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Life For Rent: My Mean Neighbours Are Making Up Noise Complaints About Me

In this week's rental advice column, a nasty neighbour threatens to snitch on a letter-writer for being too loud in their flat.

by Vicky Spratt; illustrated by James Burgess
15 August 2019, 8:45am

We've just moved into a new property and our neighbours (who have two small babies) have so far been very hostile towards us. Our first interaction with them was that if we made any noise, they would notify the landlord without hesitation. We are two quiet, young professionals and have made every effort to minimise our noise – to the point of whispering in the flat – as we empathise with their situation.

However, yesterday at 2pm our neighbour aggressively said that we had been walking too loudly in the property, despite hardly moving and not wearing shoes. We have to be able to live normally in the flat. Do you have any advice on what to do and our rights in this scenario? Surely living normally cannot constitute a nuisance?

When I was 26, I lived with someone who found everything I did annoying. I paid the bills wrong, showered for too long, had sex too loudly, stayed up too late and got up too early. When I entered a room that she was in or passed her on the stairs, everything suddenly felt smaller, hotter, claustrophobic. Her disdain was unavoidable. In fact, she could barely look at me.

I started timing myself in the shower. I showed her my bank account so she could see how I was paying the bills and not, as she suspected, stealing her money. I even started sleeping with the blind open so I wouldn’t need to use an alarm clock and risk waking her up.

Then I remembered something that my mum once told me. I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like this: “When someone is being a dick to you, it’s usually because they’re unhappy.”

People love to project. We all do it. It’s cheaper than therapy and a hell of a lot easier than facing yourself in the mirror. Your neighbours, I would put money on it, are also doing it.

Babies are great, brilliant, amazing etc. but life with them can be hard. Very hard. I don’t have any of my own but I know plenty of people who do. You’re no longer in complete control. Sleep becomes scarce. Your life is no longer entirely your own for, well, 18 years minimum.

Could it be that your neighbours are searching for order amidst the chaos of two young children? Could it be that they cannot control how much sleep they get every night, so they’re lashing out at you because, well, they’re less likely to scar you for life than their kids? Is it possible the previous tenants had the odd party and pissed them off? Perhaps the floors are particularly poorly insulated and, though you think you are treading softly, you are literally crashing around in their dreams?

I’m speculating, sure. What I do know is this: you’re whispering, you’re hardly moving, you’re not wearing shoes. But that’s unsustainable – you can’t live your life as a gesture of goodwill. Your question was, “do you have any advice on our rights in this scenario?” I do. You have the right to live in your flat, to breathe, talk, shag, walk around and even – ffs – play music! You have done nothing wrong.

You could raise it with your landlord. Could they insulate the floor, for instance? Some acquaintances of mine recently managed to make this happen. (In fairness, they were about to be evicted because of noise pollution – they think their flat is London’s answer to Berghain.)

There is no specific law for your neighbourly friction. So first I think you should go in gently; lean into their negativity with compassion. Counteract it with kindness. Take your neighbours some flowers. Hell, take them flowers and a bottle of wine. Knock on their door (at a reasonable hour in the early evening so you’re not waking the kids). Say you’re so sorry you got off on the wrong foot and that you’d like to fix it. Ask them where the noise is coming from, explain that you’re doing your best to be as quiet as a mouse – if not quieter – and try to engage them in a friendly and pragmatic conversation about solutions.

Your neighbours might surprise you. You never know, you might just be able to hold up a mirror to their lives that they’ve been avoiding looking at since you moved in.

I live in a really lovely two-bedroom flat with my best friend, and we recently renewed our tenancy for its second year. This came with a rent increase we can both afford but aren’t exactly delighted about. Our estate agent is probably the most incompetent person I’ve met in my entire life and has caused a whole host of problems since we moved. They’ve now issued us our second-year contract with the original fee – not the increased one. If we don’t mention this, sign the new contract and continue paying the original fee, are we doing anything Against the Rules??

Ah, here we are again. Someone really ought to change that saying to “only two things are certain in this life: death and rent rises”.

The issue isn’t whether or not you can afford this increase in the monthly cost to keep a roof over your head – that’s besides the point. It is that, for some reason, landlords have the idea that rent should go up every year.

Since 2011, the cost of renting has outpaced people’s wages not only in London, but increasingly in other areas of the country. When you boil it down, it makes little sense. You’re paying someone else’s mortgage off. It’s going down every month which, while interest rates are as low as they are, means that it’s probably getting cheaper. Unless your landlord is a charity, I highly doubt they’re charging you the bare minimum and just about covering their costs.

We know that letting agents don’t help, often encouraging landlords to put the rent up (however incrementally). Perhaps that’s why, after only politicians and professional footballers, they belong to one of the professions with the lowest level of public trust.

Tenants pay for a service when they rent a property, despite how so many are made to feel they aren’t doing anyone a favour by occupying the home they’ve decided to let out. Most of us don’t get a pay rise each year for simply turning up to work, so why should landlords? I could guess (capitalism, social injustice, our unhealthy national addiction to rising house prices, self-interest, greed) but we’d be here all day and then we’d run out of time for you.

You have several options here, and – full disclosure – they carry varying degrees of risk. You could slide into the grey area that borders on Against the Rules territory by signing the incorrect contract delivered to you by this bumbling agent, hoping that nobody spots the error, pay the old amount and be prepared to argue your case should it ever come up.

Sorry to be a bore, but I wouldn’t advise this. If you have exchanged emails about the new amount these could come back to bite you and your agency might argue that you’ve been accruing rent arrears when your landlord inevitably finds out they’ve messed up. Any monthly savings you might make could cost you far more in the long run. The incorrect contract, if signed, would be binding – but this course of action could also lead to you being forced to move out of this two-bedroom safe haven. Don’t forget, Section 21 evictions have not yet been abolished so your landlord wouldn’t even have to give a reason to evict you.

We so often talk about housing situations as letting agent and landlord versus tenant. It’s combative, we know that there is a power imbalance and, sometimes, those who wield that power do so unscrupulously.

But, ultimately, housing exchanges are about relationships and you must preserve yours if you want to continue living in this flat. Trust and honesty are the bedrock of any relationship. You can’t stop your landlord “causing problems”, but you can make sure everything you do is by the book, just in case you ever need to go through an official complaints procedure.

In that spirit, you could question the incorrect amount and use it as an opportunity to attempt to resist the rent rise or negotiate it down. At this point, it would be rather short notice to find new tenants and, well, you never know. You might get lucky. At worst, you’ll end up having to stick a rent rise it sounds like you’ve already agreed to and can afford. The choice, reader, is yours.

@Victoria_Spratt

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