You Can’t Choose Your Family (Or Your Upstairs Apartment Neighbours)

In some ways, living in an apartment is worse than living at home with your family.

Not exactly movin' on up.

Not exactly movin’ on up.

Admittedly, apartment living isn’t all bad: it makes it possible for those not blessed with boatloads of money to live in urban areas.

As well, as an environmentalist, I’m definitely in favour of the densification that results from apartment living, as well as the concentration of resources like transit and amenities like shops and cafés that tend to spring up around apartment buildings.

However, when you live in an apartment (or condo, or university residence, or any other such non-detached living space), compared to living with your family, you can’t tell the people living among you what to do.

Correction: you can, but your family is far less likely to tell you to go f*ck yourself.

Inside, outside, upside, downside

I live in a four-storey apartment in Vancouver, located in a trendy, gentrified part of the city. Thankfully, my apartment-living experiences haven’t been as bad as the above up to this point.

Still, there’s never any mistaking my living situation for anything other than what it is.

For starters, I have the (mis)fortune of my unit being located adjacent to the building’s back entrance. Fortune because it makes taking my bike in and out (I’m a cycle commuter) easy.

Yet misfortune because I hear the sounds of people coming and going – i.e. slamming doors; pounding up and down stairs; transporting outside-voice conversations inside; transforming indoor, outside-voice conservations into stadium-voice right outside my bedroom window – at all hours of the day and night.

You will turn the door knob before closing a door!

You will turn the door knob before closing a door!

Personally, I blame these people’s mothers. My mother was like a drill sergeant in her insistence that I always turn the door knob before closing a door rather than just let it slam, that I walk softly, that I remain calm at all times, and that I “Janna, please – don’t talk so loud!”

I may not be the most exciting person to be around, but I’m an absolute gem of an apartment neighbour.

The sound of silence

I'm soft-footed like a dancer.

I’m soft-footed like a dancer.

I’m wasted living on the ground floor.  The floors in my building are about as thick as phyllo pastry.  I walk so gently, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think I moved out.

I wish I lived above me instead of who currently does. I haven’t met this woman yet (I know it’s a woman from one of my numerous calls to the building manager), but I’m developing a good mental image of the type of person she is.

For one, she’s clearly a heel-walker, one who hasn’t yet caught on the concept that,

{45-year-old wooden floors} + {Walking that you yourself can hear} = The sound of a small invading army to the person living under you.

Through carpet no less!

Here’s a PSA, people: FLAT, WOODEN SURFACES AMPLIFY SOUND. As loudly as that statement just read.

She’s also a smoker. I know this because I can HEAR HER COUGHING through her floor.  And snoring (those ciggies aren’t the best for the old airways). Again, through carpet.

I’ve had to move my bed into the dumbest, most awkward position in my bedroom to counter the noise. That and turn my Sound+Sleep way up.

She also likes her TV.  I know this because, again, through the floor, through the carpet, the booming bass and the voices I can distinguish by gender – well, you’ve heard it all before.

What I can’t figure out is whether she’s also rich and has a top-of-the-line 70-inch plasma complete with a surround sound home entertainment system to re-create the movie theatre experience in the comfort of her home, or she’s just going deaf.

For all I know, the one could be the result of the other.

I miss the old tenant who lived above me. She was, according to my building manager, again during one of many phone calls, a hoarder. Hoarding is a very serious, very sad psychological disorder.

But damn if floor-to-ceiling boxes and bags of old crap doesn’t reduce one’s space for stomping around on a weakened wooden floor.  As well as insulating whatever noise is made.

No word of lie: when the new woman was fully moved in, after listening to her walk around awhile, I thought to myself, Geez, she mustn’t have much furniture; it sounds positively hollow up there!

“Letter” take care of it

I’m currently working with my building manager to resolve the issue with the too-loud TV (I’ve just given up on the heavy walking). The manager, in her preference that cooler heads prevail in these matters, asks that anyone having issues with another tenant go through her rather than try to deal with it on his/her own.

I’m not used to getting people to solve my problems for me, both because no one ever offers and because generally, no one can take better care of me than I care for myself.

Noise while sleepingHowever, just this once, I’m prepared to bow to the manager’s diplomatic wisdom, for I’ve already learned my lesson the hard way, what with the letter I once wrote to another female tenant asking her to not scream so loud during sex while people are trying to sleep.

Only to deliver said letter to the wrong tenant.

(Apparently, as well as phyllo-thin floors, there’s also something of a Doppler effect at work in my building, for the culprit wasn’t who I thought it was.)

But that’s a topic for another post.

The moral of the story

The moral of this post is as follows:

  1. There exists a hierarchy with regards to living arrangements, of which living with your family isn’t necessary the lowest of the low, and owning your own home may well be the promised land, Hallelujah!

Years ago, my mother suggested I look into buying a house, to which I complained that owning had no real advantages over renting for all its associated disadvantages.

  1. Always listen to your mother.

Everyone has an apartment neighbour tale of woe: Have you had to suffer through untold racket?  Or are you more the type to cause the racket? (If you are, I won’t judge so long as you never move in near me.)  Tell me you stories in the comments.

(Image source #1, #2, #3, and #4)

14 thoughts on “You Can’t Choose Your Family (Or Your Upstairs Apartment Neighbours)

  1. I do understand your pain. I am likely one of the easiest people in world to have as a neighbor in an apartment as it really does take quite a bit to annoy me. I have always tried to get to know my neighbors on some level just so that they have an awareness of my existence. To many, my existence didn’t really seem to matter. I’ve had some wonderfully strange neighbors. One woman who lived above me took a workshop on primal screaming. She failed to let me know she’d be practicing this at home and I first thought she was being murdered.

