Noise disputes: can managers forbid tenants from conversing?

Jck507July 19, 2014

I'm having random noise problems with a downstairs neighbor. It's mostly intermittent bass from what's probably a computer speaker. Loud enough to prevent sleep (for me) but not "gangsta loud." We all know the effect even "quiet" bass can have on nerves (people will lie about how far it carries and pretend it's never affected anyone else).

The manager of this 2-story apartment complex has a policy that's passive-aggressive and divides neighbors by default. He wants us to call him with any noise complaints, whereupon (if he happens to answer) he will go to the offending unit and try to witness the noise, then determine if we were truly being bothered. That alone is irritating since it's based on his judgement. Most of the time he can't be there when the noise is happening so not much gets done. He will talk to tenants later but you don't get to know their response.

The noise policy is very strict and the poor level of sound insulation makes it somewhat impossible to enforce, but I chose this complex for that policy. The violations I've experienced are obvious. You're essentially not supposed to hear anything but necessary/utilitarian noise from the other peoples' units. I can psychologically handle limited "productive" noise much better than entertainment noise.

The size of this fairly large complex would make talking to neighbors more practical than a middleman-only method. He may have a point with some nasty people (who do get evicted) but reasonable people ought to get along. The neighbor causing this noise is a smug hipster who didn't want to talk to neighbors from day one (I think he fears his girlfriend may stray or he's simply unfriendly). Still, I would much rather reason with him directly than being in a detached standoff. When I tried to talk to him once it was too rushed to get critical points across, then he called the manager who told me to lay low, which I agreed to reluctantly. The noise has subsided since then but it's not really gone.

Main question: Is it LEGAL to forbid neighbors from working out disputes themselves? This manager won't even act as a third party mediator, which seems petty to me.

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It's really a question for a lawyer who would need to read your lease and then it becomes of question of what is legal and therefore enforceable. All kinds of thing can be written into a contract that may not be enforceable. For example, let's say you agree to sell me your daughter for some sum of money and we both sign a contract agreeing to the terms of the sale. Tomorrow I show up at your door with a bag of money and you balk. The only option I have is to take you to court to enforce the contract. I would imagine that I'd have a hard time convincing a judge that buying people is legal in America.

Let's say you decide to ignore your landlord and start talking to your neighbors about noise issues. If he takes umbrage his only option is to evict you. At which point in time you would have to take him to court to contest the eviction and a judge would decide if the contract (lease) was enforceable.

Noise is very subjective and I suspect that the manager has learned over the years that the methods he uses to investigate noise complaints work well (or at least for him). I would also imagine it eliminates him refereeing "he said, she said" arguments between two tenants.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 10:01AM
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I see some of your points, but there's no comparison between the common need for peace & quiet and selling one's daughter. No rational contract would contain such a clause. Why include such a radical analogy?

This lease contains very strict terms, e.g. "If noise coming from your apartment isn't contained within your own walls, it's too loud." It doesn't say "please limit noise during normal sleeping hours" (as many toothless leases do). But when someone wants to take it 95% literally, they hit a wall of lying neighbors and the landlord's resistance to evictions and losing rent money, so the policy is crippled and bogus. Why do they make it unrealistic?

A larger issue is that noise pollution isn't taken seriously enough as a quality of life issue even though it affects hundreds of millions of people (like scofflaws forcing air and water pollution on the public). It's one of those modern plagues that sheeple have come to accept as the "way it is" but ought not to.

It compounds the annoyance factor when code enforcement is geared toward making a landlord's life easier, not honoring the actual rules. Maybe he has a right to determine how (serious) disputes are handled but I still think he has no business telling neighbors to not talk if something hasn't escalated too much.

Here is a link that might be useful: Noise Free America

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 12:39PM
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This lease contains very strict terms, e.g. "If noise coming from your apartment isn't contained within your own walls, it's too loud." It doesn't say "please limit noise during normal sleeping hours" (as many toothless leases do).

Frankly that sounds a little radical to me and I would suspect (not being a lawyer nor playing on on TV) that if someone hired a lawyer a judge would not enforce that part of the lease. It seems an unreasonable expectation, especially given the construction of most apartments (or at least the apartments I've lived in). Of course, most people aren't going to spend that kind of money and simply move on.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 12:13AM
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Why not just get ear plugs? They are inexpensive, and easier to learn to live with than frustrating neighbors.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2014 at 7:51AM
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Our reaction to noise is more than just technical considerations. Early in our marriage, my wife's snoring really irritated me. I learned how and where to nudge her with my elbow to get her to move just enough to change the snoring but not enough to awaken her.
Now after many years, I just silently say "Thank you Lord that she is breathing" and just go back to sleep.
I suspect that your general disdain for the neighbor is part of the situation.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2014 at 8:02AM
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dreamla wrote: "Why not just get ear plugs? They are inexpensive, and easier to learn to live with than frustrating neighbors."

Earplugs are a bandaid, not a solution. It's like saying "just wear a gas mask" if someone is letting smoke drift through your window in the summer. Earplugs also don't stop bass. I want to have full use of my ears for important noises and alarm clocks, and they can make sleep generally uncomfortable w/heartbeat sounds, etc.

Earplugs are a passive aggressive way of avoiding the root cause of noise (crummy neighbors) and that's not my style. I only use them for construction and gardening noise that I have no real say in. "Work" noise to me is far less irritating than neighbors who disturb the peace for their own entertainment's sake.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2015 at 5:02PM
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