If you’re struggling to find something in common with someone living in Barcelona, mention noisy neighbours and hey presto! It’s amazing how many of us suffer the loud music, TVs, footsteps, talking and arguing of those living above, below or next door. It’s equally amazing how many of us put up with it, with a “well, that’s Barcelona for you; nothing can be done about it” attitude. However, the following personal stories show that if you’re resourceful and determined, it’s possible to get positive results or at the very least learn to live with the situation without going insane.
Tony lives in the Eixample:
“I’ve had problems with noise from different tenants who’ve rented the flat next door. Sometimes it’s a case of recognising that the walls are paper-thin, though, and it’s not always that the noise is unreasonable. What’s more, I’m noise sensitive and a light sleeper, but although I often wear earplugs, sometimes that isn’t enough.
When I can’t sleep because of the noise, I feel angry and frustrated, sometimes even vindictive. Once, after being kept awake all night by some neighbours, I was so furious that when I left for work in the morning, and assuming that they were sleeping, I kept my finger on their doorbell until one of them answered angrily. I said nothing and just walked away. It was very immature but I had needed to relieve the frustration. It’s not the right way to act, though. I think the best thing to do is speak directly to the neighbours, but when I get wrenched from my sleep at three in the morning, I normally end up just banging very loudly on the walls which usually works.
My landlord happens to be the landlord of the other flat so I’ve just kept complaining to him. I think other neighbours have, too. In fact he’s thrown tenants out before because of such complaints. Anyway, recently he added a clause to the rental contract stipulating no loud noise after 12pm, and things have been a lot better.”
Julie lives with her partner in Clot:
“Furniture scraping, a small child running, objects dropping on the floor, loud voices… Every day, this tends to be my 7am wake-up call, courtesy of the family above. The fact that I also usually fall asleep to the sound of their chatter from their terrace can leave me feeling like I’m part of the happy family. Except it’s only them whooping excitedly when their little one achieves another personal best in hurtling down the length of their flat. He celebrates by leaping about with joy and his parents shout for him to do it again, and again, and again.
Their front door slams at various times throughout the day, sending a shudder through me as I sit working three metres below. The woman’s daily telephone conversations to her mother—lengthy and, of course, loud—have my partner pacing in his study. The soundtrack to the rest of our day is clattering, banging and more furniture scraping as the woman frenetically cleans, and all accompanied by heavy, pounding footsteps.
We tried talking to them and were shouted at and had their door shut in our faces. We then spoke to the president of the comunidad de propietarios (neighbour’s association), and he got the administrador de fincas that manages the building to send a letter, warning them about the noise. When it arrived, we heard the woman screaming hysterically and in the aftermath, the noise level tripled for a few days. We decided not to take the matter further; we just don’t want the conflict.
So we’ve adapted. The fact that we both work from home made this fairly easy. We now get up at 6am and wallow in that hour of tranquility as we start our day, and I listen to my iPod before falling asleep. We try to be out of the flat in the late afternoon and early evening when the woman’s parents tend to be over and there is even more mayhem. Of course we don’t think that we should have had to resort to such measures to have some peace in our daily lives but if it means our neighbours from hell don’t dominate our every waking moment, so be it.”
Maite lives with her partner and three-year-old son in Gràcia:
“We’ve had terrible problems with the flat above, which the owner leases short-term to tourists. Often tenants are young and play music until 4am, walk about in high heels and move furniture in the early hours. At first we tried talking to the various tenants but they would invariably carry on.
As the situation continued, my little boy was not getting enough sleep and would wake up crying and was even sick at times. I was really stressed and exhausted. I tried using earplugs but I was worried about not hearing my son if he called.
Eventually I contacted the administrador de fincas. They emailed the owner, who lives in France, and she apologised but nothing changed. Shortly afterwards, I had the chance to meet with her, and to some extent she seemed to sympathise but also tried to turn the tables by saying that I must make noise myself as I have a small child. In fact I’m really careful about that and often check with my neighbour below to make sure that we don’t disturb her.
After speaking to the owner, there was a brief period when things were quieter but then the problem escalated over the summer with a group who put on loud music every night and used the washing machine at 2am. The agency sent more emails and then, after a few days, my partner called the Guardia Urbana. Officers went to the other flat without involving us and told them to stop the noise. It was their last night anyway but since then other people staying have been quieter.
To be honest, I’m not sure I handled the situation well. At the beginning, I think I was too diplomatic and it might have been more effective to have just called the Urbana straight away, as that’s what seems to have got results.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
The type and volume of noise, and the time it occurs, determines your rights. The city council’s environment department states on its website that “within homes, any activity that can disturb a neighbour between 9pm and 8am is not permitted”, and gives examples of such activities, which include using electrical appliances, playing musical instruments and moving furniture. The volume of noise allowed depends on where you live, with regulations varying by neighbourhood, village, town, etc. but to give you an idea, the maximum decibels permitted at night (between 9pm and 8am) in Catalunya is 30, which is the equivalent of a hushed conversation in a library.
Trying to resolve the problem by speaking directly to the neighbours is a good first step. If the problem continues, you could speak to the president of your neighbours’ association. If other neighbours have also complained, the president could organise a meeting between you all and the nuisance neighbours, or you could officially complain to the city council as a group. If it is tenants in a rented property who are the problem, try to speak to the property’s owner.
If you decide to take the matter further, you have the choice of making an official complaint to the city council or civil legal proceedings—but bear in mind that getting a positive outcome in both cases is very difficult. In the first case, a complaint is presented to the city council; an inspector will look at the problem and decide where to go from there. This action can be started in person at your local council, via internet (www.bcn.cat) or by calling the free ‘Civic response line’ on 900 226 226. You can also call the Guardia Urbana (092), who will go to the neighbours’ home and start the process, if officers agree you are within your rights.
Through civil legal proceedings, it may be possible to have the noise stopped and win compensation for damages. For more information, and to find a lawyer specialised in such cases, contact Advocats Especialistes en Contaminació Acústica (Lawyers Specialised in Noise Pollution)—www.aeca.cat.
Whichever route taken, it is wise to keep a written record with relevant dates for future reference.