Noisy Neighbors Drive Me Crazy. Now What?

Whether you’re a renter in an apartment building, a duplex, or any other rental home, you deserve relatively quiet living conditions, no matter how many neighbors live nearby.

While neighborly noise is to be expected once in a while, a neighbor’s blaring stereo, shouting matches, or late night dance parties might take things too far.  So what should you do when you can’t handle the noise?

What Not to Do: A Personal Story

During my renter years, I moved into what seemed like an ideal scenario: a budget rent price for a modest upstairs unit in a landlord’s house. Things seemed great at first, until the landlord and her teenage daughters regularly shouted at one another from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m., consistently waking me after just a few hours of sleep. If I tapped on the floor (their ceiling) to remind them of the noise, the landlord yelled at me to shut up! Unbelievable, right?

They also kept a young doberman in a cage while they were away at work and school. Naturally, he wasn’t thrilled about and he barked. A lot. When the kids came home from school, he barked even more, at which point the angrier of the teens would shake the cage and shout at the dog. I’m sure it was traumatic for the dog, and all the noise and anger traumatized me for years, even after I left.

I couldn’t afford to move out, so I dealt with the nighttime noise by turning on a loud fan before bed each night to help lessen the impact of the downstairs discord. I was afraid to complain too much for fear of eviction, especially since we didn’t have a written lease. Once I finally earned enough to move out, I moved, posthaste.

Quiet Enjoyment

Don’t put yourself through the anguish I suffered for years when I was too inexperienced to know how to handle such things. Every renter — even in a situation such as mine — has a right to quiet enjoyment, the right to a peaceful place to live. This doesn’t mean you won’t hear an upstairs neighbor walking or moving furniture from time to time. It means the place should be peaceful enough from day to day to sleep or to carry on daily activities without being interrupted by aggravating levels of neighborly noise.

Step 1: Give a Simple Neighborly Suggestion

If you know your neighbor — at least well enough to share a friendly smile or “hello” once in a while — point out in a calm, gentle manner that their speakers, dog, or television is so loud it’s disruptive. It could be that they’re unaware that anyone else can hear what goes on behind closed doors, or maybe they think their dog is quiet while they’re away for the day. For your own records, write down the date, a summary of what each of you said to one another, and whether the issue was resolved.

If you feel intimidated about approaching your neighbor directly, go to Step 3 below.

Step 2: Read Your Lease

If your neighbor isn’t responsive or repeatedly causes a cacophony that keeps you up all hours of the night, it may be time for more serious action. If you live in a building, read your rental agreement to look for any language about excessive noise. Make a copy of the page, highlighting the appropriate information, and give it to the noisy neighbor. Be sure to point out any verbiage about potential for eviction due to noise violations or information about “quiet hours” in which all tenants are expected to be relatively quiet.

Step 3: Contact the Landlord

Contact your landlord, and spell out exactly what’s going on: the type of noise, when and how often it happens, and any methods you’ve taken to try to resolve the issue yourself. If the noise has been going on for hours, ask an on-site property manager or the landlord to check out the situation while it’s happening.

Step 4: Get Your Town Involved

If your neighbor’s noise can be heard outside or from shared common areas such as a hallway, they may be in violation of local noise ordinances.  Contact the non-emergency police number if you can’t find this information on your town’s website. Ask the representative for information about noise regulations. If your neighbor is in violation of the ordinance, let the landlord know. It’s in the landlord’s best interest to deal with the problem since he or she could be held responsible and receive a warning or citation.

If the noise sounds dangerous or threatening or all of your efforts have seemed in vain so far, contact the police. This approach works best if the noise has been going on for hours or if it happens at the same time regularly. The police or a noise-enforcement official may visit with a decibel meter to determine whether your neighbors are in violation of local laws.

Step 4: Arrange a Meeting

Contact other neighbors to see if they’ve been bothered by the noise. If so, arrange a meeting with your landlord and all affected, including the noisy neighbor. Power in numbers may be enough to convince the neighbor to quiet down or for the landlord to evict a noisy tenant. If it seems the noisy person isn’t interested in quieting down, inform them that you and the others plan to take them to small claims court if things don’t change. Also say that the cause is well-documented by you, other tenants, the landlord, and even local authorities. All of this evidence may be enough to create a peaceful environment.

Alternate Action: Moving Out

Since you are guaranteed a peaceful living environment, you may have the right to terminate your lease if lack of peace is an ongoing issue.

Credit to Kathy Adams

Kathy is an award-winning investigative journalist, not to mention a writer, brand blogger, decor/DIY expert, renter, commercial landlord. She also writes for brands such as Behr, Kroger, Canon and Black+Decker on topics pertaining to home and apartment decorating and maintenance.

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4 Surefire Tips for Better Listing Photos

Simply understanding how to use a few key camera settings and pieces of equipment can make all the difference.

