than face to face, why court confrontation if you don't want it?

A friend of mine was left a note about her loud sex noises, she got embarrassed, laughed at herself, and then shut the hell up, and that was that. If your neighbours are just plain mean and know they're being loud and don't care, a note or face to face altercation isn't going to change them much. Until you're sure of this though, vytae's advice is the way to go.
posted by mooza at 9:17 PM on September 9, 2007

Ear plugs. Not that the note isn't a good idea, nor that you should have to wear ear plugs in order to get some peace and quiet, but they're surprisingly comfortable and effective. (I'd recommend the ones that are more clay-like, as opposed to the ones that come in a pre-formed shape, but your preferences may vary.)
posted by spaceman_spiff at 10:27 PM on September 9, 2007

Whatever you do, do not be this lady.
posted by Xere at 10:30 PM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I used to have a sound-effects tape that had a recording of hogs being killed in a slaughterhouse. It worked beautifully for situations like this. Wait until the sounds of coitus have peaked and are subsiding, then blast terrifying noises of pain and death. Or James Taylor, same diff.

And I disagree that making your own noise on purpose is passive aggressive. It's not; it's aggressive aggressive. Passive aggressive would be a stiffly polite note and a plate of cookies. IMHO.

Befriending them is the best option, because then they will be more likely to comply when you bang on the ceiling.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:42 PM on September 9, 2007

Response by poster: I should note that 1) I use earplugs when I sleep and 2) we already have carpeting. The noise seems to come in through shared heating vents maybe?

Also, I'm really looking for note strategies. Like I said, I don't want to escalate (plus, I'm kind of shy, and aggressive isn't my style).
posted by bijou at 10:57 PM on September 9, 2007

Seconding spaceman_spiff's suggestion of ear plugs. People who are this noisy as a matter of course probably will never be quiet enough for you, even if you talk to them, tell management, call the cops, whatever. It's just not in their nature.

I like the foam earplugs you roll up, insert into ear, and let expand. They're available at your local drug store. But these guys have a trial pack of every common type of foam ear plug. Nifty.
posted by IvyMike at 10:59 PM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

record them having sex, and send them a copy of the tape anonymously.
posted by bruce at 11:33 PM on September 9, 2007

Don't leave a note. People always seem to interpret them in a very negative way when they get them from someone they don't know. No matter how nice you are about it, at the very least it'll be seen as passive aggressive (see this site.) It may be uncomfortable, and you may want to leave it to their imagination as to what exactly you can hear, but talking to them in person will go a long way. No matter what, this will be a constant problem that you will live with, but the random times it does occur to them that they may be making a lot of noise, remembering your face and the entire conversation should be much more impactful than some note they skimmed and thought was rude, bitchy, or passive aggressive.

(I've dealt with this EXACT problem before, it can be managed with a good relationship, but never solved.)
posted by JakeLL at 11:47 PM on September 9, 2007

If you're sensitive enough to need earplugs to sleep, I'm inclined to think their loud noises are not as obnoxious as you describe. Maybe you should rent a top-floor apartment, or a single family home. It sounds like they're living a normal life. Apartment life can be noisy.

Loud laughing a 12:30am? That doesn't seem like a serious complaint to me. And sex on Labor Day!? The gall!

Sure, befriend them and ask nicely if they could keep it down. But their cooperation would be a favor to you and not an ethical imperative, in my opinion.
posted by mullacc at 12:43 AM on September 10, 2007

I know it's tempting to "record them and play it back," but if they have outrageously loud sex in an apartment building (where anyone should already realize that there is a chance they could be heard), they probably don't care about that or are slightly exhibitionist. On the other hand, if they are reasonable people and nice people, they should be somewhat upset that they are seriously disturbing their neighbors. I would start with a short, polite note (nothing too elaborate) that begins with something like what WCityMike said but keep it a lot shorter and with less info and not even mentioning bringing the landlord into it. It seems a little argumentative to bring that up immediately, I think:

"Dear Upstairs Neighbors,
I don't know if you're aware of this, but unfortunately, our building's ceilings and floors are not well-soundproofed. I both live and work out of my home, so as a result, I've unfortunately been privy to a lot that's gone on in your apartment. Often it is so loud that it has disturbed or interrupted me a number of times-- while working, sleeping, [name other things here]. I would appreciate it if you could please take this into account. Thank you. Sincerely, Bijou.

