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Dear Sam: I play an acoustic guitar at home. Can my landlord impose a fine for a noise complaint? For what it's worth, I measured the decibels at the source when I play, and it's lower than a vacuum.
In a word: no. Your landlord doesn't have any legal standing to fine you for your guitar practice, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
"You can't be charged additional rent for noise," says Himmelstein, "And you're also not going to ever be evicted for playing an acoustic guitar in your apartment." New York Courts, as a rule, take the stance that a certain level of noise is just a fact of city life, says Himmelstein. "There are reported cases where people play instruments for hours a day, and the courts pretty much say you have to put up with it," he adds.
But that doesn't mean you can act unreasonably, playing at odd hours or blasting a loud amp or stereo. "I'd advise not to play before 9am in the morning or after 8pm at night," says Himmelstein. "If you're practicing Jimi Hendrix at midnight, you're going to get in trouble." And while it's not likely an issue with your acoustic guitar, in general, volume is an important consideration, as well.
"I once had a case where a resident was playing loud dance music with a thumping bass line, and the neighbors recorded the sound coming into their apartment," Himmelstein says. "He had to stop." But so long as you act reasonably and don't do anything to deliberately disturb your neighbors, you're well within the realm of legality—and any threats of a fine are unenforceable.
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Sam Himmelstein, Esq., represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan. To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.