Michael Hochman
musical instruments

Apartment living, by design, is communal.

It's close quarters with people always around, in the hallways, in the vestibules, in the parking lot. And especially surrounding your apartment. There are often people on all sides, and with that, noise comes from all angles — above, below, next door and outside.

But the noise from upstairs is unique and can be especially grating. Hard footfalls, vacuums, vibrating bass tones from loud music, scurrying pets and treadmills. All coming through your ceiling and rattling your entire existence.

So, if you have a noisy neighbor upstairs, what is one to do?

1. Don't do anything

Not every little noise coming from upstairs is reason for action. You need to pick your battles and decide which hills to die on. People are permitted to be (respectfully) noisy during the day and even into the evening.

If you can hear them, but it's at a reasonable time or reasonably short or reasonably infrequent, you might want to just let it go.

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2. Offer a subtle reminder

Remember Mr. Heckles on Friends? He lived downstairs from Rachel and Monica and banged on the ceiling with a broom handle every time he thought they were making too much noise.

Mr. Heckles was loud and crabby with his broom, but if you're nice and gentle with it, a tap on the ceiling can be a subtle message to your neighbor that they're being a bit overly noisy. A light tap will let them know you can hear them. Just be nice. Remember, Mr. Heckles died in the end while angrily banging on the ceiling.

3. Write a (nice) note

If noise persists and isn't at a reasonable level or time, feel free to leave a note. But be aware, talking in person is always better. Notes can come across as passive-aggressive, even if you don't mean to be. And there's no follow up in real time.

But if you don't feel you can talk to your neighbor and must write a note, keep it short and simple. Four or five sentences max, and try to be friendly, not funny, sarcastic or snarky. And don't make threats. Instead, offer solutions. Be specific about what the noise is and when you heard it, and avoid explaining how you were bothered or annoyed.

If you really want to remain unidentified, you can post an anonymous note on a hallway bulletin board or by the mailboxes asking them to be quieter. Shame is not a solution, but it often works.

4. Talk peacefully face-to-face

The best of all solutions is talking to your neighbor face-to-face. Same as the rules above: be honest and straightforward, don't be angry or make threats and stick to the facts. Ask nicely if they can watch the noise.

You can also offer compromises and suggestions. Try to come to an agreement to end loud music at 10 p.m. Request the treadmill be moved to a room other than the one over your bedroom. Or even offer to buy them a pair of slippers or a nice area rug to cut down on stomping noises.

5. Contact the landlord

If nothing so far has worked, it might be time to ask the landlord to step in. Email or write your landlord spelling out your complaint and everything you've done to solve it up to this point. If he or she takes your claim as reasonable, your landlord will most likely send a letter to your neighbor notifying them someone has submitted an anonymous complaint and they need to quiet down. They might even refer to a noise clause in the lease if one exists.

The danger in contacting the landlord is that your neighbor is pretty likely to guess who “tattled" on them. This may cause some tension between you and your neighbor, so be warned. But your rights to enjoy your apartment are as important as theirs.

That being said, you should try to exhaust other avenues before bringing in management. But it's a fact of life that some people don't feel comfortable confronting their neighbors in person, and that's OK.

And if you are going to formally complain to your landlord, it's probably a good idea to have documented the noise issue for a couple of weeks first and include that. Keep a list of all the times you felt noise was excessive, what the noise was, what time of day and any actions you took. Keep copies of any notes you left, as well.

6. Gather support from other tenants

If you're annoyed by the noise coming from your neighbor, odds are others might be, as well. If alternative measures haven't helped, talk to their fellow adjacent tenants and see if they have complaints, too.

Talking with your noisy neighbor with others that feel the same way might carry some weight, and your case to your landlord can be much stronger with a collectively-signed letter from multiple residents.

7. Call the cops (as a last resort)

Calling the cops is a complete last resort and should be avoided at all costs. Regardless of what the police do when they get there, no one is going to come out happy.

Contacting the police should be reserved for emergencies like out-of-control loud parties and suspected domestic abuse.

8. Take care of it yourself

If all else fails or if you want to be more proactive and in control, there are a ton of things you can do yourself (or with some help) in your apartment to improve your noise reduction.

  • Purchase a quality set of earplugs to block out the noise or nice headphones to drown out the intrusion with music. Noise-canceling models are a great solution, as well.
  • Set a white noise machine by your bedside to cover nighttime noise while soothing you to sleep. There are many free white noise phone apps you can check out.
  • Rearrange your furniture so the worst spots — where your neighbor hops off the bed or sets up his guitar amp — isn't right over where you're sitting or sleeping.
  • If the noise is loud in your bathroom and what you're hearing is grossing you out, fill the bathroom with wall coverings, rugs and towels to dampen the unpleasant noise.
  • Investigate the sound's source, and if it's a small hole or crevice between apartments making it worse, fill it with some spackle or caulk.
  • Hang artsy “ceiling clouds" to reduce noise and echo.
  • Install acoustic light fixtures (like “BuzziLight") that absorb sound.
  • Paint your ceiling with soundproof paint, a special thick paint type.
  • Ask your landlord to improve soundproofing and absorbing materials between your ceiling and your neighbor's floor.
  • And as a last ditch effort, you can move into a new apartment on a top floor.
Photo by Michael Henry on Unsplash

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About The Author

Michael is a Philadelphia-based writer with a variety of interests, including music, TV, politics, travel and sports (Fly Eagles Fly!). His background includes a decade as a programming executive in network television, six years as a marketing executive at a technology company and time at two magazines and two advertising agencies. He also sits on the board of a non-profit law firm that assists veterans with disabilities. His work has been featured in nexxt.com, Ale Street News and Radio TV Interview Report Magazine. Michael is a proud Syracuse grad (Newhouse) who has lived in Kansas, Chicago, Saratoga and beyond, and can be found at @phillyparttwo.

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