How Boards and Residents Can Reduce Noise New York City's Noise Laws


New York City is known as the city that never sleeps��and for good reason: the city noise can be enough to keep anyone awake 24/7. In a city packed with millions of people, who often live in tight quarters, New York City residents experience noise pollution from both external sources (construction, for example) as well as within residential buildings. Recent regulations have been introduced to address noise within the city. In addition, there are steps boards, shareholders and residents can take to lessen the amount of noise within co-ops and condos.

The Latest in Noise Regulations

Although New York City has had noise laws on the books for many years, recent changes to those laws reflect the current state of the city's noise-pollution challenges. According to the Mayor's Management Report, released in September 2007, "The 311 Customer Service Center received 1,163,177 NYPD-related inquiries in Fiscal 2007, which generated 383,688 quality-of-life-related service requests, of which 62 percent were noise-related."

"There wasn't any comprehensive noise code until the 1970s," says Steven R. Wagner of the law firm of Wagner Davis PC in Manhattan. "Noise control laws were a hodgepodge and the noise control code was an attempt by the city to locate the majority of the laws in one place. Updating them over time was an attempt to make them more accessible and enforceable."

"Originally the noise law was Local Law 57 of 1972, which was amended in 1985, overhauled in 1998 and then again in 2005. It became effective on July 1, 2007," says Wagner.

"The new noise code addresses the number one quality of life complaint in New York. In 2006, 350,000 noise complaints were made through the 311 system, so it really is the number one quality of life issue," says Michael Saucier a spokesperson for the New York Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Michael A. Newman of Dunn, McNeil, Ramsay Inc., a Manhattan-based consulting engineering firm, with an expertise in issues of sound and vibration, says the new noise code "reflects the city's current landscape and takes into account advances in acoustics technology. For example, soundproofing materials for wall assemblies, floor and ceiling assemblies, and soundproofing for windows and so on have significantly improved. Some of the materials used today were not available 10, 15 or 20 years ago."

"The noise code addresses issues including barking dogs, music from clubs and construction sites," says Saucier. "Residents deserve as much peace and quiet as they can get in the context of a lively, thriving city of 8.2 million people. And over time we will see a difference. Just by having a plan that people know is in place will help cut noise some."

The new code outlines rules and regulations for governing noise, and sections of the code are enforced by the DEP and the NYPD.

"The new code is all about finding a balance, not about turning the city into a farm town. People do have a right to sleep," says Saucier.

In addition to the noise code, noise laws are contained in other statutes.

"For example, part of the Criminal Code has a prohibition against excessive noise. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Law has provisions on excessive noise, and the Public Authorities Law also has provisions on excessive noise," says Wagner.

The Basics of Noise Measurement

Noise is always present, and whether or not something creates a disturbance is subjective. Noise can be measured in decibels (dB) by a sound meter, which records the levels of sound graphically. These numbers show changes in sound. Noise is measured against ambient sound, which is the noise that is always present, or background noise. These instruments locate and separate the sound, and determine the background noise.

The sound we hear is quantified in decibels. For example, says Newman, "If you're whispering, that's 30 decibels. Normal conversation is in the 50 decibel to 65 decibel range area." Louder noise, such as traffic outside, usually ranges from 70-85 dB. A train or subway is about 100 dB. A jackhammer is 120 dB and a jet plane taking off is measured at 130 dB or greater.

"When somebody is upstairs in a condo on an exercise machine, the decibels increase from maybe 55 to 60 to 110. Not only are you creating additional sound, you're creating vibration. The vibrations that are caused by a treadmill go into the building and into the columns in the floor, down the columns and into the floors above and below," says Newman.

Penalties and the Biggest Offenders

With construction occurring all over the city, year-round, it's no wonder that noise from construction is the number one noise-related complaint. Living with and tolerating noise from nearby construction sites is easier said than done. If noise becomes excessive, however, there are steps that can be taken to report the problem.

"If a construction site is outside your home, you'd call 311 and we would schedule an appointment and go and check it out, and from there, a few things could happen," says Saucier. "Those include issuing a notice of violation, or getting a noise mitigation plan in place by a certain date if the noise was about a certain decibel level. If there's a complaint, we will respond and a judgment is made."

The type of violation dictates whether it will be handled by the DEP or NYPD.

"Enforcement is shared between the DEP and police department. How one would address a construction site would differ from how a nightclub would be addressed or an ice cream truck would be addressed. Either way, the possibility of the source receiving a notice of violation is there," says Saucier.

"Penalties under the new code have increased," says Newman. "They are dependent upon the selection of the code violation. One might be a construction job site, another is someone banging on the floor in an apartment."

