Whenever you rent an apartment in a larger building, there's always the risk of getting stuck with noisy neighbors, whether they live above you, next door, or even down the hall. But while occasional loudness may be an unavoidable side effect of renting in a multi-unit building, there may come a point when the noise level you're dealing with crosses the line into unacceptable -- such as being kept up nightly till 1 a.m. while your neighbors blast music.
Dealing with excessive neighbor noise is never fun, but you should know that as a tenant, you may have rights to exercise. Here's what to do.
1. Talk to your neighbors
When you're being disturbed by noisy neighbors, your first and most effective move may be to knock on their door and politely air your grievances. Keep in mind, of course, that some types of noise are easier to control than others. If you're being kept awake by a crying baby at night, that's a lousy situation to be in -- but it's probably not one your neighbors can control if they're dealing with a newborn. On the other hand, if your neighbors tend to watch TV at full volume late at night or have parties till all hours, those are behaviors that are well within their control.
With any luck, a simple conversation will help the situation improve -- at least somewhat. But if it doesn't, you'll need to bring your landlord into the loop.
2. Lodge a complaint with your landlord
If talking to your neighbors doesn't solve your noise problem, your next move is to lodge a formal complaint with your landlord. To do so, document the noise issues you've experienced so your landlord is fully aware of what's going on. Aim to be as specific as possible. Write down when the noise tends to start, how long it lasts, and what its origin is (music, shouting, dog, baby, etc.).
From there you'll need to leave things in your landlord's hands, but he or she will be obligated to investigate and address the issue. The good news is that most leases have quiet hour clauses that go into effect at a certain hour at night (say, 10 p.m.) and last until a reasonable hour of the morning (say, 6 a.m.). If your neighbors are violating their lease agreement, your landlord may have grounds for eviction. Of course, it may not come to that, but the point is that if your neighbors are being unacceptably noisy, your landlord should, initially, issue them a warning, and eventually, if things don't improve, take steps to have them removed.
What happens if your landlord refuses to take action or tries to take action but is unsuccessful? You may, depending on where you live, have the right to withhold rent or break your lease. Your best bet is to consult with an attorney before you do, so you understand what rights you have and don't wind up on the hook for unpaid rent.
Protecting yourself from excessive noise
There are a few things you can do to avoid a scenario where you're dealing with extreme noise in a rental. First, aim to rent a corner unit so you have fewer neighbors to share walls with. Along these lines, see if there's a top-floor unit available to rent. That will eliminate noise from above.
Additionally, review the terms of your lease carefully to make sure it contains rules about noise. If those rules apply to you, it means they're apt to apply to everyone else in the building as well.
Finally, it never hurts to knock on a few doors and ask existing tenants if noise tends to be an issue in the building. It may not be the most comfortable thing to do, but it could unearth some red flags that might make you rethink your decision to rent there.