Noisy neighbors driving me crazy

The building management requires mediation -- but I'm intimidated by these animals!

By Cary Tennis
Published March 16, 2011 1:01AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

What seems like a very trite issue relative to the usual contents of this column is taking up an inordinate amount of time in my life and my head space, and is eating a huge amount of my happiness.

I've live in an apartment complex for about five years now, and for the last two have had a nigh-on constant issue with noise from the people overhead. A common issue, I know. It is a child being let run about in outdoor shoes, ride on his little outdoor toys over my head and a thousand other little things including marbles, tennis balls and who knows what else. The issue was compounded this time last year by the arrival of a new baby into their lives, causing this noise to go on pretty much any time, night or day, for months. I spoke with my neighbors initially in November 2009, and it was OK, if a little tense. I called up again this time last year, as we were being woken at all hours, and had the door shut in my face, after being told they were fully aware of the issue but weren't willing to do anything about it. I was six months pregnant (and very obviously so) at this stage.

In the last year I have asked the management company for its assistance and recently approached the neighbors again, upon management's advice, to invite them down to hear how bad the noise is for us. I was shouted at, told they were ****ing sick of it and not to come near them again. I thanked them and hung up the intercom. Five minutes later they knocked on my door. I let them in, was told I'd just have to put up with it, they have children, and also to expect it to get worse because they have a teething baby. At no point have they apologized or even indicated that this noise is anything other than their right to create. I have my own teething child. I have a job, I have a life and I just want to not feel sick going home. My husband works a lot and travels for work, so the issue doesn't get him down as much as it does me (I was home for months with our baby listening to it). On his most recent work trip it got so bad, I tried to hand it over to the management agent, as I wasn't putting myself in the position of being spoken to by another person's husband in a way I wouldn't take from my own. However, they say we need to sit down and mediate.

I have asked what this is supposed to achieve, as I basically want them to invoke a clause in the contract that says your floors need to be changed if you are causing undue noise into another person's home. The contract is between the management company and them, not me. At this point it feels personal, because they do not recognize the fact there is a child here too and that we deserve this consideration. Additionally, other neighbors have made complaints about the noise of their child running about at all hours and have been ignored too.

The management company say nothing can proceed without this mediation. I don't want to look at these people, I don't think I should be put once again in the face of extreme hostility. I have told them from the outset that I am intimidated by these neighbors -- he has cornered every woman I have spoken to in this building at some point or another in a threatening manner. They have damaged people's cars in response to conflict over parking spaces -- they wanted the person next to them not to use his allocated space to give them more room. The person obviously refused, but said he would make an effort to park less close only to find his car keyed two days later.

Am I being hysterical? How can I proceed? I don't know what words can do at this point. To date I have avoided thumping back up at the ceiling, calling up at 3 a.m. when woken, and other such behavior, but it is getting harder daily.

Constantly Thumping Overhead

Dear Constantly Thumping,

I suggest you read carefully your rental agreement, study the rules governing the mediation process, and consult an attorney to advise you. In particular, determine if by signing the rental contract you have already agreed to resolve conflicts through binding arbitration. Talk to your attorney about it. You want to know as much as you can possibly know before you participate in mediation.

Examine the boundaries and rules of the mediation. Are you entitled to have someone represent you in the mediation? Who is the mediator? Can you discuss the terms of the mediation with the mediator in order to arrive at a workable set of conditions?

The whole point of mediation is to address concerns. So if you feel intimidated by the other parties, that concern should be part of the pre-mediation process; it shouldn't prevent mediation. Mediation is your opening. So that is my suggestion: Get as much expert help as you can, and use the opening of mediation to achieve a solution.

Maybe mediation will fail. If mediation fails, you may have to admit defeat and move. You may have to admit defeat and live with the annoying neighbors. Or you may have to come up with other tactics, such as forming a coalition of other neighbors and trying to force some concessions.

Think about what the building management wants. Building management doesn't necessarily care about your personal happiness. Building management cares about things running smoothly and rent being paid on time. They also care about reputation. They do not want adverse publicity.

This may also be a negotiating tactic. If you tell management that if nothing changes, you will be leaving by such and such a date, and that before you leave you will be collecting signatures of other tenants and publicizing your situation, that might have some effect. Again, before you do this, consult your attorney to see what repercussions such action might have.

So get professional consultation, participate in mediation, and then proceed from there.

Now, as far as not going nuts in the meantime, it helps to decide that no matter what, if mediation doesn't work, if you can't fix the problem, by a certain date, you have an exit plan. It helps to know that, no matter what, you have a way out.

Good luck. It sucks to have noisy upstairs neighbors!

January 2011 Creative Getaway

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Cary Tennis

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