Fines can become extremely expensive: For example, a construction site that hasn't responded in 30 days can be held responsible for each of those days.

Reducing Noise Inside

Ideally, every resident of a co-op or condo would keep his or her neighbors in mind when making any kind of noise. Unfortunately, many residents at one time or another have had to deal with a loud neighbor. This is especially true when units share walls, or when the ceiling of one unit is also the floor of the unit above it

"At night, shareholders of units can do certain things to attenuate the noise in their apartments. They can pay attention to not walking heavily, talking loudly or shouting in the unit above," says Newman. They can also keep the volume low on sound reproduction devices, such as televisions and speaker systems, and limit playing musical instruments to during the day, not in the evening.

In addition, shareholders can be respectful of their neighbors by not placing exercise equipment, such as a treadmill, above the bedroom of the unit downstairs.

Placing washing machines or dryers on vibration isolators, which absorb some of the machine's activity, also reduces noise within buildings.

"The way you attenuate sound is by mass. If the sound is passing through, there may be something that can be done to increase the mass, such as using heavy carpeting on floors or something between the walls of two adjacent apartments," says Wagner. "There's the 80 percent rule, which states that 80 percent of floors must be carpeted."

It's also wise to make sure that any holes between apartments are sealed up, which will reduce sound traveling from one residence to another.

"Sound passes wherever there are holes between apartments," says Wagner. For example, sound travels through the spaces around pipes that run through multiple apartments.

Aside from noisy residents, features of the building itself could be creating a disturbance. In co-ops and condos, this could come from mechanical sources, such as mechanical equipment on the roof, air conditioners, exhaust fans or elevators. These issues can all be looked at and attenuated, says Newman.

Addressing Shareholders Concerns

While the new noise code addresses many commercial situations, says Wagner, with the exception of noise from animals, there's no standard between residential apartment to residential apartment. When noise is coming from within the building, shareholders will often bring the matter to the board. It's important that the board communicate to all shareholders that they are concerned with everyone's right to peace and quiet, and encourage residents to respect each other.

"In a co-op, the warranty of habitability applies because you have a lease, so the board is responsible as a landlord to try to abate the problem," says Wagner.

Try to settle the dispute without picking sides, and without heading right to court. If you do head to court, be prepared for a difficult battle.

"The complaints I get most often in residential situations are about music and noise made by children," says Wagner. "I try to have parties to mediate, or I try to steer the board away from commencing lawsuits unless they have solid evidence that one party is overwhelmingly creating noise to the detriment of the other party."

He notes that it is difficult to win a case involving excessive noise unless you have technical expert evidence that shows that noise is coming into an apartment way above any reasonable level.

"Unless it's really outrageous, it's unlikely you'll get a judge to evict someone from a co-op. You have to pack a courtroom to win a case like that," says Wagner. "I had a case where the court distinguished between what was disturbing and what was an inconvenience. Children running around was considered an inconvenient—but normal—activity."

So what constitutes noise? Because it is such a subjective matter, it can be difficult to prove that someone is truly disturbing others. The language in a typical proprietary lease can help define noise, as well as set forth rules and regulations.

"A typical proprietary lease might read, 'No lessee shall make any disturbing noise in the building that will interfere with the rights, comfort or convenience of the other lessees.' Then there also can be specific prohibitions about playing musical instruments or stereos," says Wagner.

If your board finds itself stuck in the middle of two residents, or with a noise problem that seems to have no easy fix, it might be time to call in an expert who can offer solutions to attenuate the noise. Consultants can conduct a site visit, interview the client, conduct a field inspection, develop field notes and make a sketch. They also take physical, sound and vibration measurements and take photographs for exhibit purposes of a unit. A consultant might also examine, read and review any correspondence, documents, plans and specifications and invoices, and analyze that collected data.

"We produce written reports containing recommendations for remediation, product specifications for mitigation, a timeline for completion of work and a dollar estimate of costs," says Newman.

If your board decides it needs a consultation, it will run approximately $1,750 to $3,500 (or $250 to $300 an hour), according to Newman.

Noise from construction sites, traffic and even your neighbors will likely continue to be an issue for New Yorkers. And while the city will never be silent, boards can take steps to address excessive noise problems and attenuate noise within their co-ops and condos. Addressing shareholder concerns—whether by calling in an expert or drafting rules to lessen noise from individual units—can go a long way in keeping residents happy. And even though noise can never be eliminated completely, there are ways to get some peace and quiet - and hopefully a good night's sleep.

