Things that go bump in the night


By Marianne Delorey

Audry was from the old country. As a kid, whenever she was stressed, she would visit her mother in the kitchen. Her mother would set her up with some spices and with a mortar and pestle, she would bang and grind the spices until she felt better. Now, even in her later years when her anxiety spikes again, she still gets great comfort from the bang and scrape but also from the smells of the spices.

The only problem is that the noise is making her neighbor crazy.

Audry got very worried when she received a phone call from her landlord that a neighbor was complaining about some noise. Since nobody told her exactly what noise, that night Audry ground spices until 2 a.m. to soothe herself. The neighbor was so irate that she called the police to intervene, which made Audry so upset that she paced in her apartment until morning. By 9 a.m., the landlord had calls from both residents complaining about each other. It seemed like it escalated far more quickly than it needed to. It took hours to calm both people down enough that solutions could be discussed.

As with everything in life, multifamily housing has benefits and drawbacks, and they are often two sides of the same coin. The great news for some residents is that there is a whole community right outside their doors – there are people to talk to and the everyday comings and goings that make people feel less alone.  These comings and goings and people, however, create the very real downside of noise.

Solutions for noise complaints are as diverse as the people who are involved. While there are few “one size fits all” ideas, here are some good first steps in working to resolve the issue.

  1. Before you do anything, make sure you are not upset about something else or making a big deal of a one night problem. Most of the time, waiting until the next day to approach your neighbor will insure you are not overreacting.
  2. Talk to your neighbor directly. If you feel safe, slip them a note or knock on their door and let them know as specifically as possible what you need. Don’t say, “Can’t you just keep it down!” Say, “I know the walls are thin, but can we agree that music stops after midnight?”
  3. If you can’t talk to your neighbor, call your landlord for help. Make sure you have details – how often, how loud, time of day, etc. Very often, the problematic noise is hard to describe. Having your landlord walk through the apartment and try shutting doors or dropping things might help determine what can be done.
  4. Call the police as a last resort. There is a time and place for everything, but approaching your neighbor with compassion will likely bear more fruit than calling the police.
  5. Try not to give in to feelings of defensiveness. Inevitably, if you are complaining about your neighbor, they will complain about you. Keep an open mind and model for them how you want them to react. Show them you intend to be a good neighbor by hearing them out and trying to be better.

Landlords are asked to intervene because most leases say that residents have the right to “peaceful enjoyment” of their home. From a landlord’s point of view, the hardest thing we have to do is reality check people who are complaining about typical daily noises – those noises that may be very bothersome, but can’t be helped. The person living upstairs who walks with a cane and loudly thumps every other step may bother you a great deal, but there may be nothing we can do to make it better.

Especially when the noises cannot be prevented, residents should pursue what they can control – find ways to deal with the noises. Some residents benefit from meditation, headphones, white noise machines, or music.  I encourage people to try different things to see if they work.  But my last step in resolving noise is actually the most critical…

  1. Be creative! I’ve seen so many seemingly deadlocked neighbors develop a great relationship with an open mind. Audry and her neighbor were at a dead end when someone suggested they sit down and talk.  Audry explained to the neighbor how her ritual helped her anxiety. The neighbor suggested she grind the spices during the day and at night she could focus on smelling the spices if needed. Audry tried her neighbor’s idea and it worked. Now, whenever Audry has extra spices, she brings some to her neighbor, who has learned to love the exotic new smells.

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or and