Through the Walls: What if My Neighbors are Wildly Annoying? Or Just Wild?

If you own a condo or townhome, you can’t always choose who owns the other side of the wall. And you can’t determine where they decide to put the furniture. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of a baby crying? And it wasn’t your own baby? And it was actually 37 nights in a row? Through your sleep-deprived haze, you finally realized the baby’s crib was a mere foot from your own headboard.

If your neighbors are cool, you probably just knocked on the door and suggested, politely, that they move the crib. Maybe you also brought them some banana bread, because they're probably more exhausted than you. A baby is only a baby for so long, and you probably just toughed it out, maybe using a white noise machine until the "little darling" started keeping better hours.

But what if it isn’t that simple? We’ve all heard stories from wall sharers about neighbors who enjoyed listening to eighties hair bands or Hungarian folk music at top volume at two in the morning or had several passionate arguments a week, and noisy sex to get over them. Then there are the neighbors with three kids, who happen to be the type of kids that love playing hockey, in the house. More heartbreaking are the stories about barking dogs left home alone all day, or relationships that sounded abusive from next door. So, what do you do when your noise problem isn’t so simple, and your neighbors either can’t or won’t make a change?

If at all possible, start with a knock on the door.

Be self-deprecating, and maybe not so specific, especially to the sex people. “You might not be aware, but I’ve noticed I can hear what’s going on in your place pretty clearly, mostly when I’m in my living room. Any way you could keep it down a little? I get up really early for work these days.” As for that barking dog, come prepared with the names of some dog walkers who might take him out for a mid-day, very tiring walk.

If that doesn’t work, go with a passive-aggressive, anonymous note in one of the common areas.

“I am SO happy you have a new boyfriend, 4B. But maybe you could tone down the celebration a little bit? PS Hope you’re using protection because I am not hosting your baby shower.” Just kidding. Don’t do that. But if the noise is of an embarrassing nature, and you aren’t the only one sharing a wall with your noisy neighbor and can’t be identified, there’s nothing wrong with an anonymous, polite note. “Just wanted to make you aware that there is less privacy than you might imagine and we are able to hear noises clearly from your place.” Add a smiley face. Kidding. Don’t. A smiley face always looks passive aggressive.

If the noise is outside the realm of normal -- looking at you, 2 am headbangers -- and you’ve tried a polite request, you may need to approach your board or HOA with your complaint.

A representative can approach your neighbor and remind them of any rules pertaining to noise in your building. This approach isn’t always the best for neighbor relations, but if you’ve already tried talking face to face, you probably aren’t going to be best friends anyway.

If the noise is reasonable, but you are particularly sensitive, or maybe need to sleep in because of your work schedule, start with a white noise machine, the cheapest option.

If that doesn’t work, you can consider physical soundproofing. There are several different choices, from soundproofing paint (not terribly effective, but a good first step) or curtains to drywall and insulation. If the problem is extreme, and even normal noises can be heard clearly, you may have to take the walls down to the studs and install insulation. Obviously, you should check with your HOA before taking a shared wall down to the studs to see what’s allowed. And if your neighbors are as annoyed by your noise as you are by theirs, they may even help foot the bill.

As a last resort, if soundproofing doesn’t work and the noise bothers you no matter who the neighbors are, you may have to move.

But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!

Before you buy a townhome, condo, or any other house that shares walls with neighbors, try to get a feel for the noise levels. If possible, have someone go next door and make varying degrees of noise, just to see how much you can hear. And if you’re already living there when you notice the noise? Try our tips and good luck!