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I'm a co-op board member. We're thinking of putting in a gym for building residents, but I've heard about finicky apartment owners suing over the noise coming from amenity rooms. What can we do to ensure that the noise is contained and we're not running afoul of the law?
"From both parties' perspective the main thing to do is to make sure that the gym is constructed with sufficient soundproofing to prevent noise transmissions into the adjoining apartment," says Bonnie Reid Berkow, a partner at the law firm Wagner Berkow with more than 30 years of litigation experience.
At the moment, Berkow is representing a building's board in such a case, where an owner is suing over the installation of a gym. To try to preempt this kind of legal action, she recommends consulting with an acoustic engineer and following their recommendations for soundproofing before opening the gym doors. To keep neighbors from feeling blindsided by the addition, it also helps to tell them about your plans.
"Talk to them," Berkow says. "Don’t just surprise them with what’s happening. Say, 'We’re doing this, we’re having a professional come in to advise us on the noise.' That could forestall any possible future complaints."
Once the gym is open for business—and these rules of thumb apply to any potentially noisy amenity space, by the way, be it a kids' playroom or a residents lounge—there are other precautions the building can take to keep from running afoul of the city Noise Code. The city rules prohibit certain types of noise between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., so, Berkow says, "I would recommend that the-co-op restricts the hours of operation so that the gym is closed during those hours if there is an apartment in close proximity that would be disturbed by noise at night."
Additionally, the co-op should post signs asking people to be considerate of their neighbors, to keep TV and/or music volume low, and to not drop weights. These sorts of signs and rules are all indications that the building is making a good-faith effort to reduce noise.
Another factor to consider is the number of people in the space at one time. The certificate of occupancy may allow one amount of people, but that same amount may create a big racket if all those people are working out (or partying, or playing) all at once. In consultation with your sound expert, figure out what's a reasonable number of people noise-wise, and make a rule limiting occupancy if necessary.
Despite all this, direct neighbors may end up living with the annoyance of the occasional thud or rumble.
"I don’t think it’s possible to make it dead quiet," Berkow says. "However, nobody is guaranteed a dead quiet apartment in New York City. There is always going to be noise from outside or from neighboring apartments."
So it becomes a matter of degree. And New York being the cacophonous environment that it is, it'll take more than just a few isolated daytime thwacks here and there to get the authorities' sympathy. Sustained pounding for a half an hour starting at midnight is another story.
One final precaution your building can take is to install a security camera, and, if you have overnight building staff, keep a log of people using the amenities.
That way, Berkow says, "If there is a future complaint, the board can know who was the source of the noise, and can go and talk to that person."
New York City real estate attorney Bonnie Reid Berkow is a founding partner of Wagner | Berkow with more than 30 years of experience litigating in state and federal courts in New York state, including cases involving breach of contract, fraud and breach of fiduciary duty, in addition to real estate disputes and commercial actions. To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, send an email or call (646) 780-7272.
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