We live in a private house on the first floor, and my landlord, who lives above us, throws frequent parties with loud music that go on for several hours. I know tenants in apartment buildings can lodge a complaint against other tenants, but what if the offender is your own landlord? Do I have any recourse? How do I approach this?
Whether you rent or own your NYC apartment, noisy neighbors are something you’re going to come across (and possibly be kept awake by) at least once—and likely a whole lot more. However, that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it all the time, but it is a tricky conversation to have if your landlord is the culprit.
“We all know that noise complaints can escalate, so if the person can approach the noisy neighbor in a more friendly, collaborative way, that’s a better approach,” says Michele Kirschbaum, director of programs at New York Peace Institute, which offers free mediation services for disputes in Manhattan and Brooklyn, including harassment, civil or criminal matters, and noise complaints, the majority of which are loud music and kids running around, she says.
Starting with validations like “I know it’s hard to keep the noise down,” “We live in crowded New York City,” or “The walls are thin,” are helpful ways to normalize the conversation before explaining how the noise has impacted you or your family, Kirschbaum says.
“Try to problem solve it in a collaborative way—this isn’t just your problem, it’s our problem,” she says. If you or your neighbors haven't already contacted your landlord, she suggests reaching out together. Consider treating noise as a building issue, like a need for more insulation.
When speaking to your noisy landlord, it’s best to broach the subject “gingerly,” says Steve Wagner, a partner at real estate law firm (and Brick Underground sponsor) Wagner Berkow, who has handled a number of these cases.
Starting with compliments is a key negotiating tactic, like explaining how much you love the apartment, except for one problem. “In many cases they won’t hear anything else," Wagner says. "If they continue listening, you can explain what’s going on with the noise and ask if there’s anyway we can keep it down or soundproof or maybe agree on hours for the drumming,” Wagner says.
“Take a look at your lease, and see whether there are restrictions on the hours for noise, which is obviously something that would tip for you in the house rules,” he adds.
When should you address noise with your neighbor?
Kirschbaum recommends not addressing the noise when it is happening as “you’re probably upset, and you may not put your best face forward and might come across as hostile,” she says.
In the meantime, you can file a 311 complaint (and remain anonymous if you like), but doing so “can be considered an aggressive act,” Kirschbaum says. 311 noise complaints go to your local police precinct, and officers may respond if they don't have a more immediate emergency.
If the noise is intolerable and must be addressed, take a deep breath, stay calm, and try to be reasonable “because you get more out of folks when you’re collegial,” says Kirschbaum.
You’re calm, but your noisy neighbor is aggressive
The best way to diffuse the situation with a noisy neighbor is to reflect—and listen, no matter how hard that may be, says Kirschbaum.
“If someone is becoming hostile to you or is angry at you, say that you hear what they’re saying, you understand what they’re saying and that you acknowledge the fact that they seem to be very angry, but want to work this out,” she says.
But if their hostility intensifies, “you might not feel safe, so you have to judge whether or not you’re going to continue in that kind of conversation if it’s becoming threatening,” Kirschbaum says.
At that point, it might be time to involve your landlord or a mediator, who can invite the landlord or property manager to come in with both of you to solve the problem, she adds.
Even if the issue goes unresolved after such a meeting, just having both sides air their grievances “does a lot to calm things down and ease up tensions, and the door to communication has been opened,” Kirschbaum says.
While she’s seen “things tone down a little bit” after these meetings, some residents do seek legal help, but “it’s very expensive to prosecute these cases, and there’s no guarantee that you’re going to win,” Wagner says. “Usually, one person can’t stand it anymore and leaves, and the winner is probably the one who stays.”
If you’d rather not leave, check out Brick Underground’s best advice for dealing with bad neighbors, especially if noise-canceling headphones aren’t cutting it, and also how these three New Yorkers coped with nonstop noise.
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