Q&A: Noisy Neighbors

Man feeling tired in the morning after a bed sleep

Q. Hello, I am a shareholder of a two bedroom co-op. There are two occupants of the co-op unit under me. One goes to work, while the other individual is a malingerer. Neither is of the mindset “live and let live.” Neither has a problem with making their presence known. Countless emails to management about the excessive noise have been dismissed. The bad behavior continues because there are no repercussions. As a result, I have been denied the “quiet enjoyment” of my apartment. Since management is indifferent to my suffering, I am considering seeking assistance elsewhere. Specifically, to the shareholder’s mortgage lender. If I were to lodge a complaint against this individual, would the company send a warning letter or take any action to rectify the problem?

—Abused and Fed Up

A. “Noise cases are probably the most difficult cases for the victim to prevail in,” says Dov Treiman, managing partner at Manhattan law firm Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. “The courts are uniformly of the opinion, ‘That’s life in the big city’ and have repeatedly written such in precedent after precedent denying the victim any kind of relief. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as where a professional sound engineer can demonstrate that the building is out of compliance with Code when it comes to noise transmission.

“However, where the victim is a shareholder, it might be wise to think carefully before pursuing a claim of the building being out of Code, as the fix can be extremely expensive and can show up in the victim’s maintenance charges as a large assessment (especially in smaller buildings).

“What may appear as indifference from building management may simply be the knowledge (or even direction from the board) that a fix to the problem is too expensive for the co-op to pursue, especially in a time of widespread economic distress caused by the pandemic. Of course, the other effect of the pandemic is that people are spending more time at home and are having more opportunity to be annoyed by what their neighbors are doing or failing to do. The pandemic may also be the reason someone appears to be a ‘malingerer.’ Some industries are recovering from the pandemic better than other industries are.

“What never works is reporting noise to a shareholder’s mortgage company. If the board is not threatening to terminate the proprietary lease and shares, the mortgage company simply does not care. However, the attempt at such a report could wind up with the noisemaker suing the victim for defamation or worse.

“If the shareholder really wants to pursue this matter, step one is going to be hiring an acoustic engineer to document the issue and furnish recommendations for addressing it. If the acoustic engineer finds a genuine issue and proposed cure, the next step for the reader is to hire competent counsel, but even the best law firms in these cases rarely achieve a desirable result for the victim.” 

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