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The Vine: December 26, 2012

Submitted by on December 26, 2012 – 10:59 AM27 Comments

monty

I have a bit of an apartment problem. Our upstairs neighbors are stompy walkers. I seriously don't understand how normal human beings can make this much noise when they walk. It's not a normal "all neighbors make noise" situation. I've lived in apartments for years, and my husband and I have lived in this particular apartment for a year and a half. We never had this problem with the old tenants. We could hear them occasionally, but that's what you expect in an apartment. This is different.

I've never complained to neighbors before, and I'm wondering if I should say something to them? It's just a little weird because this isn't something people normally complain about, like "your music is too loud" or "your dog barks excessively" or "I'm bothered by the smell of your home deer-processing operation." This would be, in essence, asking them to walk differently. Normally, I would just try to ignore something like this — you can deal with morning aerobics hour or evening sexytimes because it's not constant and you can just move to another room during the offending activity. But walking is a different story. What should I do?

I Live Below A Neo-Minister Of Silly Walks

Dear Neo,

I'd wait for a stomping interlude that's during or close to accepted "quiet hours" — late-ish at night, early-ish in the morning on a weekend — and go upstairs to mention it. You don't have to ask them to stop, or tiptoe, or put down carpet. Just introduce yourself (if you haven't already), then adopt a so-sorry-to-trouble-you-slash-curious tone to point out that the sound of walking is traveling downward in a rather pronounced fashion, and at this hour…but then they must hear you guys all the time. So annoying, right? Your husband with the banging the cookie sheets…you can't stand it either. Sorry! It's some weird acoustics of the building itself, maybe — do they mind if you just stick your head in and see if they have different flooring from yours?

You know this isn't the issue, of course, but I've had pretty good luck in the past turning it into a construction mystery the two of us can collaborate on together, versus "either buy a carpet or quit dropping your fuckin' weights on the floor at 7 AM, dickhole." I've also been on the other end of the issue, and in retrospect, I really appreciate that 1R pretended she was offering valuable intel, known only to a select few initiates, about getting my speakers off the floor, instead of saying "I work nights and I must now end you," which I'm pretty sure is what she was thinking.

See how it goes. Most people will close the door on you, cringe, and jump on O.co to find a few throw rugs. Some will be like, "Enh, fuck her," which is why I have a column, but send up a flare about it and give them a week or 10 days to modify either the floor coverings or the behavior. If nothing changes, mention it again, tattle to the landlord, and write back. In the meantime, the skeleton crew of readers at their desks on Boxing Day might have useful advice for you as well. Good luck!

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27 Comments »

  • Lisa says:

    No particular advice, but the story reminds me of years ago when I was apartment living the new upstairs neighbour was stomping like a maniac. Iwent upstairs to complain and when he opened the door, I immediately noticed his huge leg cast and cane. Changed my mission to an introduction/welcome to the neighbourhood visit pretty quickly!

  • Robyn says:

    I had a housemate for several years whose bedroom along with the kitchen/living room we shared was upstairs, with wood floors, while mine was on the ground floor. She was a stompy walker too, and I quickly discovered that the primary reason why was because at 6 or 7 am when she got up and dressed, she put on her freaking shoes. Outdoor ones, not house slippers, and generally not even soft-soled sneakers. She would wear her shoes for at least an hour before leaving the house. Then, when her boyfriend started staying over, he did it too. I am all about being barefoot at home, so this was baffling to me. When I finally asked her if she could leave off the shoes, her response was along the lines of: "Well, if you got up when I did it wouldn't bother you." I started sleeping with earplugs or with a big feather pillow over my head, but angrily. It still annoys me to think about it, over a decade later. I guess I should let go of that, huh? I hope you find there is a simple solution like your neighbors not wearing shoes and that they're willing to adopt it.

  • Rachael says:

    I have no wisdom other than what Sars has already suggested, but I'm going to follow this one closely to see if I can find any good ideas for dealing with my neighbors. (Dogs bark for hours when they're not home.)