Stephanie Mannino is a freelance writer and published author living in Hoboken, New Jersey


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  1. Another well written article on the subject. I have taken to reading such articles purely as therapy--to a nagging noise problem that probably will never be resolved. After living under a relentless stomper for nearly a year and have tried everything there is to try short of a law suit or soundproofing my ceilings, we are simply left exhausted and defeated. Inspite of all the stuff everyone says about noise codes, at the end of the day, none is to be found written anywhere. Maybe some co-op boards are more equipped to deal with this issue, not ours. In a loft building, no one wants to touch the 80% coverage , first of all. Until it's their turn to be under stomping cave-man or non-stop running children. Otherwise, bare hardwood floor rules. Our board members basically told us we can't tell people not to walk the way they want to when they want to, even between 1 to 4 a.m. everyday of the week. It's wonderful to read these thoughtful articles,I wish people that wrote them could give us a hand before we become totally insane from sleep deprivation and anxiety. Help!!!!!!
  2. I feel for you! I live under a stomper too, but that is not my bigger problem at the moment. Though I will say, I gave him a rug to help me, and he took it (over 2 years ago). It got a bit better, but he is just a born stomper. It's really inconsiderate and I've stopped bugging him about it. He is young, and I find that the longer a person lives in an apartment, the more considerate and attuned to these things he/she becomes. It's the ones who are fresh from the suburbs who are the least considerate because they just don't know. That's a generalization. Anyway, my problem comes from pipes which are a common element. About half the time I am home, I hear this awful high pitched noise from them. I've complained before, but was answered with indifference. Now I'm doing some research, but cannot really find anything, not even in our bylaws.
  3. I purchased an apt in the Belltel building in Bklyn. Noise was a hugh concern of mine. I was told not only by the sales team and the builders that noise was not a problem. But now with people moving in, I hear closet and kitchen doors closing, people walking barefoot! babies crying, normal sounds even pentatrate not only from above but next door and above next door. I've done some electrical work in the apt and noticed in certain places there was missing insulation and sheetrock spacing where the floor meets the sheetrock. The vents are a nightmare you can hear people having normal conversation as if they were in your apt. The complaints are pouring in. Is there anything we can do??
  4. A. "Local Law 57" concerns bathrooms, NOT noise. B. "The new code","the new code","the code", "the code" ???? WHAT'S THE CODE? Are you being cute? And "well written"? Jeez!
  5. I have lived in an upper eastside townhouse coop as a sponsor unit renter since May. Before and since that time the building was infested with bed bugs making 80/20 carpet undesirable. I have the typical high heels back and forth above me. My concern is a musician next door to me. Their music drowns me out in my one room studio, the floors vibrate. Its not a few hours its all day long and coming in at 11:30 and playing. One time from 1am-5am with a band. Half way through I called 311 and they called police. However police came and 7am and said there was no noice. Did they come? I had to call 311 to find out the result. I placed an HPD complaint as to the commerciality of the noise; i.e. bands rehearsing, music being mixed. I have not heard from them. Apparently I have to follow up. A month before the 311 episode I had written the tenant in a non accusing manner just letting them know the noise I was experiencing and asking them if they were experiencing the same. They said nothing in reply. Before that I wrote the landlord and no reply. I asked the landlord again in person after the 311 incident, nothing said. Our lease has language about respecting the peace in the building particularly after 10pm on weekdays. Still the landlord did nothing. They are drowning out anything I want to do in the apartment. Also the floor and bed vibrate. I believe they began to muffle after the second landlord notice but always winding up way out of hand. Muffle still is a loud enough background noise its as if they are in my apartment. Clearly its better than their blasting. Any ideas? This musician moved in several months after I began renting here. I am keeping a diary. I want to have someone measure the noise but don't know who to turn to as I have no money.
  6. Elise, your story sounds exactly like mine, except I am in lofts located on Taaffe Place in Brooklyn (Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy). There are several bands in these buildings, which I did not know about until I signed the lease. The noise goes on day and night: electric guitars, drums, from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. on many weekends and even weeknights. I have tried to talk to these neighbors, but they feel entitled to make this noise, and have ignored my requests. My cat is going crazy. The landlord tolerates it, makes a show of trying to do something, but in the end really only cares about getting rent money. 311 has been useless. The police show up six hours later, and on the few occasions that they encounter the noise, they say they are not empowered to give any noise violations. And it makes the neighbors even more determined to play their guitars louder. I'm going to have to find a new apartment when my lease runs out. I had such dreams of making this place somewhere I could go at night after a long day working in Manhattan. I'm so upset, and feel powerless.
