What’s To Be Done About Noisy Neighbors?

In college, my friend’s dorm room was next door to a guy who played incredibly loud music late into the night. My friend was an early riser, and the late-night music was driving him crazy, so he asked the guy to keep it down once it got late. When that didn’t work, he retaliated.

He hung a golf ball from his ceiling with a thumb tack and three feet of string. Then, when he woke up at the crack of dawn, he pulled the golf ball back and released it so it would bang against their shared wall. The ball would hit with a loud crack and then bounce several times before finally becoming still and quiet. That’s when my friend pulled the ball back and started the process again. Eventually, my friend and the late-night rocker came to an agreement and my friend did not have to lay awake at 3:00 am listening to his neighbor’s music.

Having a neighbor who interrupts your peace is a real bummer. And it can be especially hard to ignore when you share walls, ceilings, or floors, as is the case when you live in an apartment or duplex. At times, the disruption is a result of someone who doesn’t realize (or doesn’t care) that their habits affect your life. Maybe they’re hard of hearing so they turn up the TV. Maybe they work the night shift and don’t realize that their “daytime” voices are coming through the walls loud and clear. Other times, your neighbors know they’re loud, but they can’t help it (they would also like their newborn to stop crying).

Some give-and-take is essential when living in close proximity with other households. Often, with some respectful conversations, things can get better, but sharing walls means that even your considerate neighbors will occasionally make noise you cannot ignore.

I once had a tenant who complained about her noisy neighbor incessantly. I agreed to come over and listen, and if appropriate, to ask the neighbor to quiet down. My tenant pulled me into her living room and said, “Do you hear that?! It’s obnoxious.” I had to ask her to stop talking so I could listen to see if I could hear the neighbor. Only after I put my ear to the wall could I discern much if any noise. “Perhaps apartment living isn’t for you,” I told her.

Even if you don’t share walls, a loud neighbor can make you miserable. Your first move is to politely ask your neighbor to keep it down, especially after 10:00 pm (per the noise ordinance). I know it can feel uncomfortable to have this type of conversation, but sometimes it works. If you don’t try, and the noise continues, you’re likely to get angrier and angrier. Then neighborly relations are nearly impossible. Little things that would have been easily resolved become a big deal.

If you do your best to have a neighborly conversation and the effort is rewarded with more late-night parties and bigger speakers, you can call local law enforcement. Unfortunately, officers cannot be everywhere at once, and they (rightly) tend to prioritize calls where people are in danger of violence.

So, what else can you do? Turns out there are changes you can make inside your living space to help. Wall hangings, furniture, throw pillows, and other décor with soft fabric absorbs sound. Closing your curtains can create a little sound block. Interior decorators use these tricks to deaden sound all the time. There are also more dramatic options: putting acoustic tiles on the ceiling and/or walls. If you are renting, be sure to get permission from your landlord for these sorts of remedies.

If you own the property, you can mitigate noise by planting a row of trees along your shared property line. Even a board fence with ivy will help deaden the sound. Taller the fence, the better. Throw up some sturdy lattice work and grow ivy on that.

Of course, these solutions are not nearly as good as having good relations with your neighbors. If you’re having a party that’s going to get loud, consider inviting your neighbors. Then everyone can enjoy the music!

If you have questions about property management or real estate, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery.

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