afraid to walk in my apt - I'm the noisy neighbor

seneca_nycOctober 5, 2006

I bought my first apartment last March, in NYC. It's a coop. It's a beautiful huge apartment in a building of about 50 units, built in 1940 and overlooking a private garden. I'm an artist and wanted to paint at home, so that's why I got a large place -- to ultimately save money by not having to rent a separate studio space.

Shortly after I moved in, my downstairs neighbor started complaining about me. She banged on the ceiling several times. She came up to complain at 9:45 pm the very night I moved in because I was walking around with shoes on and didn't have rugs. I cried after she left because I had just made the biggest purchase of my life and it seemed like a bad sign.

It was a bad sign. Even though I started always taking shoes off when I got home and put down rugs with huge thick pads almost all over my apartment, she still complained. She wrote me a long letter, she banged on the ceiling. I went down to talk to her and she said that she has insomnia (not really my problem) and when she is awoken by my footsteps she can't go back to sleep . . .

I had already done everything I felt I could do -- the rugs and pads, taking shoes off. The final straw came when she left me a note telling me to go to bed at midnight and not get out of bed even if I couldn't sleep.

I snapped and sent a very firm letter to her describing all the things I had done to abate the noise and said that there is no curfew in this building!! and copied to all the coop board members and mgmt co. I heard that the mgmt co. sent her a letter telling her not to bother me anymore.

And she hasn't. Though I was away all summer and just got back so she didn't have much opportunity. But the problem is not exactly her banging on the ceiling or writing me notes-- it's the fact that every step I take in my apartment I feel self-conscious, like someone else lives in my apartment with me and is watching every move I make. I literally can't do anything without being conscious of how that is going to sound downstairs. The floors are old and creaky and you CAN hear things from upstairs. I hear my upstairs neighbors too. But I would never complain about them walking around, because what could they do besides levitate? And I don't want to make them self-conscious like I am.

One thing I originally thought was NICE about this apartment is that is overlooks a private garden and is quiet. In fact, kind of miraculous that in NYC (though not manhattan) I can be one block from a major busy shopping street, yet hear NO city noise in my apartment. The problem is that this makes ME the noisiest thing around.

So what can I do to put her out of my head? I have a list going of things I try to think of -- like 1. other people in my building think this woman is a complainer and crazy, and 2. she should be glad she doesn't live below someone with kids, or someone who is less considerate than me and stomps around in high heels and 3. this is NYC!! If she doesn't want to live in an apartment, then move to the country!

But nothing I do seems to help me. I am plagued by this. It also affects my work in that while I am painting I like to move around (quietly) from one paintings to the next so I do move around alot. But it is not stomping, it is just quietly moving from one place to another. Any suggestions?

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are you in Jackson Heights? Just wondering, w/ the private garden thing. (that's where I live, but in a 1921 bldg w/ 10 units)

I have no respect for people who complain about you on the very day you move in.

I don't know how to help you get her out of your head, except maybe to say that time will help with that. Especially as tme goes by without her banging on the floor, it'll be easier to forget about her.

And maybe to work on feeling sorry for her, if you can do that by giving her back the responsibility for dealing with this. YOU deal with it; your neighbors get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and you don't mind. You cope. She's a grownup; she can, too.

Maybe take it away, mentally, from the "she's wrong, I'm right" argumentative tone it sounds like it's got now, and make it a "feeling sorry for her," "being vaguelly sympathetic" one? Because anger clings, but those softer emotions don't? As long as you can do that without switching into "i have to fix it for her" mode.

It is sort of too bad, that she hasn't had enough people over her head to get her used to the idea of hearing you walk around

Can you develop for her the goodwill you have for the folks upstairs? They bother you when they walk, but you see it as something they can't help. True, she could "help" not writing you letters, but can you see her initial sensitivity as something she needed time to adjust to? And make the same mental "I'm going to decide to be patient" decision you've made?

