Neighbors Are Complaining about Our Noise

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Downstairs neighbor fed up with our noise - what to do?

Sept 2011

I own the middle floor in an old three unit edwardian, below a family with 2 kids and above a childless couple. I have a young son. Unfortunately, the woman below us HATES footfall noise. They have the right to ask us to put rugs and pads on 75% of the floor space. We have lovely hardwood floors, a dog with allergies, and I have allergies - when we first realized noise was a problem, we tried to work together to improve the situation without carpeting(we agreed that could be last resort)- no shoes inside, strict adherance to ''quiet hours'' meaning we don't use portions of the house above where they are relaxing or sleeping at certain times, I bought crocs that my son wears at all times indoors, per their request. I rarely invite friends over, and when I do I often coordinate with them. We spend lots of time outside at parks as opposed to playing at home. I do a lot of nagging to not jump, run ect (he's only 4). I have slowly, as money allows, started purchasing some rugs (we probably have 50% covered now, though not all spaces have pads under the rugs yet). Things have reached a point where they are calling repeatedly to complain (late afternoon/early evening is the worst, because I am trying to cook dinner while my son plays). The problem is exacerbated by their schedule - only one works, part time at that, so they are often home. At this point, my son simply walking across the kitchen is meriting a complaint some evenings. He's not stomping, just walking, but the noise carries in this old building. Has anyone had any experience dealing with this? My question is twofold - clearly I need to fulfill my legal obligation and cover 75% of the flat - for everyone's sake (I know they are miserable dealing with this too, and I want to do what is right, but also what is reasonable for ALL of us). Any recommendations on doing this sufficiently, attractively and affordably? I'll need to buy REALLY thick mats for under the rugs. Also, they want padding in the kitchen. Thoughts? A rug will get trashed in that space. Once I put adequate floor covering down, if the complaints continue, is there a protocol for determining a definition for excessive noise? It's such bad luck (for everyone) that what drives them crazy is footfall noise - but then, they chose to live on a bottom floor underneath friends with children. But I'm so tired of nagging my boy to have ''quiet feet'' all the time. In fact, as I'm typing this, my housemate just reprimanded my boy because he was running, not walking down the hallway to see me. tired of feeling stressed about noise


Would it make sense to talk to a soundproofing expert about your options? Perhaps insulation can be blown into the space between the floor and the ceiling to muffle noise. That might be cheaper than you think, though you'd want to talk to the neighbor about it first: split the cost if you can, and get a commitment that if you make that investment, they need to accept the result.

Other possibilities that an expert might point out include: them adding a layer of drywall to their ceiling -- ''resilient channel'' or possibly QuietRock -- to reduce sound transmission. You reflooring your place and installing a ''floating floor'' over a sound muffling underlayment - I think there is one called Floor Muffler or some such. glad I don't have your neighbors


I have been in a very similar situation to yours and understand how frustrating it can be. We used to live in a nice big apartment with carpeted floors, and in this case the elderly upstairs neighbor was highly irritated (up to calling the police) with my son's afternoon noise (Beatles Rock Band game with drums, for instance, at 3-4:30). He called repeatedly in the afternoon and at night if my son had a friend over for a sleepover. I had to shush my son constantly, afternoon and evening, for noise that was really pretty normal kid noise. Finally I decided that life in an apartment was untenable for us. You don't say whether you own or rent, but moving into a little house (which I rent) was a lifesaver. Now my son can be a normal kid without the constant threat of anger hanging over him. I think you have a couple of options. The first would be to finish covering your floors per your agreement, which is your obligation. Make sure that there are mats under the rugs and that 75% of the area is covered. Then invite your downstairs neighbor up, show them that the space is covered, and explain that any noise they hear is noise they will now have to tolerate. No more calling. If they call to complain about footfall noise when you have the proper covering, it's harassment, and you will treat it like that. ''Being nice'' should work in two directions. (The other part of my story is that I used to be married to a neurotic, very noise-sensitive man who complained endlessly about the neighbors and required me to call on his behalf. I am guessing that there is something like that in your neighbor's household.) The other option is to move into a situation where you won't be faced with this. no more complaining neighbors


Can you pick up some inexpensive rugs at Ikea just to meet the 75 per cent covered area? I would do this immediately. And then for the kitchen, maybe something like this: http://www.americanfloormats.com/kitchen-mats/ ?

After you do that, and they decide to stay, then that is their choice. There is only so much you can do, it sounds like you are a conscientious neighbor and are trying to make it work. But then there is a certain point where what they are doing is noise pollution!

Is it possible for them to move? Could they come and see that what your son is doing is perfectly normal?

Could they put something on their ceiling to mitigate the noise? that's rough!


