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“What the…!?”

Written by Kit Hodge : May 1, 2008

There are few things as frustrating as collapsing into your bed in your new apartment, bone tired from moving heavy boxes all day and ready to sleep hard, only to be jolted awake by your new neighbors’ music or video games. Particularly when it’s no different the next night, or the next, or the next…

Even the most devout Christian can lose it and end up screaming in righteous fury – though to no avail – at the offending neighbors, or just your shared wall or floor. We feel powerless and angry about becoming such a hateful person. In fact, when we don’t get to know our neighbors as fellow humans, if we never see them, they can morph into disembodied evil spirits in our heads, whose every noise and move are laced with malice.

Frankly, there’s not much you can do to figure out and avoid noisy neighbors when you’re looking for an apartment beyond trying to visit at night and listening carefully to see if the walls are soundproofed. Asking the landlord about noise problems will more than likely result in a less than straight answer. However, you can do a lot once you move in to feel more at peace in your apartment, all the while putting your faith into practice:

1. Get to know your neighbors. You don’t have to be Mr. Rogers or the newest member of Desperate Housewives to get to know your neighbors. Just being on a “smile and nod” basis with your neighbors goes a long way. You’re both much more likely to look out for each other in small and big ways (picking up stray mail, calling in potential gas leaks, etc). If you are used to smiling at your neighbor and maybe even saying “hi,” it’s then much easier to progress to asking about a building issue (“Is it true they’re going to be renovating the basement next week?”) and much easier to have a calm, rational conversation about noise or other problems— even at 4 am, when he’s drunk or high. And you might find that your neighbor’s laugh no longer seems maniacal so much as vivacious, and that you’re happy for her because you know she needs the joy in her life.

You shouldn’t expect to become best friends with your neighbors. People in apartment buildings usually don’t want to live next to their best friends, but they do like to be on good terms with their neighbors. Sort of like an office environment, but hopefully less stressful and without the awful lighting!

Tips: Bolder people often knock on their neighbors’ doors on the day they move in. If you want to try this, make up an excuse for knocking beyond introducing yourself, like asking them to please let you know if you’re being too loud while you move in. If you’re a shy person or just conscientious about not invading other people’s space, then slip a card under your neighbors’ doors inviting them to your housewarming party. Even if they don’t attend, they’ll probably be flattered to have been invited, and be much more willing to deal with you in a respectful manner.

2. Start a building e-mail list. One of the best ways to create a good overall environment in your building is to start an e-mail list. An e-mail list can be a good way for neighbors, especially younger ones, to trouble-shoot common problems or plan building events, or just share tips (e.g., washing machine is eating quarters).

Tips: Set up a list on Google or Yahoo (or your preferred service) and put cards underneath your neighbors’ doors asking them to join. Be sure to explain what it is, why they might want to use it, and what won’t be allowed (for example, you may want to avoid using it to share grievances about the landlord, since it’s likely she’ll see a copy and try to shut it down if you distribute it around the building). Once it’s set up and you have some users, start using it right away so that the idea will stick.

Now that you have an e-mail list, it’ll be much easier to:

  • Throw a building potluck.
  • Organize a trick-or-treat set up in front of the building on Halloween.
  • Plan, plant and maintain a common tree, flowers or garden.

You don’t need a building e-mail list to do any of these things, but it certainly helps. If you don’t have an e-mail list, use cards and flyers around the building or try the old knock-on-the-door technique to get your neighbors involved. Building events or tools that promote civil interaction and helps create a universal expectation that people will treat each other well, even when we’re behind our apartment walls. The change in the ethos of the apartment building will impact even those who choose to not participate directly.

Please note that you don’t have to be new to your building in order to do any of the suggestions above. It’s never too late to start getting to know your neighbors!

Finally, check out our guide to Neighborly Home Design at neighborsproject.org, which includes more ideas and tips ranging from simple to advanced projects towards making your building more neighborly.

Author Bio:: Kit Hodge is the CEO of Neighbors Project, a 501c3 non-profit that inspires and trains members of the new urban generation to connect with their neighbors through projects that improve the neighborhood for everyone. She has also successfully coaxed her downstairs neighbor to turn down his music at 4 am when he was dead drunk.

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