(is it at all possible that she had no one, or else someone very sedentary, above her for a long while and just wasn't used to having anyone there? That happened to us--we had this very sedentary old lady upstairs for years, then she died and the place was empty for about a year until a new person moved in--we really did have to adjust to a very different noise level--maybe she just could find it in her to be as patient with the adjustment period as we were?)

I have great sympathy for you; I often tell my DH that the thing that will drive me to buy a house (though I prefer an apartment) is if I have to worry about every step I take in my own home. I don't mind hearing my upstairs neighbor in the least--hey, it's an apartment, and what is she doing? Walking from one room to another, having her family over for dinner (though I hate when they suddenly laugh at the dinner table over my head, bcs I didn't get to hear the joke!).

But if I have to tiptoe, I'm be furious.

Give it time, I guess I'd say. She'll get used to it eventually. And hopefully it'll start to fade for you as a few more years go by. I know that it did eventually for us, w/ our downstairs neighbor (who banged on the ceiling when I vacuumed for the first time in months).

    Bookmark   October 6, 2006 at 9:45AM
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thanks for your reply - and yes, I think we must be neighbors!! It's nice to hear that maybe I will get used to it with time, because I really can't afford to move. I got a great interest rate, help from my family, etc etc and I really can't sell at this point.

The last person who lived in my apt was also a young single woman (call her Sarah) who travelled often but when she was staying in NY, she often came home late at night (2am). I heard from other neighbors that my downstairs neighbor would often come up and complain when this woman would walk around at 2am. I assumed (probably wrongly) that she didn't remove her shoes and also that she didn't have rugs, and that if I followed these two things that I wouldn't be heard underneath. According to the story, when downstairs would come up to complain, Sarah would basically yell expletives at her. I thought Sarah must be a horrible person but now I see that maybe Downstairs Neighbor was driving her to it!! I am not an angry type of person but maybe I could be driven to that someday!!

Actually I think my problem is that I am TOO sympathetic and empathetic. I always think of how other people feel about everything. This does not always make me the most successful get-ahead person in life -- because I am afraid to be confrontational or say things I think others won't like (generally). This is a case where I think I need to stop thinking of my downstairs neighbor and feeling sorry for her because I am bothering her. I KNOW I am bothering her. But the result is I am hurting myself, probably more than I am hurting her.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2006 at 1:25PM
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definitely more than you are hurting her.

I have found over the years, that I've had to "let go" of the urge to make everything right. People are grownups--they can deal. And it is OK of me to expect them to.

So, my point wasn't that you should try to fix the problem, but that you should say, "gee, yeah, that is too bad" and move on. And be sort of mildly understanding in your MANNER, while letting her have the responsibility of coping with your reasonable noise.

And to switch from the anger to a sort of pity. Maybe pity more than empathy. Because pity is patronizing and doesn't seek to actually help anyone--which is where you want to be.

Or, think of yourself as the day-care working, dealing w/a difficult child. You're not going to change the rules for the temper-tantrum thrower, but you aren't going to escalate anything either. That might help you from dwelling on it mentally.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 6, 2006 at 1:38PM
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Live your life normally. Its your place and your home. When you bought it you also bought the expected noises of your neighbors. You have done as much as could be asked to help eliviate the noise problems.

Good luck with feeling comfortable in your own home!

    Bookmark   October 6, 2006 at 3:24PM
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Older people often have trouble sleeping. But she should visit her doctor, not you. I mean in NYC - there are probably auto and truck noises. A nice pill, and a set of ear plugs would be the answer for her. Maybe you could drop a set of ear plugs, or a CD of wind noises into her doorslot.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2006 at 11:59AM
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I thought of you over the weekend. And what I meant to say about feeling sympathy for her is NOT to feel sorry for her that you're loud, or that her sleep is disturbed.

But to feel sorry for her that she can't adjust, that she's so unreasonable.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2006 at 10:25AM
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Thanks everyone for the messages. I was away over the weekend and just got back and will work on tuning out this problem and just live my life normally.