  • attica says:

    I had a roommate once, a skinny strip of a girl who weighed maaaaybe 105, who stomped around the apartment like she was trying to kill a horde of locusts. Like to shake the drywall loose, she stomped. Happily, we were on the ground floor, so no underneathies to be bothered and/or homicidal. She'd grown up in apartments, so you'd think she'd have a sense of that kind of thing, but no. I never asked her why, either, much to my continuing uncomprehension.

    I don't have any advice. I'm just appreciating everybody else's, seeing as how my current underneathies are now enjoying a Santa-delivered electric keyboard. They are musician-hopeful, as opposed to the real thing. Oh, joy.

  • Maria says:

    I have no advice; apartment-dwelling is just a memory now. I once thought the people overhead were making baseball bat on a lathe, but really only had an exercise machine going. In the next place I lived in I was the first occupant and got really used to listening to a new favorite CD every evening for a while…only to hear from the window below, "OH MY GOD, not again". I shut it off and called out, "Sorry!" from the room. It's possible to be the transgressor as well. I figured they got me back with the 3 AM religous service in which one of them screamed out to God. I'm really glad I don't live there anymore. Is there someplace else you two might like to look into?

  • Rachel says:

    I am married to a Stomper and would like to just blanket-apologize to everyone who has ever lived downstairs from us. I don't know why he needs such a forceful heel-strike, but I bet it has something to do with his flat feet. I've purchased countless throw rugs and pairs of slippers over the years, to no avail. Dude needs to stomp. Sorry, everyone.

    The best you can do is point it out as Sarah suggested and hope that they are polite enough to at least try to tone it down. But, like you said, you'd be asking them to *walk differently* and that's not something that is going to be in the forefront of their consciousness 24/7.

    At least they're not Irish dancers?

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    attica, change "underneathies" to "five feet away next door neighbors" and you have my last set of annoyances. This bastard thought he was a musician, and thus had to practice. The same song. For HOURS. And, needless to say, he was not a musician, in any kind of "keeping time/on key" sense of the word.

    But, oh, what I'd give to have him back and replace the dicksmacks who moved in, and regularly have open-windowed asshole parties at 3 a.m. on weeknights. I don't mean they go until three a.m., I mean they START at three a.m. Out of nowhere, a wave of noise crashing through our bedroom window, huzzah.

  • Beth C. says:

    Jen S. you lived next to the college kids that are next to me? I literally heard last week at 3am "HEY GUYS, IT'S WEDNESDAY! SHOTS! NOW! WOOOOOOOOOOOO!" :/

    I agree with Sars, start by just mentioning it. Chances are they really have no idea how bad it is and if you point it out they'll at least try to remember to take off their shoes/ get a rug/ something. Most people are just off in their own little world until they find out it's bugging someone else. If they are giant dicks about it then you can tattle to the landlord, like Sars said, but it's always better to start with the obvious, easy solution.

  • Kim says:

    I was pretty exasperated with the next-doories having a loud party (summer night, open windows) until I realized they were viciously trash-talking each other through some Dance Dance Revolution variant, when one guy shouted "Get ready for the Hitchhiker, motherf*cker!" After that I kind of loved them in spite of myself.

  • Jo says:

    Robyn: I would still be mad about that too. 11 years ago, I had roommates who had parties EVERY WEDNESDAY NIGHT. Despite having promised me when I interviewed for the room that "We'll totally keep it down if you need to get up early for a test, we swear …" they would get wasted and forget those promises. My room was on the same floor as the parties, right next to the only bathroom. They kept telling me to use a fan because "white noise" would drown out the sound of 50 drunk college kids blaring a stereo. Assholes. Then it turned out one of them was stealing the money we gave her for bills. *Ahem* ANYWAY

    I admit, my apartment misstep was my first non-dorm place on my own. I was on the top floor and my roommate and I had pet gerbils (how that happened is a long story) that we would put in little balls so they could exercise (only during reasonable non-quiet hours). One day the downstairs neighbor came up and said, "Are you guys roller-skating in your kitchen? What the hell is that sound?" Ever since then, I've been conscious of how much noise I make when I'm the upstairs person. I had no idea the gerbil ball made so much noise until someone told me.