They may have the ''right'' to tell you you're being too loud and need to put down carpeting, but they don't have the right to constantly harass you or make you feel anxiety about your living space. People need to recognize that living in a communal house is not like living in your own single house; there will be noise. If they were living above you, there would be noise. It's upsetting to me that people can have so little compassion...A four year old child is completely allowed to walk/run around his house without worrying about making noise! If they are going to ask you to make changes, they should make some changes too like buying a white noise machine, or air purifier (which makes a similar white noise). This would block out much of the noise and is what I do in my own apartment to keep the living noises of others a little quieter when I'm sleeping. Also, do they own their unit? If they're renting, maybe they should consider moving. I think you have every right to sit down with them and explain that you will do everything you can to keep the noise to a minimum, but that they should take some steps also (such as purchasing a fan or white noise machine) and to kindly ask them to please stop calling every time they hear a noise. Sharing an old house takes some cooperation, understanding, and an acknowledgment that when you live below someone, you're going to hear every footstep they take. That's just how it goes. Good Luck


I have been the person downstairs, very irritated by footfalls, and I moved. I realized that it was my problem, not my upstairs neighbors, they were just living their normal lives. Since then I have always lived upstairs or in side to side duplexes, or houses, because I know I have this super sensitivity to noise above me. There is no way in the world you should have to tiptoe around (and expect your poor kid to!) all the time. My advice: do what you can in terms of rugs, then just tell them to deal. Turn off your phone or screen your calls and simply don't respond to complaints. Really, there's nothing wrong with you, it's them! Anon


Wow, what horrible neighbors. How stressful for you. I can't believe they seriously expect you to carpet your kitchen. It seems like you've given a lot (going out, limiting the amount of time you spend there, not inviting over friends) and they, well, they sit there and complain that people live above them.

I think I would stop trying to accomodate them quite so much. Sure, put in the carpet and padding (my sister got a good deal at Home Depot recently though she said that getting them to install it was a pain), maybe buy some fairly inexpensive, thin nicer rugs to put on top, and pretend you don't have hard wood floors for awhile. And then when they start with their endlessly barage of complaints, tell them you've done what you can and maybe they should start looking into what they can do on their end. Ceiling tiles? Extra insulation? There has to be something they can do. This can't all be on you. Sorry you have bad neighbors


Sorry you feel under constant scrutiny. These Bay Area houses are unforgiving. I had a few ideas: offer to install a ''water feature'' or white noise resource to camouflage your peaceful living noises; Their focus on you is unhealthy for everyone - try to ignore them; try using those professional rubber kitchen floor mats (might be found online) or the kind used at playgrounds, in place of rugs to cut down on allergens. My upstairs neighbors raised a boy who ran laps around their apartment each night before bedtime. I thought is was wonderful to hear! I say let the little guy run around. It's too stressful not to! Good luck


My first question would be, ''Are you renting?'' Because if so, then the best solution would be for one of you to find another living arrangement - and in my opinion that burden falls on your neighbors. Honestly, your neighbors seem to be letting this get to them MUCH more than is reasonable considering the living situation. You've tried to be neighborly and (from what you're telling us) have been extremely courteous and understanding in your efforts to curb the footfall noise. And they're still unhappy. At some point it becomes their problem, not yours. Especially if they're requesting you carpet every square inch of your unit to appease them.

If it's a renting situation, I would suggest that they find another unit elsewhere...on the top floor. There is only so much ''privacy'' one can expect in those older, multi-unit buildings. I've been in both situations in the past, and have found that I'm only truly happy with no one above me - no matter how courteous my upstairs neighbors are. Unless you, your housemate, and your child can learn to fly...I am guessing that your neighbors are never going to be happy. I feel bad for both of you. And if it's a situation where you both own your units, I feel especially bad because there's really no reasonable solution to make everyone happy. UPstairs-only


Hi- I don't have any advice for you but I just wanted to give you some support because that sounds like a really difficult situation. I got angry at your neighbors and felt protective of your kid just reading it! You must feel like you are always on guard in your own home. And I feel so bad for your son who is just doing what normal children do. It sounds like your neighbors are being lame and unreasonable and need to relax. anon


Hi neighbor,

So sorry to hear of the moise problems resulting from inherent sounds problems with your building. You clearly are trying to be a reasonable neighbor. I've had several very noisy neighbors upstairs, but even when they are quiet, our building's structure carries noise unnecessarily. The following is what I'm going to do.

I will be removing my ceiling, having foam insulation sprayed in (helps deaden voices), having RC channel sound proofing installed (helps with things dropping or heels clacking), and then finishing with installation of QuietRock (drywall that has superior sound barriers).

