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A Conversation About Noise


Michael C.: We have been discussing two ongoing noise issues in our building. The first is an elderly shareholder who hears noises in her kitchen walls. The board has spent $1,100 to have this issue addressed by an independent engineer. The professional determined that any noise was not at a decibel high enough to warrant a complaint. Our managing agent is now recommending that we offer to have her kitchen walls insulated. I say we have done our due diligence and if the shareholder wishes, she can attempt to rectify the “problem” on her own.

The second issue involves a board member who has been in a seven-year feud with her upstairs neighbors. She claims that they make noise above her at all hours. They are a professional couple with a young child and a new baby. Two years ago, she managed to have the corporation’s lawyer send the neighbor a legal letter, without the board’s knowledge or approval. The corporation ended up absorbing the cost. The upstairs apartment was also inspected by management and found to be in compliance with our 80 percent floor covering rule. Now, this board member is threatening to take the matter to court. Our managing agent suggests that the board consider offering to carpet one of the bedrooms in the upper apartment, on the premise of avoiding court costs to the corporation.


Mark Levine: In certain buildings, a “Quality of Life” committee is formed that has a board member and other volunteers who can sit down with both parties to try and mediate it [to a conclusion] before it gets out of hand. Sometimes, you’re dealing with reasonable residents who can work it out, but more often than not it will not solve the problem at hand. Often, you’ll have a situation as you described, with the shareholder above fully abiding by the 80 percent rule and that is not enough for the resident below. Now that the board has done its due diligence, it is really out of the co-op’s hands and should be a personal matter between the two parties for them to work it out on their own, and not on the dime of the cooperative. Certainly, since it is a board member in this case, they’re using their position on the board to sway the legal representative and the co-op’s pocketbook into a personal matter when it should not be. Noise issues are messy, and when you’re living in a multi-family building, there isn’t an easy fix for some complaints.


RLM: I surmise from your post that your building is frame, not concrete, yes? Is there any insulation at all in your building, or is it (like mine) sans insulation of any kind, exterior walls or between floors and ceilings? Could be worth the co-op’s time and money to fully insulate your building; it would save on energy costs and could help cut down on noise.


Riverdale: Yes, our building is also a frame-structure, though I don’t know about insulation between apartments. Probably very little, as I’m told in some apartments you can actually hear the answering machine of the apartment above. Our building was built as a rental and then went co-op. I’m told it went up quickly. My parents’ building, on the other hand, was built as a co-op and has stronger construction. They don’t hear every footstep or boards creaking.


Ex-Res Manager: Insulating the area may not be helpful if the source of the noise is from a mechanical source (motor, boiler, fan, etc.). In that case, vibration-dampening equipment may abate the problem.


Bob: This is how I have addressed noise complaints in the past: the shareholders would be advised to call the front desk when they hear the noise/sound. The concierge would then send someone from staff (two if necessary,) to investigate the report. A report would they be written up for management/board to follow up on the claim. The staff names would be kept confidential. I have found this method to be very successful.


Riverdale: I agree with Mark and the other responders. Noise is an awful thing to live with, particularly overhead. In our co-op, a shareholder complained about noise from the apartment above him, the managing agent inspected the apartment and found it covered 80 percent, but the rugs didn’t have padding underneath. She recommended padding to the upstairs shareholder, and hopefully, that will work. Other than that, I think the agent, co-op, and the shareholder are doing all they can. I like the idea of mediation, and will suggest it, getting the two sides to sit down together and talk it out, with board members and with the co-op agent or attorney.


Anonymous: I work as a resident manager here in the city. What I do if a noise complaint surfaces is we ask that the resident who is complaining contact the front desk with a noise complaint so one of the staff members can go up and verify what that resident is complaining about. I personally have been called well into the night and in some cases the complaint was justified in others it wasn’t. Best to have another opinion.

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