Eleni Magoulas, President, All Area Realty Services
Noise problems are a fact of life in apartments in New York City, and we saw a very large influx of noise complaints as people stayed home more during the pandemic. Typically, we’ll have the neighbors speak with each other, and they usually resolve everything. Or we’ll send out a complaint notice to the people who are making the noise, they’ll contact us, we’ll explain to them what’s going on, and they’ll try to rectify it. But we ended up having one specific situation at a condo in Mineola that just wasn’t rectifying itself.
The noise was starting very early at 5 a.m. and going on nonstop until very late at night. The people in the unit below had been living there for six years and had never experienced that until these new people moved in. They’re a family with young kids who are leasing the apartment from the unit-owner. The people downstairs work nights and need to sleep during the day, so they went from living very happily to a nightmare. They spoke to the family upstairs, who said they were sorry and would put down some carpeting, but they didn’t. And then they stopped answering the door, even when they were home and making noise.
The downstairs owners contacted us, and we went to the board, which wanted us to start keeping a log of every occurrence. We talked to the owners below, who started logging all their complaints and taping the actual noise. It was so loud that they were actually able to record it from inside their apartment. We took all that and sent a notice to the people upstairs, but they didn’t do anything. That’s when the condo board decided to bring in their attorney to try to rectify the situation. The attorney contacted the upstairs owner and sent them the recordings, so they could see that the complaints weren’t fabricated and it’s not somebody just making things up. We were hoping to come to a resolution where they would put down real noise-absorption carpeting, but they didn’t.
So we suggested that the board modify their bylaws by imposing a fee structure for noise complaints. The existing rules included just a reminder to be mindful of neighbors between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and that if there were complaints you had to put down 80% wall-to-wall floor coverings, but there were no fines. The board changed that to a $200 fine for the owner for the first offense, and $500 for every subsequent offense. The upstairs owner has now received three fines on their account, and they’re aware we have the documentation to back up the noise complaints. This condo has about 60 units, and we’ve also recently started receiving complaints from other neighbors about the noise from this apartment, so it’s no longer one person complaining. Now that the owner sees the fines on their account, they’re speaking to an attorney. We’re hoping this will get resolved very soon.
Unfortunately, just sending a friendly notice doesn’t always work. So sometimes you do have to create a structure of penalties and fines. It may be easier for a board to not involve itself in neighborly disputes, but I do believe with any issue in a building, a board has to be proactive. You have to listen when there are complaints, because you don’t know where it can go and what it can lead to.