You could suggest that your neighbors replace their ceiling with QuietRock and the other insulations above it, and perhaps offer to help with the cost. Maybe even a 10% contribution from you would be appreciated. Chances are, that 10% could cost less than one or more rugs that you buy for your place. Or figure out the cost of rugs you have to buy and offer that to the neighbors?

My suggestion is definitely more than you need to do legally, but you sound like a caring neighbor who wants to be able to enjoy your home in peace, so it may be worth it. Take great care, JC


I think you have gotten great advice from people on both sides of the issue. I would suggest fulfilling your side of the bargain (ie putting carpet down) and then meet with your neighbors. You should print out all of the great advice you got on this forum so that your neighbors can see that their expectations of a noise-free building isn't realistic. Several of the responses were from people who were also noise sensitive and took responsibility for their situations by moving...none of them expect a 4 year old kid to be quiet. Good luck! anon


When I was pregnant with my first child we had an irate downstairs neighbor in our apartment building. My friends with kids would come over and the neighbor would call the landlord to complain about our ''wild parties''. They would also bang on their ceiling when we were doing such things as mopping the floor or using a foot pump to blow up a yoga ball. I finally got fed up and notified them in writing that what they were doing was harassment and I would be contacting the landlord AND the police if they continued. I also sent a copy of the letter to the landlord. They never banged or complained ever again. Give it a try. Jennifer


Neighbor Calling Sheriff About Baby crying

Dec 2009

The sheriff showed up at my door the other night saying that a neighbor called with a report that someone at our house had left a baby crying for half an hour. I reassured the sheriff that there was no problem, he could clearly see my son in my arms and see that we were reading stories together with my daughter. He still took my name and birthdate, though. Now, I'm really worried that this might happen again, but I have no idea who called the sheriff. Our son is an incredibly loud screamer, has been loud since birth--like hurt your ears loud!--so it doesn't surprise me that someone could hear him. In addition he's going through that phase where 14 month olds scream for such meaningless things like wanting a spoon, or being put down for bed when he doesn't want to be (this has been happening since we returned from visiting family but isn't customary). So, there's just been more screaming lately. The neighbor probably heard him scream when I left him in his crib to help my daughter.

Now, my husband and I are scared that this mystery neighbor will call again and eventually the sheriff will report us to CPS. As my husband is a therapist who works with families, it wouldn't be good for his record, nor mine as a teacher. What should we do? The windows were closed, he screamed for no more than 10 minutes (30 was an exaggeration), so we're at a loss. But knowing that we have a loud child on our hands, we're afraid that this could happen again. We're new in the area, so aside from knocking on various doors and asking who called the sheriff the other night, I have no way of knowing who it was, so we feel the best approach is to work on our son's screaming. But now we have so much anxiety around his screaming that I'm afraid it's going to make matters worse. Anyone ever dealt with this? Do other people think it was a little over the top for someone to call the sheriff?


I'm so sorry you have to deal with such a strange and uncomfortable situation. ''Over the top'' is definitely accurate, and if it were me I would be downright angry. You cannot live in fear of someone calling the sheriff because your child is crying. That's unliveable, as KIDS CRY, ALOT. I suggest you visit all your immediate neighbors and introduce yourself and kids, mention that the sheriff visited you, and that you're interested in having a conversation with whomever is so worried about your children's welfare (!!!). I would guess it's someone who doesn't have kids, or has amnesia about their own child-rearing experiences. We personally had to change a living situation where we were living upstairs from someone who hated our kids noise/crying, because we were so anxious about every little sound they made. It was awful. Trust me, it's an awful and constant anxiety. Local


My heart goes out to you, what a terrible situation. Could you write a letter and distribute it to your neighbors? Though you don't know who called, perhaps writing a letter stating that you appreciate the concern for your baby (maybe lay it on thick, like ''our kids are lucky to have neighbors so concerned about their welfare'') and then explaining your situation and gently asking for patience and understanding would help. Include your phone number/email address in the letter, and tell them that they can contact you directly if they are being disturbed, but that contacting the police is not necessary. I bet that the complainer is a non-parent and doesn't realize that the call has serious consequences, and hearing from you how it affects your family life may make a difference. Also, for the neighbors that DIDN'T call the police, it will probably make them sympathetic to your situation and provide some support. Oh, and it couldn't hurt to keep a copy of that letter to show to any authorities should the need arise. Good luck! devil's advocate


We had a police show up at our door one night around 10:30pm because our 3 year old was having a tantrum. What bother me the most was that the neighbor did not come to our house to ask us first instead they called the police. Do they really care about the welfare of the child or just annoyed by the noise.