    I had a neighbor who seemed to have a thing about moving her furniture about the place. My daughter and I used to tease each other that she was moving another ‘body’ because at times it certainly had that effect.

    I currently own a condo and yes, you still have issues with neighbors. When first we moved there an older woman from the building next to ours that would come out at midnight and wander about yelling ‘Here kitty, kitty, kitty!” My daughter, god bless her, finally got up one night and advised the woman that her nightly ritual for seeking out a phantom cat was quite disruptive. The woman eventually made her nightly sojourns substantially earlier and now has stopped entirely.

    We had a cougher. This past summer I had the choice of closing my window and baking from heat to block some of the noise of someones incessant coughing or just sucking it up. There have been babies above me and this is usually relatively short lived. The parents are always apologetic…but hell, its a baby. That’s what they do is cry in the middle of night for a few months.

    There are of course the vindictive neighbors…

    Thanks for the share. This made me smile and in a completely empathetic way.


    • Primal screaming? Seriously? How could any rational, grown person not realize that something like that might disturb and concern people? Oh, wait – I know the answer: there was one too many adjectives in that last sentence.

      Of all possible disturbances, it’s voices that bother me the most, especially men’s voices, which are harder to drown out since they tend to be lower-pitched and to resonate. It’s the inflection of voices that bothers me – the continuous up and down in no discernible pattern. It’s impossible for me to shut my mind off to ignore it.

      I do better with more consistent sounds like the fridge or someone vacuuming. Even coughing is better than talking, although this particular woman above me sounds like she needs to be put out of her misery. Say no to cigarettes, kids!


  2. I’ve never lived in an apartment, Janna – but I can clearly see your problem here. I did have awful neighbors once who would just drop in unannounced and drink any alcohol I had in the place. They would then fight like cats and dogs and call over the fence to call the police – but I’d just close the windows. I’m a very soft walker but hubby is a stomper and that’s really annoying.

    Best of luck trying to keep this woman quiet 😦


    • Maybe if a took a bottle upstairs and got the woman drunk, she would pass out and stop stomping around. Or maybe if I get all liquored up, it won’t bother me as much.

      Thankfully, the TV has gotten much quieter in the last few days. That was the biggest annoyance. I think I can live with everything else for now.


  3. Brilliant post Janna, I love reading about others’ misfortunes. Hope it gets better though. I’m hugely lucky to be living in a virtually soundproof complex, the only noise being the wind and sea which I love. The downside is that it’s small and expensive, but you can’t have everything.


    • I love reading about others’ misfortunes

      I don’t know why I found that statement so amusing, but I cracked up when I read it. I think on some level, we all do love it; we’re just too polite to admit it.

      Good on you for not being polite, Roy. 🙂

      I’m glad your place is nice and quiet; I just hope it’s not so quiet that if you’re ever in trouble and not near to your phone that someone would hear you, and vice versa.


  4. I’m lucky enough that my apartment building is horizontally deposed and we are on the corner, so I only have people behind me and to one side, both of whom are quiet. The biggest racket comes from kids running around outside (they seem to love the space right in front of my door). But I’m sure I made racket as a child and annoyed people and, well, they’re kids. I was not so lucky in previous apartment buildings, one of which included an unstairs neighbor with a beeping alarm clock that would go off after he left for the day. Hours of “beep beep beep….” vibrating through the floor.

    yeah, my mom has a house, but her neighbors are obnoxious idiots whose yard looks like a jungle and who refuse to trim any of it back. Her driveway backs onto a road with a 40 mph speed limit, which means every one drives at least 50 mph, and you can’t see because the neightbor’s scraggly bushes block the view. I went out there and cut their bushes down, and they called the police. SOBs!

    You really don’t want to live below a hoarder. Not when the roaches and flies start migrating down.


    • You really don’t want to live below a hoarder.

      You’re absolutely right. All kidding aside, I was mildly horrified when she told me that. I’ve seen exactly one episode of Hoarders and have read the Wikipedia entry on hoarding and that was enough exposure to this particular illness for a lifetime.

      OMG, the beeping alarm clock! But at least your person was up and gone. At least the alarm served it intended purpose. I once had an upstairs neighbour whose alarm consistently woke me up (a full hour early, I might add) but not her. Thankfully, she eventually started using a different method. Or, ya know, got fired for always being late for work.

      I actually don’t mind the sound of kids playing outside, especially in summer. It’s such a rare occurrence these days, and reminds me of my own happy childhood summers playing around the neighbourhood.

      The kids probably like your door because they can hear all the cool music drifting outside. 🙂


  5. Love it. I LOLed at the drill seargent pic’s caption. So darn true.

    Ah, apartment living. What I remember most is the dysfunctional relationships all around. Neighbor on one side was a man going through a divorce. His apartment must have been his place of banishment. From him we got 2 AM phone arguments with his wife. Could hear every word. Neighbors across the hall would constantly leave their door open by accident. She failed to come home often. He was often on the phone asking people where she was. All pretty sad.

    Surprisingly, the quietest neighbor was the one on our other side who had two large dogs. Never heard a peep out of them.

    And then there were the people in the building across the parking lot. They liked to walk around naked with their windows uncovered.


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