Ask a Friendly Landlord

'Help! My Neighbors Are Ruining My Sleep'

Here, a friendly landlord to solve all your apartment living nightmares.

September 27, 2019
Photo by Emily Ringel

What's your apartment living pet peeve? Your next door nuisance? What do you do about the nosy neighbor who rifles through your mail? Or the guy who practices the trombone at 7 a.m. on weekends? In our latest series, Ask a Friendly Landlord, a peaceable expert suggests resolutions to the issues that arise when humans share space.

Those of us who live in apartments are used to adapting our lives to small spaces. We hang both our bikes and our ladles on the wall; we hold dinner parties on the floor; we haul our laundry down the street; and seethe with jealousy at the mere mention of a backyard. Walking into someone’s suburban garage, we turn into Ariel: Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat?

Even more significantly, we adapt to the reality of having neighbors all around us, separated by walls and floors of varying thinness. Neighbors can provide crucial aspects of community: they can get our mail while we’re away, drop in for a drink when we’re lonely, lend a cup of agave nectar when we’ve run out. But they can also be loud.

In our first installment of Ask a Friendly Landlord, we’ve culled your hotline questions on how to deal with noisy neighbors. And we’ve talked to Peter, a landlord from Massachusetts, about how to tactfully and respectfully approach noise problems in apartment buildings.

Our downstairs neighbors, with whom we share an audio channel via the air vent that connects most peoples' bathrooms, often have very loud, fun-sounding parties—and they don't invite us! What should I do?
Ella Q.

So, is your problem the noise, or the fact that they don’t invite you? Unfortunately, there’s no law stating that your beer pong-playing downstairs neighbors need to invite you over for a round—most leases don’t include a FOMO clause. But wanting to be invited to fun parties is one of our deepest social instincts.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“but what to do when your noisy neighbors are also your LANDLORDS????!!!! ”
— m

It seems like what you really need to do here is befriend your neighbors. (Most people don’t invite their whole apartment building to a party; there simply isn’t enough space.) If they sound so fun, why don’t you ask them up for a drink? “The best thing you can do is introduce yourself,” Peter says. They’ll be more likely to invite you to the next party once they know how fun you really are.

I detest heavy walkers. I pride myself in my ability to levitate a couple inches above my NYC apartment floor. So why can't my neighbors do me the same courtesy? THUMP THUMP.
Eric K.

Congratulations on mastering the art of levitation! I’m sure you could make a pretty penny on writing a how-to book, then buy yourself a house where nobody lives above you! Barring that, have you tried talking to your neighbors? “My advice is to go and talk directly to the other tenant,” says Peter, “Try to find some way they can mitigate the noise, maybe with rugs. People are generally able to find common ground when they talk face to face.”

Some leases stipulate wall-to-wall carpeting for high-traffic areas of the home—you could check with your landlord to see if your neighbor’s includes such a clause. However, Peter says that you should only involve a landlord as a last ditch effort, since involving the quote-unquote authorities might make your neighbor defensive. And, he says, “try to figure out what the real problem is—maybe there’s a certain time that they’re being loud.” Once you identify the times where you’d really prefer they try your levitation techniques, you’ll be able to offer them a more specific set of needs. Oh, and consider buttering them up with a tray of chocolate chip cookies. It can’t hurt.

My upstairs neighbor's alarm goes off for HOURS every day, from 6:45 a.m. until 9, 10, 11 a.m. Our walls and floors are extremely thin and it wakes us up early on weekends. He seems to be home when it's going off, but for some reason does not turn it off. We've slipped polite notes under his door and contacted building maintenance, but to no avail. What's wrong with this person?
Joanna S.

Joanna, I feel for you—a never-ending alarm clock that you’re unable to turn off sounds like a bad dream you can’t escape.

The first step here is to know your rights. “There’s probably something in the lease about your right to ‘peaceable enjoyment of the property,’” Peter explains. But, he says, the biggest problem here is that building management hasn’t responded to your concerns. So try going up the food chain: “Find the right person to resolve the problem. Contact the owner of your building—they have a legal obligation” to carry out the lease.

And maybe invest in some ear plugs, or noise-cancelling headphones.

What about your neighbors is driving you up the wall? Share your horror stories in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • johndoe14
  • Martin
  • m
  • Gloria Garcia
    Gloria Garcia
  • Mlanterman
Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



johndoe14 June 11, 2020
I have painstakingly created this sound to help others suffering with distractions, noise pollution, and other issues.
I hope this helps... Free to download and distribute!
Martin September 28, 2019
"And maybe invest in some ear plugs, or noise-cancelling headphones" seems like lazy advice and can apply to all above complaints.
m September 4, 2019
but what to do when your noisy neighbors are also your LANDLORDS????!!!!
Gloria G. August 25, 2019
I live in a house but share a backyard with the neighbor behind our house. We also share a landlord. He never helps with yard work, but feels entitled to help himself to my homegrown veggies in the garden I planted! He also sits in our patio (not shared property) and smokes right next to my windows. This dude also helps himself to my fire pit and firewood. I've asked him multiple times to stop all of this, but he doesn't seem to get it. Ugh!
Alyssa September 29, 2019
I would look into your rights in regard to theft and trespassing. I assume it’s muddled with the vegetables in a shared garden, but if he’s trespassing on your porch and stealing your firewood you should have some level of recourse. If there is enough room, I would talk to the landlord about splitting the lawn with a nice fence, and if you have the funds you could offer to help pay for it even though it’s not something you would need to pay for as a renter. I’d also recommend a camera. I had a neighbor who lived below me and smoked like a chimney. It was horrible. Good luck!
Mlanterman August 23, 2019
When dealing with noisy neighbors or roommates i can't recommend investing in a good white noise machine enough. My most recent roommate was a loud talker/walker/toothbrusher/sleeper and had a penchant for rearranging the furniture in the middle of the night. Enter white noise. I slept like a baby through all of it and for $40 avoided an awkward confrontation that probably wouldn't have solved anything anyway. Now I live alone and my white noise machine lives in my guest room, where my unfortunate guests have to share a wall with my neighbor's middle schooler who raps loudly to himself before bed. A worthwhile investment for sure.
Girlfromipanema August 23, 2019
Out of curiosity, do you recommend a particular white noise machine? In my experience they barely mask said noise (or maybe I am just particularly sensitive).