New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine June 2020 free digital issue




Get Ready for the Hard Reality of Mr. Softee Trucks


Mr. Softee Hell

A harbinger of summer on a Brooklyn street.

April 19, 2017

Now that you’ve filed your incomes taxes, it’s time to get ready for another perennial certainty: the exhaust fumes and “music” that emanate from the city’s fleet of ice cream trucks. With the official start of summer still two months away, a resident of a co-op in Woodside, Queens, is already at wit’s end. “My neighbors and I are tormented by the jingle that plays on a loop and by the noise and fumes produced by idling truck engines and refrigeration equipment,” she says. “I cannot sit on my terrace when the trucks are parked nearby because of the fumes, and if I open my windows, they fill my home. What recourse, if any, do I have?”

So noise complaints are not always inspired by the neighbor upstairs.

“There are laws on the books that protect apartment dwellers from the excessive fumes and the onslaught of hours and hours of ice cream truck jingles,” attorney Jeffrey Reich, a partner at Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas, tells the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times.

City rules prohibit vehicles from idling for more than three minutes, Reich notes, and mobile food vendors cannot play music while the vehicle is stopped. As if! Since the noise code limits the amount of noise an individual can make while operating machinery, it’s possible to sue the owners of the offending truck, Reich says, seeking an injunction to stop the nuisance. But that would require hiring a lawyer and an acoustical engineer.

And there’s no guarantee such a ploy will work. “The compressor noise [from an ice cream truck] is a low-frequency hum that goes through closed windows,” says Alan Fierstein, the owner of Acoustilog, a noise consultancy in Manhattan. An inspector from the city’s Department of Environmental Protection may not be able to detect the sound, Fierstein says, because the low-frequency sound waves are “beyond the scope of most DEP inspectors’ measuring equipment.”

It might be more effective – and economical – to keep calling 311, your community board, and City Council member. You could also file complaints with your local police precinct. Or you could buy ear plugs and pray for the return of cold weather.

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