Dear PoPville – How Do I Get my Landlord to fix the Banging in my Walls?

Photo by PoPville flickr user evegophotos

Dear PoPville,

My girlfriend and I live in a small apartment building. Since we moved in six months ago, we’ve been having a problem with this loud knocking/banging noise coming from inside the wall that happens most nights and keeps us awake, sometimes for a long time. We’re pretty sure it’s the water pipes, because when we run the hot water from our kitchen sink, the noise happens. But it also happens at other times when our water is off–presumably when one or more other tenants in the building uses hot water–including when we need to sleep.

We have tried earplugs (various types) with no luck. We’re used to some noise (we live on 16th Street) but this is very loud and right in our bedroom.

Our property manager hasn’t fixed it. We have sent him email after email for five months and he just keeps saying he will talk to the contractor. But nothing has changed. It’s incredibly frustrating.

Do we have any way to force the property manager to fix this? Can we hire our own plumber, even though this likely involves the plumbing of other units in our building too?

Whatever suggestions you can give us would be a huge help. We are tired of this literally and figuratively.

Any suggestions beyond contacting the Office of the Tenant Advocate?

30 Comment

  • “If the knocking sound occurs only when you turn on the hot water, it means that the water heater is set too high. The noise is steam rumbling through the hot water system. Turning the heat setting down may silence the pipes.”

    If it’s as simple as turning down the temp on the hot water heater, that should be a pretty easy one to resolve. Suggest your management company try this perhaps. Much easier than tearing out walls to find the source of the banging…

  • Buy a can of “Really Great Stuff” from Home Depot, it’s a foam insulation that comes in a spray can. Drill a hole in the wall large enough for the spray nozzle to fit into (carefully as not to drill into the pipes). Make sure you angle the spray hose of the can towards the pipes and surround them with the foam between the back and front wall. Patch the hole with caulking or drywall mud and tape. Problem solved, everyone’s happy!

    Waiting on a landlord to fix a non-emergency issue like this may cause more stress than it’s worth, especially if you’re in a place where the rent is reasonable.

  • I can think of two solutions:
    1. Change the laws of physics so that materials don’t expand and contract based on temperature.
    2. Replace all of the metal pipes in your building with PVC.

    I’d put the odds of either happening at zero.

    • I’ve got PVC pipes in my house and have the same problem….a plumber once recommended replacing PVC with copper to prevent the problem. Maybe this is a giant conspiracy by plumbers to have everyone constantly replacing their pipes?

  • Spay and neuter the rats

  • Maybe try consulting with an exorcist.

    • I was going to say call Zak from Ghost Adventures or John Zaffis from Haunted Collector…maybe you have some sort of really old item hiding in your apartment that he will, of course, find, remove and all your problems will be gone.

  • Question writer here. A couple months ago I recorded two snippets of the sound as it was winding down. If anyone is knowledgeable about this stuff and can help identify the cause, that would be great.

    • My old apartment had steam heat, which besides being lovely in the winter, produced all kinds of loud knocking. Loud enough to wake you up. Hot water pipes might be the same. I feel your pain, but I’m not sure there is any real fix for it.

      • Yeah I’ve lived in a place with noisy heating before myself. Was able to sleep through that or just turn off the heat. This has been more problematic because it’s louder, the sound sometimes lasts upward of an hour, and it’s outside my control.

    • definitely sounds like water hammering to me… i assume your building has a central boiler? that makes it a bit more complicated. if your apartment was served by it’s own hot water heater there’s a variety of things that could be done (valves, re-securing the fittings, expansion tanks) that could help and you might be able to convince a land lord to do. an old central boiler system though… draining the system could help for a little, turning down the temp might reduce the noise some. Would take a full investigation to figure out how to completely solve the problem though, and convincing your landlord of the need would be a real challenge.

  • I live in a basement apartment in AdMo and we have the same issue. I can’t say that it only happens in the evening but I am definitely more aware of it after television or music have been silenced for the night. Clang-clang-clang…

  • Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me
    twice on the pipes if the answer is no.

  • It’s a physical effeect called water hammer, and in order to fix it you have to replace that section of pipe… which means removing drywall and etc. Landlord is not going to want to do that.

    It sucks to be woken up and I empathize with you. I don’t think people are taking this seriously enough. On the other hand it’s JUST not serious enough (you aren’t dying) that the landlord will probably be successful in putting it off indefinitely.

    Life sucks sometimes. I’m sorry. 🙁

    • At least in older systems, you can stop a water hammer by draining the pipes.
      While that’s probably not the landlord’s favorite thing to do, it will actually save long-term wear & tear on the pipes, so it works out as a good deal.

    • At least in some systems, you don’t need to replace any pipe. You just drain the system of all water, and that corrects the problem (at least for a while…) While your landlord probably doesn’t want to go through the work/tennant inconvenience to do this, s/he really should, because it will save wear and tear on the pipes.

    • Yeah I hear you. For the same reason I doubt the Tenant Advocate would be able to help.

    • I’m not convinced it’s from the radiators; he says it’s hot water related. That’s a bit different and draining the radiator pipes won’t help unfortunately.

  • Your landlord should want to fix this. It can lead to serious pipe damage. Plus, it’s often an easy fix. We had this in our condo and it was fixed by adding a valve that let the pressure out. Cost us $50 I think.

  • I’m so sorry this is happening to you. I had a similar problem in a rental, and it was maddening. In my case, it turned out to be an issue with the incorrect placement of the water pipes. At some point, the handyman cut into the ceiling to fix it, and I got a free month’s rent out of it. But it was a battle for probably six months before that happened.

  • When we had a problem with our rental that the landlord refused to fix, we ended up putting our rent into escrow for several months while the situation was worked out. Basically, we were paying the money into an interest-earning account, but the landlord didn’t get a cent until we got a situation that was livable. Definitely worth investigating how to go about it within the laws of DC–it’s amazing fast that gets the slumlords off their ass.

  • First thing I would do is talk to the tenants above and below; if they are hearing it I’d get them to complain as well.

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