You might hate the thought of being called “that picky neighbor.” You know, the one who complains about noise every time a cat sneezes. On the other hand, if your downstairs neighbors habitually jack the speakers of their sound system up to concert-hall levels or have other habits that you find disturbing, you have a problem and have to do something about it.
1. Politely Talk to Your Neighbors
Typically, a lease agreement includes the right to “quiet enjoyment,” which is essentially the right to enjoy your apartment in peace without being disturbed by other people including your downstairs neighbors. Even if you don’t have a lease or your lease agreement doesn’t specifically include this clause, the law generally considers this an “implied” covenant, which means you are still entitled to it, according to Northwestern Legal Services. For example, if your neighbors are playing their stereo too loud or at late hours, or they have a howling dog, you can ask them to rectify the situation because it is violating your quiet enjoyment. Simply knock at your neighbor’s door, politely explain what’s bothering you and ask them to handle the issue. Wait and see if they comply. If they indicate that they will, things might be fine.
2. Mention Health Issues
If you or a family member suffers from certain health issues and your neighbors’ annoying behavior involves cigarette smoke, when you speak to them, let them know how the smoke is affecting your health. If your lease indicates that your apartment building is smoke-free and your downstairs neighbors are smoking, they are in violation of their lease. If they are violating the lease agreement and don’t comply with your request to stop smoking, let them know that you will have to notify the landlord. Even if your lease agreement doesn’t prohibit smoking, your landlord might have grounds to evict the smoking tenant if the cigarette smoke is truly troublesome and interferes with your health or your ability to enjoy living in your apartment, according to Nolo.
3. Send a Letter to Your Landlord
Should your downstairs neighbors continue with their behaviors after you made them aware that their habits are disturbing you, it’s time to notify your landlord. Write your landlord a detailed letter that documents the exact behaviors with dates if you have them. Explain that you spoke to your neighbor to no avail. Send your letter certified, return receipt requested, and then give your landlord enough time to get the letter and speak to your neighbors, advises Apartment Ratings.
4. Law Enforcement and Court
If your downstairs neighbors continue to make noise while you are waiting for the landlord to act, or if the landlord isn’t acting, get a copy of your local noise ordinance from your city hall or local library. Notify your neighbors by certified mail of the local ordinance, detailing how they are violating it. If they still do not stop the noise, you can call your local police department while they are making noise. If the problem is a barking dog, you can notify you city’s animal control officer. If all else fails, you can take your downstairs neighbors to small claims court. To prove your case, you can use police reports, witnesses, recordings, your own testimony and the testimony of neighbors or other witnesses.
5. Co-op and Condo Living
If you live in a co-op or condo, you’re not immune to annoying downstairs neighbors. Depending on what your neighbors are doing, you do have remedies available to you. As a shareholder or owner, you have the right to speak to your neighbor and the co-op board or management company. If talking to your neighbor doesn’t work, document all violations and send a certified letter to the co-op board or management company. Request an investigation and, if necessary, mediation. Not every co-op board or management company is litigious, so a lawsuit might not happen. If nothing works, the board might vote to evict the troublesome party, depending on the bylaws, but this can get complicated and take a long time, according to Cooperator.com.
- American Bar Association: Lease Clauses
- Nolo: When Secondhand Smoke Invades Your Home
- Apartment Ratings: Dealing With Bad Neighbors
- Every Landlord’s Legal Guide
- The Cooperator: Dealing With the Difficult
- PALawHelp.org: Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment
- Nolo: Neighbors and Noise FAQ
- Zillow: How to Get Neighbors to Turn Down the Noise
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images