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Can I force my noisy upstairs neighbors to get more carpeting?

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Q: I live in a co-op building, and my upstairs neighbors have been renting for the past three years. My understanding is that they have 80 percent of the floors covered with rugs, but only in the bedrooms. They have three young children who run around and make a lot of noise. Can I legally force them to install wall-to-wall carpeting? And does the "80 percent rule" for carpeting include every room in the apartment, i.e. living room, kitchen, bathrooms, as well, or just the bedrooms and common areas?

A: To determine your neighbors' rug requirements, you'll need to look into your building's specific rules,  say our experts, and even if they are in your favor, they'll be tough to enforce. On top of that, you almost certainly won't have the legal grounds to strong-arm the renters upstairs to spring for wall-to-wall carpeting.

"The issue here is less the percentage of carpeting, but rather whether the noise created by the upstairs neighbor is sufficient to be deemed a legal nuisance, i.e. sufficient to warrant legal action and a finding that it must be corrected," says real estate attorney Dean Roberts of Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus. If your dispute gets this far, a judge would have to determine the level of nuisance your neighbors and their kids are causing. As we've written previously, this would entail bringing in an acoustics expert to determine the decibel level (more details on what levels are considered acceptable can be found here), and most of the city's past rulings in these cases find that living in New York means putting up with a certain amount of excess noise, particularly if it's coming from kids.

As for which rooms are required to have carpeting, Roberts points out that while many New Yorkers assume the so-call "80 percent rule" to be a matter of law, it's actually just a common regulation set down by individual buildings, so it all depends on what house rules your co-op has laid out. "The carpet rule is strictly a creature of lease and is not required by any statute or regulation," says Roberts.

You also don't have much authority to "force" the renters upstairs to do anything, says Roberts. "The problem is that you have no direct legal relationship with the other shareholder, much less the shareholder's subtenant," he explains. Instead, he recommends contacting the co-op or managing agent to address the problem, "and should they fail to do so, you may have to sue both the co-op and the other shareholder," he says.

If a lawsuit sounds like an even bigger hassle to you than your current noise channels, consider diplomatic channels: Our experts have previously recommended mediation in these kinds of situations, or striking up a compromise like offering to pay for part of the cost of new carpeting (or thicker padding). It may seem unfair to have to shell out when your neighbors are the ones making all the noise, but consider what will be cheaper: buying a few carpets, or launching into a full-blown lawsuit.


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