Most of us assume (or have learned the hard way) that living above a busy restaurant or bar can be a mixed bag when it comes to excess noise — and excess smell — but it seems that something as innocent as a bagel store can turn into a headache for its upstairs neighbors, too. Hence, a recent lawsuit from an Upper West Side couple who claim that bad ventilation at Bagel Talk on West 78th pumped hot air — or "excessive, unabated and sustained heat," per DNAinfo's report on the lawsuit — into their apartment, rendering it essentially unlivable. Which got us to wondering: If even a kindly purveyor of breakfast carbs can become a nuisance, is it ever a good idea to live directly above a business?
"This is always one of those buyer beware situations," says Citi Habitats agent Bobby Neil. "You’ve got two parties with sometimes competing interests—the business owner, and the people who have the right to the free use and enjoyable use of their living space." As with anything, there are perks and problems associated with living above a place of business. One potential upside: "These apartments have a tendency to be cheaper because of the noise ," says Neil, "and you have to be willing to accept the savings in your rent as part of the deal that you’re going to experience [some sound pollution.]" (If you can find them, that is; Neil also told us that in order to avoid these disputes altogether, one club owner and landlord he knows only rents out the spaces above his venues to employees who he knows won't cause a fuss.)
Even outside the realm of bars, restaurants, and overheated bagel shops, you could find yourself running into an unexpected hassle. We recently heard a horror story from Bond New York agent Terry Harlow about a downstairs coffee shop that sandblasted its interior brick walls, and in the process, filled her apartment upstairs with the attendant dust. (Admittedly, this likely isn't a particularly common woe with coffee shops—or any other business—but still, yikes!)
Another surprising source of stress? "I had a case where a doggie day care moved in downstairs from a person who worked nights," says real estate attorney Dean Roberts of Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus. "It was loud during the day, and it became an issue."
And as we've written previously, New York law — and more pertinently, most judges — tend to work on the assumption that living in the city means putting up with a certain degree of noise, and to prove that the business downstairs is truly a nuisance, you'll likely have to bring in a professional company like Acoustilog to measure the decibel levels. In that particular case, the doggie daycare ended up paying for the upstairs neighbors floors to be soundproofed, so the pups got to stay put while the neighbors slept in peace.
So what won't cause you problems as a downstairs neighbor? "I've rented out apartments in a couple of buildings where there's a funeral home on the ground floor," says Citi Habitats agent Corlie Ohl. "If people can get past what's downstairs, they can be pretty happy there; it's usually quiet, and there are no insects or pests." (Believe it or not, we've actually heard tales from multiple New Yorkers who'll vouch that funeral homes make surprisingly solid neighbors. But not if you're easily creeped out.)
Failing that, it never hurts to try to make the most of whatever your apartment situation may be. "I had a client once who was a student, and she lived above a bar in the East Village," says Ohl. "She ended up becoming a cocktail waitress downstairs."