Recent neighbor disputes over noise traveling between floors left two people dead and several others injured. The incidents, which took place in Seoul during the Lunar New Year holidays, raised the need for fundamental and institutional measures to solve the deteriorating problem. Also shown by them, as noted by some psychological experts, was Koreans’ hot-tempered personality.
In a country where more than 65 percent of its population lives in apartments, the combination of the noisy living environment and short-tempered residents would cause more fatal neighbor disputes in the days to come, if not properly addressed.
In an apartment complex on Saturday, two brothers in their 30s were stabbed to death by a 45-year-old man after they engaged in a squabble over the noise coming from their parents’ house. The murderer was staying at his girlfriend’s home on the floor directly below them.
In another incident the following day, a 49-year-old man set fire to the home above his in a multifamily dwelling after a long dispute over noise. Six people including the homeowner and his grandchildren were severely burned.
In recent years, similar cases occurred in Daegu, Gwangju and other provincial cities as well as Seoul. An office set up by the Environment Ministry to help solve disputes over noise received a total of 7,021 complaints last year.
It would be ideal for neighbors to settle feuds over noise through mutual dialogue and concessions. Unless one lives at the bottom or top floor of an apartment building, it is possible that he or she is annoyed by noise from above and at the same time makes noise bothering those below.
But it may be too much to expect apartment residents, who rarely communicate with one another in the anonymous living environment, to resolve the problem in a smooth and reasonable manner. What complicates the dispute is the lack of clear and effective rules for regulating noise between neighbors and compensating for distress with it.
There is no specific legal ground for curbing noise coming from neighboring houses while sounds and vibrations from vehicles and construction sites are subject to regulatory measures. A process for coordinating environmental disputes refers to excessive noise levels, but these are so high that no compensation has actually been given so far. It should be taken into account that residents causing noise that annoys neighbors can face considerable fines or even eviction from their homes in Britain, Germany, the U.S. and other nations.
In a belated move, the Land Ministry announced this week a plan to impose stricter building regulations to reduce sound traveling between floors of an apartment building. But the measure needs to be supplemented with provisions for specific penalties for violations, if its effectiveness is to be ensured. It may also be helpful to encourage apartment complexes across the country to include procedures for solving noise disputes in their management rules.
Concerted and continuous efforts should be made by residents, construction companies and relevant government agencies to prevent the problem from resulting in more tragic incidents.
Koreans also need to be more adroit in controlling their temper to live secure and harmonious lives in multiplex housing. The number of people diagnosed as having impulse control disorders increased from 1,660 in 2007 to 3,015 in 2011, according to the National Health Insurance Service.
The combination of impatient individuals and growing conflicts in society has increased crimes committed out of anger. Figures from the police showed the number of people who committed murder or arson from sudden outrage rose from 306 and 347 in 2000 to 465 and 583 in 2010, respectively.
Cramped housing conditions may be one of the factors that have made Koreans more short-tempered. Under these circumstances, Koreans are all the more required to be more considerate and accommodating toward their neighbors.