It can’t be stressed enough: Great photos help sell homes. The National Association of REALTORS®’ own research shows that well over 90 percent of home shoppers look online for at least a part of their search. For almost half of all buyers, accessing digital listings is the very first step in their process. And while there’s been much speculation as to the homebuying behaviors of millennials, this much is known for sure: Digital natives are much more comfortable with browsing home listings from mobile devices.

None of this is breaking news, but it does highlight just how important digital representation can be when you’re trying to show a home. One industry study found that when listings were accompanied by high-quality photos taken with professional equipment, they spent significantly less time on the market and fetched a premium of $3,400 on average.

Unfortunately, interior shots pose a variety of photographic challenges that are difficult for amateur photographers. Real estate pros shouldn’t be expected to transform overnight into professional camera wielders, but you can certainly benefit from a few tricks up your sleeve and some decent equipment.

Don’t Turn Toward the Light

This scenario might feel familiar: You want to show off the new windows in your client’s living room, but every time you snap a photo, the image is totally blown out. Photos with dark foregrounds and overexposed windows are a common problem that happens when ambient light from the outdoors tricks the camera’s light meter into overcompensating. A flash will balance out the lighting in the room, giving you a better shot. Alternatively, you can use your camera’s manual controls and settings. The right settings depend on the kind of equipment you have, however. For many point-and-shoot digital cameras, it’s mainly a matter of adjusting the ISO, although you may want to set the aperture to f/2.8 as well, if your camera offers that flexibility. For shots near a window, typically an ISO setting of around 400 to 800 works well, although you may want to go higher if you have particularly low light in the foreground. If you have full manual control of your camera, you can increase the shutter speed, which will allow less light into the camera sensor.

Try HDR Tonemapping

The main problem with photographing daylit interiors is that it’s difficult to balance between ambient daylight, artificial lighting, and dark shadows behind walls and in rooms away from the foreground. This situation presents a range of different exposures, and while the human eye automatically adjusts for the various levels, the camera will have a hard time making sense of it all. HDR, which is short for high dynamic range, is a common tool for handling such lighting situations. In essence, the photographer takes three or four photos in rapid succession, which are then combined into one image using specialized software like HDRSoft. Usually, one shot is at normal exposure, one is overexposed, and one underexposed. When those three exposures are combined into one, you’ll see all the details that the human eye can perceive. This results in photos with a vibrant, luminous quality.

Many point-and-shoot cameras have an exposure value meter, which can help you compose under- and overexposed shots. Generally, the meter reads a value of zero on the normal setting, +1 or +2 for overexposed shots, and —1 or —2 for underexposure. Use a tripod so you can play with different exposures while maintaining the same angle on each shot. You’ll also want to make sure automatic flash is turned off for this method. It takes time to perfect this technique, of course, but it can help you capture more detail in challenging settings.

Buy the Right Equipment

Unless you have a surgeon’s steady hands, you’re going to need a tripod in some situations. A tripod helps compose poised shots and avoid blurry photos, but it’s also incredibly important if you’re dabbling in HDR or mixing up shutter speeds. The longer your exposure time, the more likely it is that subtle movements will show up in the final product. You should use a tripod anytime you nudge the ISO to a higher range. Also, if you’re taking wide shots of the home’s exterior or enlarging your photos, even the tiniest shake will be a lot more obvious. In certain conditions, even the slightest breath can create a shaky shot. Avoid this dilemma with a lightweight foldable tripod.

You may also want to invest in a point-and-shoot with a wide-angle lens. When buyers are browsing through real estate listings, they really want to get a sense of the space. But that’s difficult to translate into photos unless you have a wide-angle option. This is important not just for exterior shots but for indoor compositions as well. A wider lens in the interior gives rooms a sense of luxury and space that you just can’t get with a regular shot. Point-and-shoot cameras that have a large range in their focal length specification are ideal; the lower the value at that end of the range, the wider the shot will be.

If you’re really interested in refining your shots, you’ll want a camera with manual controls that allow you to adjust shutter speeds on your own. Or it may be time to graduate to a digital single-lens reflex camera, especially if you want to experiment with wide-angle lenses (with focal lengths under 35mm, used for very wide shots). DSLRs have come down in price recently, especially since manufacturers like Canon and Nikon have introduced entry-level DSLRs aimed at beginner photographers. Usually these run for around $300 to $700, and they are available with bundled lens kits to get you started trading out lens lengths for sharper photos.

Get Rid of the Clutter

Staging photos ahead of time by cleaning off counters, tabletops, and floors can turn an ordinary listing into a real stunner. Clear your photography appointment with your client before you arrive, and tell them to clean, clean, clean. Even a detail as minute as a crooked picture frame or a rolled carpet edge can detract from your photos, so be sure to run over your shots with a fine-toothed comb. Decluttering means no power cords or vacuum cleaners in the shot—but it doesn’t mean completely sterile surfaces. A few welcoming touches like a stack of books, a vase of flowers, or a set of candles will make the space feel lived-in and homey. After all, that’s what you’re really selling anyway: a vision of buyers’ future lives in a new and welcoming abode.

