Q&A: Noisy Problems

Noisy Neighbors

Q “I have been a shareholder and board member in my building for the past 20 years. A year ago a new shareholder with two small children moved in above me, and since then noise has been a constant, serious problem as the kids’ room is directly over my bedroom. The house rules explicitly require apartments to be 80 percent carpeted, and the room overhead is clearly not. I have complained time and time again about the situation, but to no resolution. I have on occasion tried to speak to the upstairs residents, who seem to think that there is no problem, and have even gone as far as stomping their feet heavily across the room and dropping heavy materials on the floor in retaliation. I am at my wit’s end—what are my options?”

—Longtime Queens Board Member

A “The 80 percent of a unit’s floor carpeting requirement is typical in cooperative house rules,” says attorney Howard Schechter, a principal of the Manhattan-based law firm of Schechter & Brucker, P.C. “The intent is to provide noise insulation between the residents of one apartment and their neighbors below. The transmission of sound from one apartment to another is sometimes difficult to predict, and what might sound like stomping or intentionally dropping heavy objects to the person living below may, in reality, be nothing more than the sounds of daily living. People may also have significantly different sensitivity to noise. This complicates the resolution of noise complaints. One of the advantages of an 80 percent carpet rule is that it does not require the board to determine whether the upstairs neighbor is too noisy or the downstairs neighbor too sensitive. Whether the carpet is missing is an objective issue that can be determined without making subjective judgments about the people involved.

“Most boards will respond to no carpet complaints by inspecting the upstairs apartment to determine if the rule is being followed and will require that carpet be installed if it is not. A board that fails to respond to repeated complaints about such a situation is derelict in its duty, since it is the board that is charged with enforcing the rules. But this does not mean that the board is subject to legal action to compel it to enforce the rules. The board’s right to enforce the rules legally carries with it the discretion to decide which rule violations to pursue.

“There are legal options, but they are unlikely to result in satisfaction for the writer. The writer could either sue theupstairs neighbor for creating a nuisance or seek an abatement of maintenance charges from the cooperative for breach of the warranty of habitability. The problem with these approaches is proof. The issue will not be whether the upstairs neighbor has carpeting, but whether the noise is excessive. This goes back to the devilishly difficult issue of whether the noise is too noisy or the neighbor is too sensitive. It is very difficult to prove excessive noise without expensive testing by sound engineers using special equipment.

“At the end of the day, if the writer can’t convince the board to take action, the remedy is to seek the election of a more responsive board.”

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  • Howard, This was a great Q&A, as I live in a pre war bldg in which sometimes noises carry. Thank you, and keep up the good work. Sincerely, BMC
  • I'm a bit confused, it's a great article but wouldn't a 20 year vet of being on the board have some sort of voting power to have this person removed or install carpet?Come on, this person has been on the board for over 20 years! I want to join the board in my co-op because the old board members have not updated the building, but if being on the board does not allow to enforce noisy neighbors , what good is it?
  • This 80 percent rule, is it just a house rule or is it a new yok city rule? My coop manager tells me there is no such rule, but I was informed that it's a New York City rule. Trying to find the right answer before I make a stink...