To Txgardenlady - I agree with you completely and when I wrote the letter to her, I made the point that her medical condition (insomnia) pre-dated my arrival in the building and that it is her problem to fix, not mine. When I visited her early on, I recommended a brand of earplugs and let her know that I have used earplugs for 20 years ,ever since I lived in a college dorm in bunk beds with a roommate who got up and got ready for the day at 5:30am.

What's weird about this apartment-- and totally unexpected for me in NYC -- is that there is essentially NO auto and truck noise after a certain hour. That in fact is part of the problem - no ambient noise. Our apartments look out onto a private garden, and this block is totally residential (no bars or other establishments open late).

Anyway, thanks again for the comments and wishing everyone a peaceful day.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2006 at 12:19AM
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Wow, I know exactly how you feel~ I am a nervous wreck trying to not make any noise in my apt. I just posted about my situation, which differs from yours. I'm sorry you're dealing with this~ I hope your neighbor will stop being a witch and will leave you alone. I know the self-consciousness and feeling like you're walking on eggshells is something that only you and I have control over. If you figure out how to stop that, let me know before I drive myself crazy! ;)

    Bookmark   October 11, 2006 at 12:53AM
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hey there! NYC too. actually just moved to Queens (after 13 yrs of Manhattan- go figure).

i have a Q for you senaca_nyc & plz don't take this the wrong way. what struck me about your post is this: is this about the lady downstaris (of course it is, but...) or is it about your not feeling worthy of this apt??

you mention it's a 1st purchase (& congrats btw!) but something about your constant need to be considered 'considerate', which i think you are, strikes me as insecurity on a higher level.

forgive me if i'm wrong. i know for me, (we just moved into a new apt building) i find myself trying to be 'really quiet' so no one complains about us. we have a dog & it was really hard, stressful, and expensive for us to move. and we're the 'new tenants' so we're on trial for the next 60 days. my DH & i 'feel' like this place is too good to be true & feel insecure ourselves. we're very considerate people but we have a right to live here too.

having said all that, kudos to you on your writing that letter. and i agree w/ you: if you don't like it - move. we did. i HATED my old apartment (upper Manhattan). severe noise & lack of light had really thrown me into a tail spin of a massive depression.

i finally decided i needed to do something about it. and we've moved and we're happier. but i took us 10+ years to figure that out for ourselves.

and finally one more thought.... hello? we live in a major city!!!!! if your neighbor below doesn't get that, she has bigger problems.

i'm all for being nice to your neighbors (my DH drives me crazy w/ his nice guy stuff to the neighbors) but sometimes when you give people an inch they take a yard. know what i'm sayin'.... you have every right to be there too. you ARE a considerate person. you ARE allowed to live your life there too.
best wishes.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2006 at 11:14AM
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Maybe there's some kind of meditation you could learn to rid yourself of that inner scolding voice--'you're walking!! you'll wake her up!! shame!!' Like when you catch yourself w/ such a thought, think of a beach, a symphony, a bank vault locking, or something.

Trying not to internalize others' complaining can be tough--I even sometimes catch myself having internal arguments w/ the complainers about how it none of their &%&^ business where I put the brush pile. Sheesh.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2006 at 1:00PM
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thanks to nokeysyet and housenewbie for responses.

I don't think it's that I think the apt is 'too good' for me, but maybe the apartment is not appropriate for me. Maybe I belong in a place where people are making a little more noise (within reason). I realize I miss my brooklyn apt because there was always happy noise from the street below. Here I feel like I am the only one making noise and it makes me feel alone, but also takes my anonymity away. (If I make noise and people can hear me and know it's me, it feels like they live in the apt with me and know what I am doing every second).

I have a considerate personality in general, but know I need to draw the line and not let someone else take advantage of this. I am working on it.

And in terms of meditation, the one thing I can think of is that I picture my apartment being on the ground floor with only the basement below me. If I do this, I don't worry about walking around. It works for a minute but it's too easy to realize I am pretending. I'll work on that too.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2006 at 10:04AM
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