FREE SPEECH ZONE | In Search of An Adult Conversation Around Dealing WIth Landlords


I recently left one apartment complex after several years of one issue after another, and went to what seems like another black hole. Bang, thud, drop, bang, drag, thud drop welcomed me from the neighbors upstairs as I moved in.  Thinking this would just be a phase, and trying to be a good neighbor, I just let it go for the first day.  When it became clear that this would go on for 8 hours or more a day, I tried to go to my landlord about it.  “It was living noises” so therefore they aren’t interested in doing anything.  I didn’t care what they did in their own apartment, but when their “living” determined when I went to sleep at night, how long I got to sleep and how loud I needed to have my tv in order to hear it, it was a problem.

I asked my landlord why they were making this out to be a tenant issue, when the problem was really with the building.  The building was built in 1966 and there is nothing between the floors except a well-worn carpet and they know this isn’t the first time this has happened.  In addition, it would be relatively inexpensive to put down a layer of mass loaded vinyl under the carpet or to put in an accoustical drop ceiling, and in doing so, they would probably stop the bleed of the high turnover rates, I found out later, that the complex has.  The response came in the form of a letter from their attorney defending their right to “cheap construction.” (That was his description of the property, not mine).  He stated that the noises I am hearing are “typical” of community living and not excessive.  I would agree, if I was living in a dorm, but dragging, dropping, banging, and hearing other people’s conversations over their tv should not be “typical” by any stretch of the imagination.  Nor should floors that creak loudly when you step in certain places.

Stunned, amazed and somewhat amused, I started to break this down and see what and how much of this I can address through other channels.  That oddessy has turned out to be as bizarre as the letter from the lawyer.

First, there is a state law that says anything above a “normal conversation” is excessive.  Even with “cheap construction”, if their conversation were at a “normal” level, I wouldn’t be able to hear them, let alone understand what they were saying.  So, I asked the attorney general to give me a definition of the state statute.  She can’t tell me what the law means.  I need a lawyer to tell me what the law means.  But aren’t you a lawyer and one in charge of the state statutes?  Logic lost out on that one, too.

Then there is the city.  The city does have a noise ordinance, and keeps telling me to call the police.  This would make sense if they were having a party and there was loud music, but what part of the dragging, dropping and banging are the police going to hear when I call them?  It’s going to stop at least long enough for them to answer the door.

Then I go to the county.  The response from my commissioner’s office was the county has no regulatory authority and offered a list of other useless resources along with a “good luck” at the end of the email.    When I asked her to introduce me to those people, if she was sure those were appropriate resources, she no longer responded.

What I would love to see is a “truth in rental” statute, along the lines of what happens when selling a house.  Owners have to disclose known issues.  I appreciate their right to “cheap construction” but where is my right to making an informed decision?  Had I known I would be forced to have a room mate by virtue of their constant noise, I would have kept looking. I pay my rent on time, I don’t destroy property, and I believe my space should not be shared unless I want to share it.

What I would also love to see is something other than a court system in order to deal with this type of thing.  There are cases where things should be handled in court, but there should be more options available than just that.  Condescending bullies like my landlord’s attorney count on people not knowing they have rights or what those rights are.  They also count on nobody else stepping up.

I volunteer with the Minneapolis Restorative Justice program, and I see that model having a lot of promise for  being one of the tools in dealing with landlord / tennant issues.  It allows for a conversation, it has accountability and it looks for solutions to addressing the issues.  There are good landlords, there are some who could be better with a little education, and there are some who will never believe having a grown up conversation is important.  However, I also have to believe that this could be a great forum for helping renters be better – and better informed – tenants, as well.

And for those who have gotten this far and want to ask me why I don’t just move.  My response to that is it’s an easy answer for someone who has money to pay movers and all the other costs associated with moving, but it doesn’t really solve the problem with the bigger picture of it all.  It also doesn’t hold my landlord accountable and it means they get to do this to the next person who moves in.   

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