  • Emma says:

    @Rachael:

    If it's happening while they're not home, they might simply not know, so it could be worth mentioning, particularly if you couch it as something like you're worried the dogs might be in distress or tearing up the house while this is going on.

  • Jeanne says:

    I have nothing to add either. I'm on the top floor in my current place and I try to keep the foot noise to a minimum, mostly by doing my exercise routine on a rug. I think it also helps that I have a tendency to walk on the balls of my feet anyway so I don't think I make that much noise. I've gotten no complaints so far and I've been here over two years.

  • Neo says:

    Letter Writer, here!

    Thanks for all of the suggestions. Sars, if I can ever muster up the courage, that's what I'll do.

    I'm enjoying all of your neighbor stories (@Kim…"the Hitchhiker"…hee!).

    My absolute worst roommate experience was in college. One of my suite mates was so incredibly messy, and she'd leave dirty dishes and laundry all over the common area. After a while, the smell got so bad that we actually had complaints from people down the hall. She started picking up after that, but the smell remained. It wasn't until she moved out at the end of the year that she found A BAG OF POTATOES ROTTING UNDER HER BED. She'd bought them our first weekend of school to make microwaved baked potatoes, and just forgot about them. I guess I can be glad I don't have to deal with her anymore.

    Thanks, y'all!

  • JC says:

    It's unlikely this will help, but I'll share anyway: I had the same issue with my upstairs neighbors (and I'm having a bit of trouble with it right now, actually): They bought the unit and immediately put in wood laminate flooring. Add to this the fact that they really liked to play Guitar Hero or Band Hero or Tone-Deaf Hero or whatever at 2 a.m., and the girlfriend apparently put on her heels first thing in the morning, before she even showered, and I was being tormented. However, our building forbids putting in hard floors for any unit above the first floor in any room except the bathroom or kitchen, which was outlined in the condo docs that I actually read. I complained to management, and Heelstomp McBadsingers were given a relatively short amount of time to tear up the floors and put down carpet at their own expense. Hee. Hee hee hee hee hee….

  • JenV says:

    @Jen S. oh my god! My underneathie is a musician (decent, I'd say?) but he also plays the same song (or snippet of song) over and over and over when he's writing songs or whatever, and that point it doesn't even matter if they are any good or not because it's the repetition that is so annoying. But he's very nice and I don't say anything because I'm sure he can hear my Loud Cat all the time, and my floor is wicked squeaky. I'm hoping maintaining a good relationship with Slightly Noisy Downstairs Neighbor That Never Complains is good karma towards not getting an Irrationally Enraged at the Teensiest of Pin Drops Neighbor in the future.

  • Stephanie says:

    I second Sars' approach. Having been on the receiving end of this conversation (ours was a construction issue, the landlord put new hardwood on top of the old hardwood on our second-floor unit without installing padding in between!), I would have appreciated the pretense that this was a problem we could solve together. My boyfriend really didn't appreciate being asked to walk differently by the downstairs neighbors or by me, fearful of retribution from said downstairs neighbors. It set off a long chain of resentment between us — not the most harmonious living situation.

  • MizShrew says:

    I used to manage a 30-unit apartment building (with my boyfriend) and we heard it all: the Shouting Lady down the hall, the Deaf Lady's TV, the young woman with her stereo full blast so she could hear it while she was in the shower. And of course, the Siamese cat in heat while the tenant is gone for the weekend. (Honest to God, loudest thing ever. Crazy.) Anyway, while there are some assholes that just don't care if they disturb anyone, most of the time people just don't realize it. (Yes, the stereo person didn't seem to realize that cranking up the stereo so she could hear it over her shower meant that everyone on two floors could also hear it. Sigh.)

