In the three years that Jaclyn Finney has lived in her Shirlington apartment, she has made more than 30 complaints about noise from her upstairs and downstairs neighbors.
Finney, 26, an administrative assistant, says her upstairs neighbors “sound like they’re playing Wii at all hours of the night and the morning.” But it’s the downstairs neighbors whom she calls the “real troublemakers,” with lots of guests and loud music.
Of the annoyances that cause renters to complain about their neighbors, “Noise and smoking are up there,” says Shaun Pharr, senior vice president of government affairs for the Apartment and Office Building Association, a regional real-estate trade group. Cooking odors are another frequent cause for gripes.
While annoying neighbors are, well, annoying, it doesn’t have to be cause to move out or call the police. Here’s how to handle a tough situation without resorting to calling the authorities:
Talk It Out
The first step is simple: Talk to your neighbors.
“This [was] a little bit intimidating for me,” says Finney, who eventually got up the nerve to knock on her downstairs neighbor’s door. Unfortunately, she was ignored.
Still, that was the right move, says Gary Greene, the code enforcement manager at the Arlington County Community Planning, Housing and Development Department, an office that receives frequent complaints about less-than-neighborly neighbors.
Greene says the key is to talk to neighbors in a very, very nice way. “Maybe they just weren’t aware,” he says. “If there’s a harsh approach, then there tends to be a harsh response.”
But just in case your neighbors ignore you, be sure to document the dates and times you spoke with or tried to speak with them. Greene recommends trying to talk at least three times before you get outside help.
Call for Help
If talk isn’t working, the next step is to reach out to the landlord or the building’s management company. They can help you work things out.
Property managers have an “economic incentive to keep the peace in the community,” says Rick Haughey, vice president of property operations and technology for the National Multi-Housing Council, which represents large apartment firms.
“Put it in writing to your landlord,” says Rosie McCray-Moody, manager of Montgomery County’s Landlord-Tenant Affairs Office. If the property manager ignores your complaint, you should tell your local landlord-tenant affairs office.
“It’s a breach of lease if someone is really being disruptive and are ignoring complaints and requests and that sort of thing,” says Julie A. Smith, president of Greenbelt, Md.-based Bozzuto Management Company.
It’s hard to terminate a lease based on noise level, which can be subjective, but Smith says her company will try to move one of the residents to another unit to solve the problem.
It’s more complicated if you and your neighbor have different landlords.
Megan Lysaght, 25, and her partner, Amanda Jessen, 25, have spent two years trying to persuade their next-door neighbor to find a different place to smoke. Their Eastern Market rowhouse shares a wall with the rowhouse next door, so smoke “funnels into our house,” says Lysaght, a civic education program manager. Since the neighboring home is not owned by the same landlord, there appears to be little she can do.
The Last Resort
If nothing else works, renters can consider civil action against the problematic neighbor or property managers for failing to act.
District residents can contact the Office of the Tenant Advocate (202-719-6560) for guidance.
Virginians can contact either Arlington County Code Enforcement (703-228-3232, firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Fairfax County Consumer Affairs Branch.
Montgomery County residents can reach out to the county’s Landlord-Tenant Affairs Office. All Marylanders can turn to the state’s District Court for advice.
Finney says her building managers have “sort of handled” the neighbors upstairs, but progress downstairs is at a “standstill.” One of her roommates has simply decided to move out. Lea Radick (For Express)
The best time to head off potential problems with neighbors is before you even move in. If you’re sensitive to noise, find out how a building was constructed before signing a lease. High-rise buildings with concrete floors tend to be quieter than wood-framed buildings, says Julie A. Smith, president of Bozzuto Management Company. And newer buildings are more likely to have soundproofing. “Most developers today will spend a lot of time and money on sound attenuation,” Smith says. If your pet peeve is pets, look for a building that does not allow them. If it’s smoke that you can’t stand, look for a smoke-free one. This is a new trend in rentals that you can expect to see more of, says Rick Haughey of the National Multi-Housing Council. L.R.