Rosslyn resident Katie Walker didn’t just gain new neighbors when two women moved into the apartment next to hers. She also got a new soundtrack to accompany her day-to-day activities.
“They talked extremely loudly, and I could hear every detail of their conversations,” she says.
She wrote them a note welcoming them to the apartment and left it on their door.
“I said, ‘I don’t know if you know, but your voices carry and I can hear your conversations, and I don’t know if you want me to hear everything you’re saying,’ ” recalls Walker, 31, who works for a defense contractor. After that, the talking quieted down. “Just writing a nice little note dramatically changed things for the better.”
Almost every renter has a horror story about a noisy neighbor, whether it’s a foot stomper in the apartment above or a barking dog next door. Apartment hunters might be so fixated on price and location that they don’t think about how thin an apartment’s walls and floors might be.
If your space isn’t as soundproof as you’d like, there are things you can do to deal with noisy neighbors — or to prevent yourself from becoming the noisy neighbor.
Start out with some common-sense solutions. Carpeting helps to muffle both the noise you make and the sounds that drift in from other units. If your apartment has hardwood or tile floors, invest in some area rugs; your lease probably requires that you do anyway.
And save the stilettos for the office. “When you walk into your place, take your shoes off at the door,” says Eric Suissa, director of sales at apartment-locator firm the DC Apartment Co. (202-600-9500). “It’s a friendly way to make sure that your neighbors aren’t hearing you walking all over the place.”
Also friendly: limiting things like hammering and vacuuming to reasonable hours of the day.
Basic decorative elements, from artwork on the walls to curtains on the windows, also help to serve as a buffer.
If you can still hear your neighbor’s loud TV or whiny dog, give your ears something else to focus on.
“Sometimes having a white-noise machine or a fan running will override sound coming from other apartments,” says Emilie Fairbanks, a D.C.-based attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant issues (202-681-4694) “That has actually resolved some pretty angry disputes between tenants.”
If the noise becomes more than just a nuisance, you can make further enhancements to your pad.
“There are some paints that absorb sound and other acoustic absorption products out there at places like Home Depot or Lowe’s, if you really like the apartment,” said Nancy Simmons Starrs, president of apartment-finder firm Apartment Detectives (202-362-7368). “But do you really want to spend money on that for a rental? Probably not.”
Walker constantly struggles with noise from airplanes flying into and out of nearby Reagan National Airport, something she didn’t notice while looking for an apartment under a time constraint.
“Every three minutes I hear a plane,” she says. The air traffic has plagued her for three years, but she’s reluctant to move because her apartment is close to her work and fits her budget. “I think if they replaced the windows the noise would be less, but what if management does that and then raises the rent?” she says.
Patrick Doane, 38, was willing to pay a higher rent to escape his noisy Rockville apartment a few years ago. “I could hear every neighbor on every side,” he says. That included a frequent gamer and someone who listened to webinars at an extremely loud volume.
But not all of his neighbors had complaints: Doane had a friend who lived in the other building in the complex, where noise was never an issue. As it turned out, his complex consisted of two buildings that were constructed in different styles and of different materials.
At the end of his lease, Doane was able to transfer from his unit in the wood-frame construction building to a more expensive apartment in the more soundproof, concrete-based structure. “It was like night and day,” he says.
If you live in a larger apartment complex like Doane, changing units can be a solution. But sometimes landlords will charge you a transfer fee or make you start your lease all over again, even if you’ve already lived there for a couple of months.
If you’re not comfortable talking with your neighbors the way Walker did, take your noise concerns to your landlord or building manager.
“If you let them know about your problems, they should be more than happy to investigate them,” says Doug Culkin, president and CEO of the Arlington-based National Apartment Association (4300 Wilson Blvd., Suite 400, Arlington; 703-518-6141). “And if there is a legitimate concern, they will go to the neighbors.”
Fairbanks adds: “It’s all about reasonableness. When you live in an apartment, there’s going to be some noise from other apartments.”
Good old earplugs are always an option, too.
Avoid the Noise
Don’t want to get into any kind of decibel dilemma? Here are some things you can do when looking at apartments.
Visit the apartment at different times of the day. This will help you assess both how loud it is when everyone is home from work and if any active preschoolers or partying college students might be among your neighbors. “Finding a building that fits your desired level of noise makes a lot more sense than trying to make a building switch to what you want it to be,” says landlord-tenant attorney Emilie Fairbanks.
Ask the landlord or leasing agent about how the building was constructed. “If it’s a building that’s more than four or five stories, it’s probably going to have cement floors and concrete or brick construction, and those kinds of buildings are better at keeping out noise,” says Eric Suissa, director of sales for the DC Apartment Co. “With wood-frame construction, you can definitely hear your neighbors a lot more.”
Consider going old school. “The construction materials used 30, 40, 50 years ago are totally different than what is used today,” says Doug Culkin, president and CEO of the National Apartment Association. “They used beams, for example, that are thicker than what’s used today.” And hardwood floors are popular, but “they reflect sound, while carpeting will absorb sound.”
Avoid animal kingdoms.“It’s more likely that you will have a noise issue in pet-friendly buildings,” Suissa says. “A person might leave for work during the day, and then their dog is really upset and barks all day long.”