Tougher building regulations, neighbor etiquette essential to stem conflicts
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Apartment noise has emerged as a major social problem. / Korea Times file
A murder case involving apartment noise last week alerted the nation to the severity of the issue.
Life in an apartment complex can become hell if your neighbors upstairs make all kinds of noise day and night. Apartment noise has emerged as a major social problem over the past few years but the problem is there is not much that can resolve it.
Last week a 47-year-old man living in an apartment in Jungnang district, Seoul, was arrested for allegedly killing two visitors to a neighbor living upstairs for making noise during the Lunar New Year holiday.
With more than two thirds of people in and around Seoul living in apartments or multi-housing buildings, disputes among disgruntled neighbors over noise are rising sharply.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government and other local administrations have taken diverse steps to help resolve apartment noise, including tougher regulations on flooring and soundproofing construction materials. The city will set up a task force to tackle the issue and come up with a comprehensive package of countermeasures by the end of June.
But analysts say making floors thicker is simply not enough. They said behind the growing disputes over apartment noise are more fundamental reasons such as growing individualism, miscommunication and lack of understanding.
Korea Environment Corp., a unit under the Ministry of the Environment, has set up a team dedicated to providing telephone counseling services for those suffering from conflicts with neighbors over noise.
"Apartment noise is really a huge problem. We have as many as 90 phone calls per day," said Kim Young-soung, a staffer at the center. "Our job is to help them reconcile with their neighbors through constructive dialogue. In the first place, we encourage them to talk with their neighbors, and then offer tips for constructive dialogue."
Kim said misinterpretation of neighbors' motives for the noise and poor communication skills tend to cause people to fight over inter-floor noise.
"We found that people tend to overreact to noise when they are not familiar with their neighbors. Meanwhile, people think that noise is tolerable if they know their neighbors and have had conversations with them," he said.
Citizens can dial the number 1661-2642 for consultations on disputes with their neighbors over noise problems.
According to the noise consultation center, the number of complaints filed stood at 7,021 in 2012.
Analysts also said the rise in disputes over noise reflects generally increasing stress levels, discontent in society and anger management failure.
Kwak Keum-joo, a professor of psychology at Seoul National University, says that Koreans' increasing stress levels among both the rich and poor, amid deepening social polarization, is one of factors underlying increasing conflicts over apartment noise and other once trifling issues.
"Hit by high taxes, rich people feel they are unfairly treated as they think they earned their wealth with their hard work. Poor people, meanwhile, are also discontented because they can't pull themselves out of poverty no matter how hard they work," the professor said.
Kwak said that without addressing these conflict-causing factors, people will easily vent their anger and sometimes commit crimes in a fit of rage against noise and other small things.
An analyst at the House Culture Research Institute said that construction-related laws should be toughened to establish legal grounds to harshly punish builders violating regulations designed to reduce noise.
"With many housing regulations not legally binding, builders don't follow the rules. Also, people living in apartments don't follow basic etiquette. That's why we are having these endless conflicts over apartment noise problems," said an analyst from the institute.