I would be livid if this happened to me. Think of all the babies that cry it out when they sleep train - what if all of their neighbors called the police? If it were me I would want to know which neighbor it is. maybe next time he screams one of you can go outside to figure out which houses are even within hearing distance. then either knock on their doors or write a polite note. Explain that children crying (even for extended times)is normal and that you are sorry that it bothered them. Tell them how terrible an experience it was for you for the cops to come to your door when all you were doing was tending to your other child. I think that way that you send a message that that will make them less likely to do it in future. You could also call the police just to chat with them about the situation and how to handle it in future. anyone who has ever had a kid knows that 10 mins crying does not mean the child is being abused -and the police will probably also realize this too - particularly if you call them preemptively about it. good luck!


I think it might be worth following up with the officer who came, and asking him/her if they contacted the neighbors after they came to you.

This is not a one-way street. The right officer will have the sense to treat this as serious as it is, and talk with the people who reported this and get a sense of their intentions. The authorities have an obligation to knock some sense into whoever might be acting like a yahoo, or to gently advise them (if they were indeed genuine) to reconsider their approach, and to contact you first, before calling the authorities.

I think it is appropriate to have the expectation that the officer will follow up with the complainants. They will not tell you who it is, but if you document your interactions, and you also tell them of your anxiety over this, and/or ask them what they would advise you to do the next time your child cries, they'll know you are very upset, and in a corner. Ask them what happens in cases of false or malicious reports -- surely they must have happened before. Ask them if they would advise you to knock on the doors of all your neighbors, drop a note, or anything else they may suggest. If you don't get anywhere, ask to speak to a higher up. Contact your city council-member, and/or your county supervisor's office.

Do not despair. This will probably not happen again. But, for good measure, get the police involved. Don't be afraid of them -- you've done nothing wrong. If your neighbor is playing pranks and they realize this, believe me, the sky will fall on his/her head from very high up. A lot of growing up will happen for them in a very short period of time. Nel


Pretty much everyone who posted was very judgmental of the neighbors, but as someone who works with kids in foster care, I think it is great that they called. Remember that the parent who posted said that the baby has a really loud piercing scream/cry, which could easily be mistaken for the sounds of a baby in real distress. And if you as a neighbor hear that, you might not be comfortable going to the door where the screams are coming from. From reading the histories of kids in foster care, I am constantly asking myself, why didn't someone intervene? And while the experience was scary for the parents, it takes a LOT for kids to be taken away from their parents. So I like the idea of the poster who suggested writing a letter to all the neighbors, but I wouldn't talk about the sheriff visit. Just make it like a friendly we're new to the neighborhood letter and describe your family. Include that your know your baby's cry is very loud and you hope that you don't disturb the neighbors. Give them your contact info and ask them to call you to say hi or if there are any problems. advocate for children


I can so understand the outrage and concern that parents feel about some one calling the sheriff unnecessarily, but I also want to put in a plug for the neighbor who called. I would encourage you not to assume that the neighbor was merely annoyed by the noise. Try to see it from another persons perspective. 10 minutes of crying, unless you're actually watching the clock, can seem a lot longer. Imagine that you don't have kids yourself (or maybe you do, and you feel anxious for your own and others' children), you've followed all those horrible stories about kids getting left in cars by their parents and whatnot. You wonder, could something be wrong? Is the child you hear crying so piteously in danger of some kind? Should I do something, or ignore it? But, I would hate myself if it turned out their was a problem, and I did nothing. Well, if I call the police, and there's a problem, then the police will help, if there's nothing wrong, then no harm done (so the person thinks, not realizing that it could actually have the result that it has, scaring you and putting you at risk for intervention by CPS). Someone who has never had the sheriff called on them about their kids will not realize what a big deal it can be. They were probably just wanting to be sure they did SOMEthing, in case there really was a kid in trouble. I think the person who suggested writing a note had the right idea. That way, no one is put on the spot, and you can give a concerned neighbor a reassurance and maybe even a way to contact you if they *are* disturbed (as well as a very important understanding of the consequences to you of having the sheriff called). Anon


I read the responses to your post (and your original post). I agree that you should make an effort to get to know your neighbors.

On the flip side, I am okay that someone called the sheriff rather than coming to you first. If you are beating the crap out of your kids, are you going to tell a concerned neighbor the truth or are you going to say that you are 'sleep training?' It may be that the caller was someone without kids or just the neighborhood nudge. Or, it may be another parent who was genuinely concerned about the level of noise coming from your apartment and from what issue it stems. My two kids have very different volume levels. I am used to the louder child, but another parent may be genuinely freaked out by it.

Just a thought... -not everyone is out to get you