  7. I live in a co-op and I can hear my next door neighbor cough and sneeze. It's almost like he's in my apartment, but that's nothing like the noise coming from a new lounge that's opened about a quarter of a block away. Music or what goes for music keeps coming on strong until 4 a.m. I've called the police and I do know that the last time I called they did nothing. How can the city license an establishment that is known to be responsible for such noise in the early a.m. I think that this is outrageous.
  8. I'm saddened but comforted to find and read this site; it is validating after going on Craig's List to look for new place. Learned today from real estate attorney noise clauses in coop leases have no teeth. What I thought were rules, actually do not apply. Everything I've read on this site I sadly relate to. Time to leave New York City for a quiet shack.
  9. coming from a music lover on
    I live in a co-op in NY and my upstairs neighbor plays the piano. it used to be for 4-5 hours into the evening but after 3 letters to our board-- it was limited to one hour. We still feel we should not have to be disturbed for any scheduled time, daily. Many co-ops have house rules that restrict all muscial instruments- proving our request is not unreasonable. Those rules exist and for good reason!! We also deal with stomping, slamming doors and yelling and I understand it is harder to solve those everyday issues, but the issue of the disturbing piano playing does have a remedy!! Thank you for this article! I quoted it for our board to hopefully get a professional in here to measure the volume, and not on our dollar!! Thanks again!
  10. somebody please tell me: at what point do parents become responsible for their toddlers? having raised 2 already, I know that it's not safe, nor is it appropriate to run inside.....anywhere. not at school, not at the Y, not on a library, not in places of worship and not at home. why is it that parents can teach their children not to run inside any of those places except for at home? they can teach them not to run into traffic, not to run alongside the pool, not to run in a parking lot......but still it's ok to run at home. we are co-op owners that live under a family of 2 toddlers and 2 parents. we are on their schedule at most times (the other times are when they are away) i have no need for an alarm clock, as daily thumping from 6:30 on is my wake up call. i have cut myself with a knife, when one of the kids jumped overhead while i was making supper. i have to go into my bedroom to talk on the phone, as the noise above makes it difficult for the other person on the line to hear me. my husband's blood pressure has sky-rockeketed due to all of the impact and resonate sounds being dumped over our is like living with a huge soup pot over our heads and someone is banging it with two huge wooden spoons on either side. we fight over this and have lost much quality to our lives. and please, do not get me wrong...the children upstairs are lovely and the family are a loving family --- they just don't seem to be interested or have much respect for our comfort, because "kids are kids". first of all....the kids have no concept of where and how we all live...these kids still do not understand that people live underneath them. well at 3 and 5 years, i say: they kids have missed out on the formative and productive way of transporting themselves with respect to their neighbors downstairs. and yes: we've thought about putting the unit on the market. we've seen two agents and they said that no one will buy this place (as lovely as it is) with two toddlers living above. not to mention that in this market we will still take a sizable hit against what we paid (when we first looked the unit when it was on the market there was not noise upstairs. the second time, there was a little pitter patter - we we told it was a visiting grandchild.....moths later, once our offer was accepted and we finally closed, we heard the beginning of the end of our peaceful life.)
  11. thank you for a very informative article and breaking the nyc noise laws down, but my question is: what if a shar holder on our coop is not breaking any records with re to decibels, but is having sex loud enough for all to hear one flight up, on stoop in front of bldg. And what if at times they are talking on the phone in a very sexual, aggressive, crude, sexually abusive manner with that being audible in hallway. It is really that although he has a right to privacy. His private conversations and sexual encounters are loud enough for us to hear, and it is especially disturbing when we enter the building with our very young children? Any light you can shed on any ordiancnes that would specifically cover this would be helpful. We have spoken with him and sent a letter asking him to keep the volume down in these cases, but i dont know if he will comply or if his compliance is only temporary so would like to be prepared for the next level of enforcement if necessary. thank you
  12. OMG, you want to talk about noise? I own a Queen Co-op..listen to this. The savages upstairs sleep all day and are up all night. I think they run a packing business. The put together crap all night long, hammering, dropping crap, with a machine (probably a compressor) that goes on an off for 15 minute intervals...this goes on all night. They are inconsiderate and no one has done anything about it. I am a very conscientious resident and even walk in socks. I have written the Management and they had done NOTHING, the board, another disappointment. So what are my choices? Now I get up at 6 AM and turn up the volume, with my speakers practically on the ceiling playing LOUD Salsa...I want some one to knock on my door to complain. I have tried to resolve this amicably, have taken all of the appropriate steps to involve the useless mgmt and I M taking matters into my own hands. Yup, an Eye for an other choice. But Salsa may not be a punishment...maybe I will play Hard Metal Rock and go for a nice long walk...yeah, that's the ticket!