    If the "let's figure this out" approach doesn't work, let the manager or owner know there's an issue; might not hurt to couch it in the same kind of way, because it's always awkward to go to someone and have to say, "hey, your neighbors are complaining about the way you walk." Much much easier to stop by and say, "Hey, we're hearing that there might be some issues with the flooring; the neighbors can hear a lot of upstairs noise. We just need to check it out and see if there's an issue." Also, other tenants might be having similar upstairs/downstairs sound issues, and it's useful for the manager to know that it's not just this or that tenant being Crazy Unreasonable Person, because they get those too — people who complain about every. single. thing. every. damn. week. And who knows, maybe there *is* an issue with the flooring (like the padding example above, or some issues with floor joists or something.) Good luck!

  • LLyzabeth says:

    If it's really SUPER late, never underestimate the power of showing up in jammies and bed-head. My underneathies back in NC (a bunch of trust-fund earth-child types that my next-door neighbor called Trustafarians) woke me up at 1am once with this LOUD. REPEATED. SLAMMING. I hopped downstairs in bare feet and sleepy face and extremely super politely told them I had to get up early. Turns out a pack of them were trying out pottery making, and they were slamming huge chunks of wet clay down on the table to soften it. Clueless, the lot of them, but super apologetic.

  • Caitilin says:

    Two words: Carriage Unit.

    Obviously moving is not always an option (and oh do I get tired of "Why don't you just move?" when I vent my spleen about neighbor problems) but I lived in one of those for a while and it was awesome. No shared walls, no one underneath. I still had a passel of neighbors-from-hell, but at least they could not rattle things off my shelves with their surround-sound.

    I did have one neighbor in that place that actually got evicted for screaming at her grandkids. (Poor things, she had custody.) The landlady lived kitty-corner to Screaming Lady's apartment and didn't have to be convinced that this woman was a total nightmare. I think she got fed up with the volume levels herself and told them to go.

  • IS says:

    I agree with the "let's figure this out" approach, but I would add that you should come armed with some practical suggestions. If someone came to my door and told me they can hear me walking and it's a problem, I would have literally no idea whatsoever what they wanted me to do about it. (People in this thread have suggested removing shoes and adding rugs, but before I read this thread I wouldn't have thought of those as noise solutions because that's how I already live.)

  • Wendy says:

    DEFINITELY go in with a specific line of inquiry, like seeing if they're wearing shoes around the house or don't have carpet. But be prepared for the possibility that there isn't much that they can do.

    I say that because I was once on the other side of this issue, getting a "walk too loud" complaint from a downstairs neighbor When he saw that we had carpet in most of the rooms, he really didn't know what to tell us next, but he was so convinced that we were doing something wrong, he just kept insisting that we "think about" how we walk. He tried to get one of us to go down and listen from his apartment, and got mad when we wouldn't. We just didn't see the point—-if walking in slippers around our apartment at reasonable hours was causing his problem, then we really couldn't do anything about it, and if it really WAS noisy, we'd just be self-conscious in our own home.

    The landlord took our side in this case. The other downstairs neighbors we've had in the past (and since) have never complained, and we suspect this guy had never lived in an older building before, based on other complaints he made to the landlord. All the same, I'm sure he was hearing SOMETHING, and I never disregarded that. But since I couldn't provide any kind of solution, I'd go through creepy self-conscious phases about walking around my own place and as a result began to really resent the guy until he finally moved out.

    So I think you're right to want to (aheam) tread lightly. Keep it to specifics as much as possible and if no obvious cause presents itself, you may have to leave it at that.

    Your feelings about the noise might have a lot to do with the fact that the problem is unresolved, so definitely talk to them for the sake of taking action. But if they can't do anything, you may have to find a way to resolve it in your own mind.

    One thing, though: you haven't mentioned how long this has been going on. If it's been less than six weeks, you may need to just grit your teeth and wait. If they're still getting settled, they may be moving differently and keeping their shoes on if the place is still sort of a work zone. And don't underestimate the ability to just tune things out after awhile.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Wendy, I'm trying to imagine the day-to-day of that. "Whatcha doin'?" "Thinking about how I walk."

