Rental Rookie

Rental Rookie: The basic rules of noise defense

By Michelle Castillo  | December 15, 2010 - 6:36AM

If you don’t come from a big city--or you’re a light sleeper--the shock of constant traffic, screaming sirens, and neighbors in close proximity can drive you slightly mad when you first move to New York.

The first rule of noise protection: Don’t Do Anything You Wouldn’t Want Done to You. 

Cut out all excessive noise after 9PM. Yes, it would be awesome if you could nail up those posters when you get home from work, but your next door neighbor might not appreciate it if they have young kids trying to get to bed.

When you do decide to hammer, make sure you don’t do it so hard: Sometimes the walls are thin. My friend and I were sitting on her couch when we heard loud pounding from the apartment next door, followed by a splitting crack that started to spider web across her walls.  We went downstairs to tell them to stop, but it turned out to be people hired by the management to upgrade the apartment. Within a week we had a floor to ceiling crack that needed immediate repair.

Also, remember to turn down the television so everyone down the hall doesn’t know that you watch Grey’s Anatomy, and when installing subwoofers and surround sound, be careful that it doesn’t affect everyone else around you.

Rugs also go a long way to dampen sound, and there’s a good chance your building will require you to put down rugs on at least 80% of the floor (though in practice this is usually only enforced if someone complains about your noise).   Felt cushions on the bottom of your furniture are a neighborly way to prevent the scraping sounds from bothering the people below.

No matter how quiet you are, chances are you will live near some neighbors who don’t abide by “the rules,” like the “party” apartment two floors above us that blasted rave music from Thursday through Sunday nights. We started by shutting the windows, which dampened the noise enough for me to sleep. They turned it down a bit once we asked, but my roommate, whose room was more directly affected by the techno noise, never could sleep very well through it.  In situations like this—or if you live across from a bar or down the street from a fire station--a good set of earplugs that you can wear to bed is a must.

Do not--I repeat, do not--resort to the broomstick against the ceiling/wall technique; rudeness tends to be met with rude behavior. Many people will at least try to be more quiet if you ask nicely—or they may even go a step beyond, like my new next-door neighbor, a producer who constantly blasts the music. To keep us all sane, he soundproofed his apartment with thick foam. It works like a charm. Also, he really only lets the music blast on the weekends and tries to keep it down on the weekdays.

Obviously, if you live in building with an actual, responsive management company, you have another place to turn for help correcting a neighbor’s loud ways. 

Final straw: As a New York City resident you have a legal right to some peace and quiet. Check out the noise codes ( For extreme cases, call 311.  Chances are the law is on your side.

Next up: Fighting for your right to heat and hot water


Michelle Castillo moved to Manhattan last fall to attend Columbia University's Journalism School. She has covered arts and entertainment for The Los Angeles Times,, Hollywood Reporter, and, and she currently writes about geek culture for's TechlandRental Rookie is a twice-monthly column chronicling her first year as a renter in NYC.


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