  13. Reading these postings makes me really feel for everyone, having endured several noise problems in NYC myself. After a couple of polite requests, it's time to blast the stereo on the ceiling, as the above poster recommends. Many posters here seem too nice! One can still be a nice and good person and refuse to be a victim. Fight back!
  14. pissed and tired of the whinning on
    Ok,,, this is the prob. all of you that complain all the time, if the noise bothers you? move, buy a home or something, knock it off with the complaining, you are not going to get anything out of it, you all complain until you live on a 2 floor & get complained on, the kidds get up & walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water(complaint),the kidds go to the restroom(complaint), the kidds eating at the kitchen table and the wife washing dishes(complaint), quit being baby's about it, you can not always have it you'r way specially if the person above you has 2yr seniority over you, if you dont like to hear footstepps or kidds run(kidds are going to run like it or not) by the way,,,, dont live on the first floor or dont rent at all, buy you'r own home so you could have you'r peace and quie. me , i live on the 2nd floor cause at the time of move in the 1st floors were not avail.,t
  15. I feel for you all, but know what you mean. The arse who is suggesting that buying a home resolves all ills, is clearly deluded. Noise issue is a concern and sadly environmental health can help, writing the landlord can also help, but the sound speakers reeks courage. I will try that with my base box from Bose
  16. I live near subway !!! this is crazy !!! I get Health problems but my rent is low I cant sleep at night it is like TRAIN INSIDE my apartment... I am looking to move
  17. I live in a in Sheepshead Bay aNd have a family above me that lied to the Co-Op board to get in. There is suppose to be a single man with another single man in a 2 bedroom. What they neglected to tell the board was that the roommate was the brother in law or future brother in law of the man who bought the co-op and that the sister already had 1 child and was pregnent with another. So Now I have the sister and brother in law sleeping on the living room floor that start banging if I am up beyond 11:30 PM M-F with a todler that is up running back and forth until 2 AM on the weekends. They also use this apartment like a family flop house whenever any of their friends or relatives need a place to stay so they are sleeping on the floors of the living room and dining rooms. If I have a doctor's appointment and rise a 6:3- to have coffee and a shower ( 45 mins before they usually wake) they are banging, stomping and slamming doors. There is an 80% Carpet with padding rule in the building which they don't have because they would be able to slide those cots an aerobeds in an out easily I suppose. Did I mention that they fancy themselves musicians so I here guitars and drum machines all the time. They gave even had the nerve ti have a band up there once. When they throw their big family get togethers all you here is high heels clacking, chairs being slid in and out attended kids. This is why years ago people like this would have been discriminated against. Is there not a law now that limits the amount of people that can live in a 2 bedroom apartment; if the board here knew this was going to be they would have never got in here. What can I do? Can I sue in small claims court?
  18. I live in a mitchell lama co op in Manhatten. For six months I have made both verbal and written compliants regarding noise from children and adults. I tried to solve the issue in a friendly way via one written letter, three discussions with mother of kids, one with aunt and one with great aunt. The noisemakers consider this to be harrassment and had a lawyer write a nasty, untrue letter about me to the board which as now added to my stress. They claim the children engage in normal play. Well, they had to call the nypd for the older child who was out of control one week after their meeting with board. Yes, during month seven they got a slap on the wrist. What was the advice from my board cal 311. I like the members of the board but I am living in noise hell. I guess I willtry to move to another apartment in the building and guess what I will have to downsize from two bedrooms to one because I now live alone. Yet, ten years back another single women was allowed a lateral transfer. I am so lucky!
  19. I live in a coop and for the past 4 months I've been experiencing vibrations in the floors which passes to the furniture including my bed. The vibrations are intermittent, can last minutes or hours, can be mild or medium or strong. I complained about it when it began and maintenance didn't feel anything and didn't believe me. So I hired a company to take measurements and they confirmed they do exist. The problem is they are below code. The board said they spoke to the residents in the apartments above, below and on either side and no has the problem. They said they also inspected these apartments and couldn't find anything in them that would cause vibrations. Two lawyers told me I don't have a case. Is there anything left for me to do short of selling?
  20. I live beneath a stomper myself. I've taken the neighborly route and to no avail; wrote a letter to the board, also to no avail. If you have a heavy step, why choose to live on the second floor of a coop to begin with? And once you know you are disturbing someone, is that not motivation to be more mindful as you walk around? Or perhaps at the very least meet all obligations of the lease regarding noise control? Is human decency and respect so very much to ask? The unit above me was vacant when I purchased, so I had no idea. Don't know what to do except sell.

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