by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition
For thirty years, I have served on the Board of Directors of GrowNYC, largely overseeing its noise activities. In this capacity I worked with our staff on preparing information for our website that informs readers on how to protect themselves from noise and also to respect their neighbors’ rights to a quieter environment in their homes.
Readers who are having noise problems can read my post on how to deal with noisy neighbors or they may contact me through GrowNYC. I hope our advice has influenced readers to be respectful of neighbors’ right to quiet. But, sadly, the people I hear from are those who have neighbors who do not realize or care about imposing their sounds on their neighbors.
In his report on noise in New York City neighborhoods, Thomas P. DiNapoli noted the large number of noise complaints handled by the city’s 311 Customer Service Center as well as the results of a survey his office launched to gain greater insight into the types of noise complaints received by 311. Residential complaints, which were high on the list, included “…banging or pounding of music, party or people noise coming from a home.”
Although the Police Department can respond to some of the neighbor to neighbor complaints, e.g. very loud, disruptive parties, many of these neighbor complaints have to be resolved by landlords and managing agents. In New York State, the lease that tenants sign entitle them to a “warranty of habitability,” and under this clause they have the right to requisite quiet. Unfortunately, it has been the experience of many tenants that noise complaints are not taken seriously by their landlords and managing agents. I know this because many people with neighbor noise complaints call me at GrowNYC and I, in turn, where permissible, contact their landlords or managing agents.
While I have had much success in resolving neighbor to neighbor complaints, in those cases where I have not succeeded residents had to go to tenant/landlord court. I remember one case where neighbors were complaining about children running across uncovered floors late at night. The judge took the noise complaint seriously and told the mother that the children should have been asleep late at night and admonished her for being a “bad” mother. He also sided with the complainant and ordered the managing agent to enforce the right of this tenant to “reasonable quiet.”
I have some experience with residents in private homes in New York City and elsewhere having no other option but to go to court. But I don’t recall anyone receiving the high award for damages noted in this British case, where the complainant was awarded over ￡100,000 (approx. $138,000) in compensatory damages. I find the award of $138,000 dollars striking. Particularly since the judge also ordered the company that owned the offending flat to carry out work on the floors that would reduce the noise.
In the apartment noise cases I have been involved with, judges have asked landlords to make sure that tenants have proper carpeting on the floors which is often stipulated in leases. In one case, the judge had asked the resident who created the noise to put back the padding to the radiator she had removed when she remodeled the apartment since the removal of the padding allowed noise to enter the apartment below.
I wish tenants, landlords, managing agents, and judges involved in neighbor noise cases would read the article on the large financial payout for inflicting noise on a neighbor. It might make them realize that: (1) noise is indeed hazardous to well-being, and (2) action must be taken to abate the noise or there may be a financial price to pay.
Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press. In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.