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by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition
Recent articles examining the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the soundscape have reported that while complaints about sounds from overhead planes, construction, and bars have been reduced, neighbor to neighbor noise complaints have increased. This is explained, in part, by the fact that more people are staying in their homes over longer periods of time. The Japan Times addresses this issue squarely in its story, “Gripes about noisy neighbor boil over in Tokyo as stay-home drive drags on.” But this article adds another element to these neighbor complaints–violence.
The story highlights two incidents in which people stabbed their neighbors because they could not stand the noises the neighbor was making. Violence following noise is not new. There have been articles written over the years detailing individuals acting violently against neighbors who have imposed their loud music, footsteps, or voices on them. But what has been happening in Tokyo with 2020 noise complaints during the pandemic is that they have exceeded by over 25% the number of phone calls reporting noise during the same period last year. While noise, according to this article, has already been a leading cause of trouble between neighbors in Japan, it appears that the increase in complaints during the pandemic has resulted in a greater interest in trying to resolve such complaints.
The Japan Times cites Professor Emeritus Norihisa Hashimoto, who explains that people who are the subjects of noise complaints believe such claims are unreasonable while those who make the complaints feel frustrated as the noise continues unabated. He calls for “a specialized organization for hearing their stories neutrally.”
This difference in perception between those who are making the complaints and those who are accused of being noisy has always been the case. I know this because as a member of GrowNYC’s Board of Directors I have been asked frequently to resolve neighbor to neighbor noise complaints. While not always successful, the large numbers of times I, as a neutral listener, have succeeded in reducing the noise strongly suggests that it is worthwhile trying to mediate such noise problems. I believe public officials in New York City who have also assisted their constituents with noise complaints will say the same. I would also like to point out that New York City’s leases stipulate that landlords should provide residents with “reasonable” quiet. Thus, landlords and managing agents can limit intrusive neighbor noises as well.
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.