Noisy neighbors drive me crazy!

My landlord lives above me and keeps me awake all night

By Cary Tennis
Published July 17, 2009 10:17AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

For three years I lived in a first-floor studio and endured the pain of inconsiderate upstairs neighbors who ran an illegal daycare, and who had unruly children of their own that they would not discipline. These kids would run around the apartment right above me (thump, thump, thump!) for hours on end.

No matter how many times I spoke to them about it (I tried being polite about it, I tried being charming about it, I tried being aggressive about it), or to the building's manager about it, nothing changed. I was finally financially stable enough to move out, and have moved into a much nicer building. A concern of mine was that my new building manager lives right above me. But he assured me he had no kids, and that if he was too loud, to just throw a shoe up at the ceiling, and that he would get the hint. So I felt relieved! A newer, roomier place ... a manager who seemed to be very responsive! A new start!

Let's just say it's been two weeks since I moved in, and I've thrown a couple of shoes ... and it does not appear that the hint has been taken. Although this manager does not have kids, he still somehow manages to make the worst crashing thuds ever, right in the middle of the night (it's as if he literally lifted a piece of heavy furniture, and dropped it right over the floor above my sleeping area). As soon as I am able to fall asleep, CRASH!! So I'm thinking to myself, OK, that's fine, one thud is fine, one night is fine ... so I luckily am able to force myself to fall asleep again, and lo and behold, at 3 a.m., another CRASH!! And this has been happening on multiple nights now. I've even resorted to earplugs, and still I can hear him. Cary, I work 10-hour days, five days a week. I need my sleep.

I'm at my wits' end, and am exhausted from lack of sleep, and seething with anger at my bad luck. I'm also locked into a one-year lease at this new place. I know this problem doesn't seem so serious, but it's just been ongoing and persistent for several years now, and just as I thought I had remedied it, it has returned. I am completely, completely exhausted.

Thanks so much for any advice you have to give.

Holder of Bad Apartment Karma

Dear Holder of Bad Apartment Karma,

This is indeed a turn of bad luck and I do sympathize. Just when you had settled in, thinking, Now, at last, finally I will get some sleep: Crash. Bang. Screech. Rumble. Bang. Crash.

So now, exhausted as you are, difficult as it is to contemplate and execute, I have to say it: You have to begin looking again. You cannot stay in this place. It won't do. You need a place you feel good in.

It is possible to find such a place. They do exist. You have to keep looking.

I suggest that you move quickly. You've only been there two weeks. Although you have signed a lease, you must find a way to break it. Tell the landlord that something regrettable and unfortunate and utterly beyond your power to change has come up and you are sorry but you are going to have to move, and what kind of arrangement can you come to?

Before you speak with him, make sure you understand the agreement that you signed. It probably specifies some kind of penalty for breaking the lease. If there are terms in the lease you do not understand, do some research or consult a lawyer so you are sure you understand everything in the lease. Here is some advice about breaking an apartment lease that seems reasonable. It depends on where you live, too. This Yelp discussion gives a good picture of the situation in my town, San Francisco. You might look at similar discussions for your area to get an idea of what you're dealing with. Be ready to make concessions. But do not automatically agree to all his terms. Know your rights. Negotiate.

I personally would not tell the landlord that the reason you're leaving is because he's too noisy. Here is why: People promise to change but then they don't. What are you going to do if he promises to be quiet? Are you going to tell him you don't believe him? On what basis could you assert that he is unreliable? You don't know him. It puts you in an impossible situation. If he promises to be quiet and you stay, and he wakes you up again repeatedly in the middle of the night then you will be beyond fury, and beyond consoling, and angry at yourself for getting into this situation and angry at him for failing to keep his promise. And you will say to yourself, I should have left the very minute it became apparent that he was a heavy-footed, clumsy, floor-crashing upstairs neighbor and landlord.

So cut to the chase, while it is still early and you are not settled. Tell him that unfortunately you're not going to be able to stay, and come to some kind of agreement.

Now. As to the problem of finding a quiet place.

Since you cannot rely upon people to be quiet, and since apartment neighbors come and go, the most reliable defenses against noise are architectural and spatial. Look for a top-floor apartment, ideally a flat none of whose walls are shared by other tenants, or a top-floor corner apartment that shares at most only one wall with other tenants. If your shared wall is on the kitchen side, you can have your bedroom on the corner side and be at least somewhat protected from noisy neighbors. Do not take an apartment with tenants above, or one that is between two apartments. Also look into renting a small house.

Rich people can live where they want. The rest of us have to be ingenious and make trade-offs. If quiet is your chief concern, then you may have to make a trade-off on location. But I do believe you have to find a place that is right for you, where quiet is assured.

Meanwhile, if you have to spend another month or so in your current place, while you are up and about you can listen to your favorite music on noise-canceling headphones. Such headphones will not keep out large, crashing sounds from above that vibrate your own walls and floor, but they will help with smaller sounds. For sleeping, ambient noise may help -- having the television on, or some music playing; you can sleep through noise that is ongoing, and it may mask certain sudden noises from upstairs if they are not too loud. But that is only an interim solution. You have to find a place that works for you.

Good luck. And let this be a reminder to all of us: Be kind to the people who live below you. Take your cowboy boots off. Stop your tap-dancing. Step softly at night. Lift and drop your heavy furniture repeatedly only during daylight hours.

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What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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