Q. I have an upstairs co-op shareholder who hosts four grandchildren every weekend, and allows them to run, jump, stomp, and roughhouse late into the evening from the time they arrive on Friday until they leave on Sunday around 9:00 pm. A letter produced by the co-op’s lawyer was sent to the shareholder ordering them to stop the noise, as well as to install floor coverings – to no avail. Can the co-op issue a fine and add to the house rules that if anyone in the co-op doesn’t abide by the rules the will be charged a fine for not complying?
—Desperate for Weekend Peace
A. “Answering the direct questions first; the law on fines is pretty much settled at this point,” says attorney Andrew Brucker of Montgomery McCracken Walker and Rhoads, LLP, which has offices in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. “In order for the board to fine shareholders who break the rules, there must be authority in the proprietary lease. Even general authority would be fine. For example, a lease that states that the board has the right to fine up to $100 per violation of the house rules or lease would probably be enough. There is no authority to allow a cooperative board to amend its house rules so as to give the board the right to fine tenants.
“Having said that, however, it seems that the upstairs shareholder has violated the lease by not complying with the carpeting rules. Most co-ops in New York have a rule that at least 80 percent of the flooring – excluding bathrooms and kitchens – must be carpeted. In addition, most co-ops have a lease provision that noises are not supposed to emanate from an apartment which disturb neighbors. So the lawyer’s letter to her should have had some teeth. After all, tenants can have their lease terminated if they are in default of their lease, and that in turn leads to eviction. So pressure should be put on the board to do something.
“But then there’s the reality of life. Grandchildren make noise, and there is no stopping this. I would strongly suggest that she speak to her upstairs neighbor nicely, and discuss the facts that grandchildren can be a blessing, but they can also be an annoyance at times. I would advise that the parties work something out and come to an understanding. Certainly, the downstairs neighbor must understand that there will be noise when one lives in a multiple dwelling – and many court decisions have said just that. On the other hand, the upstairs neighbor should be aware of the noise they are making, and she should make an effort to speak to the children.
“Keep in mind that if noise is so intense that it violates the New York City law against too much noise, then this situation is elevated to another level. The downstairs neighbor could bring in a noise expert to monitor the noise and take readings if she believes this to be true. But my guess is that this is not what is happening here.
“Noise (and cigarette smoke) are the two toughest issues that face co-op boards. In most cases, there are no simple solutions.”