Doesn't need to be super long or say much more than that. If it persists, write more notes and let them know you are cc'ing the super and landlord.

This exact thing happened to me and I wrote a note like above, said that I cc'ed the landlord (which I don't think I needed to do in the first note, it was a bit rude, I think) and it stopped immediately and I received an apologetic note. I am not necessarily saying this will be as easy to manage like my situation was, but I do thing that starting off in a neighborly, polite way is just giving them the benefit of the doubt. You can pull out the big guns later.

If you feel that you really need to address the specific kind of noise it is, you can reference a day and time when this happened recently and they will get it.
posted by sneakin at 4:06 AM on September 10, 2007

Seconding deCadmus.
My twist would be to simply record them, burn it to a music CD, and anonymously leave it on their door.

When they play it, I'm pretty sure they'll get the message.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:19 AM on September 10, 2007

And I disagree that making your own noise on purpose is passive aggressive. It's not; it's aggressive aggressive.

Avoiding confrontation with your neighbors while simultaneously trying to piss them off in the same way they piss you off is the textbook definition of passive aggressive.
posted by turaho at 8:33 AM on September 10, 2007

Best answer: I'd want to treat it as a construction flaw. I'd write the landlord first and complain about the paper ceiling--not the neighbors. I like the not-mean note to them, except I'd informalize the language.

Dear Apt. 13D,

I think they built this place out of saltines or something, because I can hear everything that goes on in your apartment. I didn't want to bug you about it last night but I figured I'd better let you know soon--I would definitely want to know if my neighbors could hear me.

Obviously we shouldn't have to tiptoe around in our own apartments so I asked Mr. Landlord what he can do to soundproof my ceiling/your floor. I'll let you know what he says. Meanwhile, just... be aware: I hear all.

Yours truly,
Apt. 3 D

If they don't improve then you can start a gradual escalation, all with the icy polite notes, the landlord siccing, the recording and playing back of their lovesounds. But I don't think that stuff is called for yet because they haven't proved they're evil. They could just be oblivious.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:46 AM on September 10, 2007

Don Pepino nailed it. Humor is crucial in this situation.
posted by Jaie at 9:40 AM on September 10, 2007

A lot of these replies are either nasty or too wordy. Think of how you'd want someone to tell you if you were too loud for their comfort, then do that.
posted by loiseau at 10:26 AM on September 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know, is a landlord really going to spring for soundproofing? Or, is that part of the humor? This is the kind of situation where I would try not to be too funny, because it just makes you seem like it's not that serious a situation to you. I know it's tempting to make things as fun and light as possible, because it seems like it stems conflict, but I think you also have to be careful of just how much of a joke you make it if you want them to respond.
posted by sneakin at 1:41 PM on September 10, 2007

What's so funny about expecting one's landlord to provide a decent, habitable space for one to live in? If he's going to rent to bonobos, he is obligated to provide them with a living space that takes their needs and the needs of those who live near them into account.

My downstairs neighbor smoked. His ceiling was full of holes because the ancient plumbing kept failing and flooding him, so his smoke poured into my apartment night and day. Why should he quit smoking inside? It's his apartment and they rented it to him as a smoking-okay unit. I wrote the landlord several polite letters complaining that the building was riddled with holes. They waited a while and when they saw that I was not going to stop, they patched up the holes in the ceiling. As soon as the smoking neighbor moved out, they declared the building non-smoking. I never said a word to my neighbor. If the landlord thinks he's not obligated to spring for soundproofing, fine: he can come up with another solution. It's his problem to solve. The landlord can hassle the tenants if he thinks that's the best approach.
posted by Don Pepino at 3:03 PM on September 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don Pepino, buildings that carry sound/have poor soundproofing are not uninhabitable or indecent. They're, well, the standard.
posted by sneakin at 6:43 PM on September 10, 2007

Buildings made entirely out of particle board and spraycrete have become, well, the standard. That is because the standard has degraded. "Standard" does not mean "acceptable."
posted by Don Pepino at 8:41 AM on September 11, 2007

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