 

Credit to Erin Vaughan

Erin Vaughan is a blogger, gardener, and aspiring homeowner.  She currently resides in Austin, TX where she writes full time for Modernize, with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.

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5 Things to Do When a Tenant Stops Paying Rent

I got into the landlord business purely by accident. Everything was going well, at least, for a while.

I thought I was lucky since my screening process consisted of a neighbor knowing a person who needed a place. Eventually, not surprisingly, my tenant stopped paying rent.

Since I didn’t have much experience as a landlord at the time, I listened to my tenant’s excuses and regularly took rent payments late. Before too long, my tenant was six months behind on rent.

Yikes!

I learned a thing or two since then, and now I know what to do when a tenant stops paying rent. If you’re a landlord, you should know, too.

1. Talk With Your Tenant

There’s a phrase I learned from Dr. Phil: “You teach people how to treat you.” By being a pushover with my tenant, they learned that when their bills piled up, rent could be skipped here and there without any repercussions.

Instead, I should have talked with my tenant. I should have asked what the problem was. It’s a good thing to be understanding, but tenants need to realize that they need to pay rent on time, or they can’t stay.

If you don’t pay, you can’t stay.

Let them know that you still need to pay your bills and, therefore, can’t afford not to receive rent.

The first time rent is late, let your tenant know that because you understand that renting this place has become a hardship, you’re willing to let them out of their lease early without penalty if they leave by the end of the week. If they don’t want to do that, let them know that you’ll be giving them a formal eviction notice.

That might be all it takes to get your tenant back on track and paying rent on time. When faced with the idea of needing to leave the property, quickly finding another place, and coming up with moving costs (not to mention paying rent and security deposit elsewhere), paying rent to you will probably become a top priority.

2. Send a “Pay or Quit” Notice

Almost every state requires a landlord to send a “Notice to pay or quit” when a tenant fails to pay rent. Basically, this is a formal letter (or email) that says “Hey, you forgot to pay rent! You have X days to pay it in full, or your lease will be terminated and you’ll have to move out.”

In most states, this “X” notice period is short, in the range of 3 to 5 days. If they don’t pay, and they don’t move out, then you can formally terminate their agreement and they lose the right to occupy the dwelling. If they still refuse to leave, then you have to file an action with your local eviction court.

3. File an Eviction Action

The only way to legally “force” a tenant out of a property is with the sheriff’s help. A landlord is never allowed to lock out a tenant or turn off essential utilities.

If you have a rogue tenant, you might have to go down to your local courthouse and fill out the proper paperwork for an eviction hearing. They will likely want to see the “Notice to Pay or Quit” that you sent, so be sure to bring that with you.

Once you pay the court fees, the administrator will schedule your hearing, which is usually 2-6 weeks out. You might be responsible for serving the tenant the subpoena, but some courts will do this for you.

Then, show up on your court date, explain your case, and hopefully you will win a judgement against the tenant. Then you can hire the sheriff to remove the tenant by force.

4. Pay Your Tenant to Leave: Cash for Keys

If your tenant doesn’t pay the rent after your talk, you still have a chance to avoid the eviction process. You can make a deal. If your tenant isn’t paying the rent because of financial problems, they might be motivated to move pronto if you pay them.

Yes, I know that this idea feels wrong. They owe you money, so why should you pay them?

You need to get your emotions out of this, and weigh the costs and benefits in a businesslike manner to help you make the decision. An eviction will get the tenant out. But it won’t be immediate. Check with your jurisdiction to find out how long evictions typically take.

Hint: Evictions generally take longer than you want to wait, typically one to three months.

Evictions generally (always) take longer than you want to wait.

If your tenant leaves immediately because you paid them, say, $250, $500, or even $1,000, you will probably be better off, not to mention the stress you’ll save yourself over the next month or more from going through the eviction process then trying to collect on the judgment.

5. Consider Hiring a Property Manager or a Lawyer

If you just aren’t the type to deal with a tenant who stops paying rent, or if you aren’t enforcing timely rent payments each month, you might be better off hiring a property manager. The same tenant who might try to get away with not paying you for a month or two probably won’t try that once a professional property manager is in charge.

The management company is a neutral third-party with systems in place for handling unpleasant situations.

Alternatively, you could hire a lawyer who will try to hunt down your money and barrage the tenant with notices and formal letters.

Credit to Laura Agadoni

Laura is a landlord, journalist, and author of New Home Journal: Record All the Repairs, Upgrades and Home Improvements During Your Years at…. Her articles appear in various publications such as Trulia, The Houston Chronicle, The Motley Fool, SFGate, Zacks, The Penny Hoarder, and loanDepot.

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