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What's a Board to Do About Noise — When It's the One Making a Racket?

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"The tension really comes between the collective desires or needs of the building, against a limited number of people," Tierman says. "As long as the co-op board isn't reducing the value of apartments or violating the law, and as long as it's showing some degree of reasonable restraint — not allowing rooftop parties 24/7, for instance — the general rule is that you have to subject yourself to the decisions of the board. On the other hand, if noise and vibrations are severe enough, they can override the board's decision."

In the case of the deck, the unhappy shareholders listed 10 demands to correct the rooftop noise problem. The board implemented some, Tierman says, and rejected others. An issue that was "incendiary" at the outset was thus defused. "The residents accepted the compromises," he says, "and both sides backed down and reached an agreement."

Tierman cautions people with noise complaints against hastily hiring a lawyer and taking the board to court. "The courts want to look at noise complaints only if the board is acting in bad faith, out of spite, or if there's double-dealing," he says. "If you're going to go for it, you'd better be sure you're going to win. If you lose, you're branding your apartment as one with a problem. If a future purchaser looks at the board's meeting minutes, all of a sudden they're tipped off to the problem."

Of Noise and Listening

Few solutions are perfect. Luckily for boards, they don't have to be. "Sometimes, if someone tries to address a complaint, it's helpful — even if the solution isn't perfect," Caputo says. "The bottom line for most people is feeling that their complaint is being heard and someone's trying to deal with it. That's half the battle."

In the end, professionals advise boards to take all reasonable steps — but also realize that one person's rationality is another's lunacy. Archer says the experience has offered him a valuable lesson about managing a multi-unit dwelling. 

"What this has taught me is that you have to make every effort to pacify a shareholder who has a complaint," says Archer about the Larchmont cooperative. "This board certainly did that. I think the board did way more than they were required to do. But she shouldn't be living in an apartment building, where noises between floors are common. Some people should live on farms."


From the February 2012 issue of Habitat magazine. For print-magazine articles back to 2002, join our Archive >>

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