  • Amy says:

    No advice, but a couple of amusing stories:

    During one of my first teaching jobs at the college level, I ended up living upstairs from one of my students. We had one "I have class at 9 AM, and so do you" conversation, and I almost never heard another peep, except for the day that I stayed home sick, and got to hear his rendition of "Goodbye, My Lover" about 27 times in a row.

    In one other place I lived, a certain rhythmic creaking led my roommate and I to assume that our upstairs neighbor had a rocking chair. At one point, we were invited to a party, and much amused by the presence of a sofa where the rocking chair should have been.

  • Adam807 says:

    Late to this but we had the reverse problem — totally unreasonable downstairs neighbors who complained (literally did the broomstick on the ceiling thing) if we pulled out a chair to sit in. Not that you're being unreasonable!! Just that I've been on the other end. ANYWAY, turns out my building has rules about how much of your floor must be carpeted, and regardless of who was right in the situation, we were in violation of the rule. The neighbors ended up complaining to management, who came over and very nicely told us that we had to get more rugs, not because we were actually too loud, but because that was the rule. We complied and there was relative peace in the land.

    It sounds like you're in a much more amicable situation, but there might be something in your lease or bylaws or house rules that can help you out, with some friendly intervention by management or the super.

  • auburntiger says:

    @Rachel:

    From someone who has had two dogs in a paper thin walled apartment, you may want to keep a log of when the dog barks and for how long for a few days. Maybe look out the window when it's barking to try to see if something outside is setting the dog off. Then, you can take that to the owner and they have something to go off of rather than a general- 'your dog is barking when you aren't there'. My ex-neighbor used to complain about my dogs barking, but never seemed to understand when he stood outside talking extremely loudly, the noise was right under my windows where my dogs could hear it but not see him and freak right out.

    I also spoke to another neighbor who said she never heard them barking, but I could hear her dog bark and she was purposely listening for them to help me out. It apparently wasn't constant barking since she didn't hear them and was home all day.

    Anyway, to show you're trying to be helpful and not just complaining, you could track it a bit to help them try to figure out what is setting the dog off. Is someone knocking loudly nearby? Is there a delivery truck coming, etc? And if they look at you weird, you can tell them a dog person said this might be more helpful to them than a blanket statement that their dog barks.

  • MinglesMommy says:

    I'm coming late to this party, and I'm loving the stories, but I've been on both sides:

    Overhead 1: The "musician" who didn't realize he needed to put something under his plant when he watered it. We have a lovely water stain on the ceiling now. I will say that he was quite decent about toning down the music, though. When he wasn't high.

    Overhead 2: The couple who went out at 10 PM, slamming the door so hard the whole building shook, came back at 3 AM, cranked up the stereo and passed out drunk. Don't get me started on the night they got into a massive fight which ended up in a visit to the hospital, not to mention their somehow managing to flood the entire "E" line of the building's plumbing. (We're in the E line.) At 2 AM. Mind you.

    Under us 1: The fake-nice guy who cranked up his music at midnight, and his excuse was, "We're just deciding where to go." Every night? And that's not what I asked; I asked if we could FRIGGIN SLEEP THANK YOU YOU JACKASS.

    Under us 2: The woman who burned sage incense when she wasn't home and nearly burned the building down.

    Under us 3: The "musician" (a Dashboard Confessional-wannabe – you know how much that sucks???) who walked around naked without curtains (as per my neighbors, who also hated him), got drunk/high every night and cranked up his music at all hours so that our floor vibrated.

    Under us 4: The woman who complained that my elderly parents walked too loudly, but who thought nothing of having guests who smoked profusely (so that other neighbors complained about it) and having very loud sex (again, so that her downstairs neighbor got no sleep).

    Overhead now: A teeny little woman who apparently walks on stilts. (We don't complain. We've had worse. And after all, you're allowed to walk in your own apartment)

    On the other hand, my elderly father is very deaf and uses a cane, so there's a lot of loud talking in our house, and I don't doubt, thumping over my poor current downstairs neighbor's head. And of course, there's my three cats, who like to run marathons at 1 in the morning. We try to minimize it – he's never complained, and for that, he will get homebaked cookies for his patience.

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