New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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When a Neighboring Building Is Making Noise


Outside Noise
Feb. 22, 2017

When we think of noise complaints, we tend to think of the insomniac downstairs with the baby grand piano, who mistakenly believes she’s the reincarnation of Frederic Chopin. Or the three squalling children next door, whose parents believe it’s important to let them “explore new ways to express themselves.” Or the thrash metal band that uses the apartment upstairs as their practice studio. These noisy neighbors are a nuisance, to be sure, but there’s nothing unusual about them and we’ve told co-op and condo boards how to deal with them.

But what about that maddening, low-frequency hum that’s emanating from a building somewhere in the neighborhood and driving everyone in your building to the brink of hair-tearing distraction? A woman in Astoria, Queens, who faced just such a nightmare pinpointed the source of the hum to a new luxury building that just opened nearby. “I feel like I’m part of some Cold War torture experiment,” the distraught woman tells the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times. “Where do I turn for help to do something about the noise?”

First, the wise Times advises, try to gain access to the property. Approach the superintendent to ask if he has noticed this sound. Ask to see the boiler room and mechanical equipment. Keep the conversation amicable. If you do not make any headway, try the managing agent. You may hit a wall.

“We’re in the age of denial,” says Alan Fierstein, owner of Acoustilog, a Manhattan noise consultant. “People don’t want to give you the ammunition to give them a ticket or a complaint or a lawsuit.”

If you cannot get access to the property, contact the city’s Department of Environmental Protection by calling 311. Insist that an inspector come with equipment designed to detect low-frequency noises. You could also hire a noise consultant, at a cost of around $5,000. If your consultant finds that the noise violates the city code, inform the building’s management and insist that it address the problem.

If that doesn’t work, it’s time to do what you’ve been trying to avoid all along: call your lawyer.

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