Realty Bites

My neighbor doesn’t wear a face mask. Is there anything I can do?

Austin Havens-Bowen
By Austin Havens-Bowen  |
August 19, 2020 - 9:30AM

New York City requires face masks to be worn in building common areas like elevators and laundry rooms.


A man who lives in my building does not wear a face mask or social distance in the halls, laundry room, or mail room. I’ve asked him several times to please follow recommended guidelines, but he’s dismissive and doesn’t seem to care. What can I do?

According to New York City’s Covid-19 guidelines, everyone should wear a face mask when leaving their apartment or room, including when in building common areas. Most buildings have signs posted in elevators and common areas as a reminder. 

Since the start of the pandemic, most residential buildings have implemented policies and guidelines. In addition to requiring face masks and social distancing, buildings are limiting how many people can ride in an elevator together, and have closed amenity areas like gyms, so you should check out your building’s specific Covid plan.

[Editor's Note: Realty Bites tackles your NYC rental questions. Have a query for our experts? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]

When you encounter a neighbor who refuses to wear a mask or practice social distancing, you should reach out to your resident or building manager first, says Mitchell Berg, a representative from Maxwell Kates, a property management group that oversees more than 130 buildings in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. Your management company will then likely send a letter to your neighbor requesting cooperation.

Keep in mind that people with certain medical conditions are exempt from wearing a face mask. According to the state’s guidelines, “If you have a health issue that makes you unable to tolerate a face covering, you do not need to wear one”—but they should still social distance. 

“We recently received a letter from an owner saying she’s unable to wear a mask due to asthma, and she provided a doctor’s note,” Berg says. The building’s attorney advised that it was a valid excuse.

The type of building you live in might determine how face mask and social distancing scofflaws are dealt with. Co-op buildings tend to have much stricter rules, and according to The New York Times, some co-ops have even adopted policies to fine shareholders who are flouting face mask requirements. If you live in one of these co-ops and your neighbor doesn’t pay the fine, the board might add the charge onto his maintenance bill. Repeated violations of the mask rule after a fine could result in a case against him for defaulting on the proprietary lease

Buildings with doormen or other staff will likely remind everyone to follow the rules. If you live in a rental building with little to no staff, it might be a little tricker.

If your building isn’t responding to your complaint and you’re concerned that they’re not following Covid protocols, you can file a complaint with the city


Austin Havens-Bowen

Austin Havens-Bowen


Austin Havens-Bowen is a writer and reporter. He previously covered local news for the Queens Ledger and The Hunts Point Express in the Bronx. He graduated from Hunter College with a BA in media studies. He rents a one-bedroom apartment in Astoria with his boyfriend and their two cats.

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