Ms. Demeanor's Vertical Etiquette

Dear Ms. Demeanor: The noise from our downstairs neighbor is making us miserable. What can we do?

If the noise is after 10:00 p.m. or during the early morning hours you also have recourse.

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Question:

My mother and I are shareholders in a co-op. We have lived here for more than 15 years and the unit under us has had four different occupants. Every one of them has caused us a lot of grief because of excessive, intrusive noise (loud tv, slamming doors and drawers late at night, and flushing the toilet to be annoying). The current occupant does not have covered floors. The board and management have responded to our complaints with platitudes and empty promises. My mother is 87 years old and has developed high blood pressure as a result from all the years of aggravation. We are miserable here, but we're trapped by a mortgage. We don't have deep pockets but wish we could bring the matter into court. We are extremely dejected by the indifference of those who have the power to come to our rescue. Signed, Alone and Adrift

Answer:

Dear Alone,

I am so sorry for the stress that has been caused by your noisy neighbors. Everyone should be able to enjoy a comfortable home environment.  

However, as I have stated in my column many times, city living—with people stacked in little boxes above and below each other—requires a different mindset. You can’t expect the same level of quiet that you would get in a house in the suburbs. 

Here are my suggestions: Look at your proprietary lease and see what rules are in place. In my building, 80 percent of all floors must be covered with rugs and/or carpeting. If this is part of the lease—and in most New York buildings it is— your management company is required to make sure that all tenants comply.  

Since the sound is coming from below, I would also recommend that you make sure your floors are covered as well to help absorb sounds from downstairs.

If the noise is after 10:00 p.m. or during the early morning hours you also have some recourse. Excessive noise during those times is considered a nuisance. You can make a complaint about a noisy neighbor through the city’s 311 system.

In some buildings the walls are thicker than others and stifle the noise better. Also, people have different sensitivities to sound. My son, who lives in a large home in Virginia on an acre of land, goes crazy when he visits me in my New York City apartment. He cannot believe the level of noise from the fire engines, ambulances, bar across the street and the little girl upstairs who plays the piano (badly). I feel his pain but I don’t even hear those things and sleep soundly every night.

You could also consult a lawyer, which would be more expensive. But I think that your best bet is to choose your battles. Everyday noise in the city is to be expected. Call your board or the management company only if the disturbances are egregious rather than the ordinary sounds that people are prone to make.

And a good pair of earplugs may also help.

Ms. Demeanor


Dianne Ackerman is the new voice of reason behind Ms. Demeanor. She has lived in her Upper East Side co-op for the past 20 years and is the vice president of her co-op board. She is filled with opinions that she gladly shares with all who ask—and some who do not. Have something that needs sorting out? Drop her an email.