CNYC thanks Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D. for the following
guest article on the challenging issue of noise. Dr. Bronzaft
is an expert on this topic, a member of the Mayor’s
Advisory Council on the Environment and consultant to the
League for the Hard of Hearing. Information on how to promote
noise awareness in your building can be found on the League
for the Hard of Hearing website at www.lhh.org/noise.
The site also offers information on the annual National
Noise Awareness Day.
Managing agents and board members who frequently receive
noise complaints will not be surprised to learn that noise
is the number one complaint to the New York City Quality
of Life Police Hotline. However, too often, resident noise
complaints are not treated seriously, allowing the situation
to escalate into a battle between neighbors, and, in some
cases, resulting in costly litigation.
Noise is unwanted, unpredictable and uncontrollable sound.
But sounds need not be loud to be labeled noise. The sounds
that residents generally complain about are not that loud
– the continuous buzz from the boiler’s timer,
the dripping faucet that has not yet been repaired, or the
sound of the television set through common walls. Yet, these
sounds can be disturbing and bothersome.
The human body reacts to these noise intrusions through
a complex set of physiological stress responses, resulting
in a rise in blood pressure, a change in the heart rhythm,
and an increase in hormone levels. If the noise is sustained,
over time the stress can lead to cardiovascular or circulatory
problems. Noise can interfere with sleep, leading to attention
and concentration lapses the next day. Noise may intrude
on activities such as reading, talking, and listening to
music, and thus can lessen one’s quality of life.
Noise is not simply an annoyance! Studies have found that
noise is harmful to mental and physical health, although
we have not yet proven every link in the chain of causation.
(See League for the Hard of Hearing journal articles at
Those in charge of managing cooperatives and condominiums
must familiarize themselves with the research on noise,
so that they will not dismiss noise complaints, as too many
do and have done. They must recognize that noise can rob
residents of the quiet enjoyment of their apartments, as
well as a decent quality of life.
"Reasonable Sensitivities" Standard
If you believe that little can be done to ameliorate neighbor
noises, because one person’s music is another’s
noise, try applying the "person of reasonable sensitivities"
standard. Would a person of reasonable sensitivities be
bothered by footsteps above her head at six in the morning?
Or, by a neighbor’s television set blasting away at
two in the morning?
Not all the noises that disturb residents come from neighbors.
For example, the boiler room, laundry rooms, and roof cooling
units emit sounds that bother residents. Again, would a
reasonable person be bothered by the sounds emitted from
the boiler room or basement laundry room?
If the answer to the reasonable person query is "yes",
then something must be done to abate the noise. In my experience
as a member of the Mayor’s Council on the Environment
and a Consultant to the League for the Hard of Hearing,
I have learned that many residents do not believe that their
managing agents and board members take their noise complaints
seriously. For this reason, many of then seek assistance
from the Police Department, the Department of Environmental
Protection, and the Buildings Department. However, the 30-year-old
New York City Noise Code is limited in dealing with the
noise problems as they exist in New York in 2003. As a result,
these agencies generally lack the authority to correct noise
problems within a residential building, either from the
machinery or from neighbors.
Handling Noise Complaints
Some residents seek help from the Borough Mediating Board,
which acts as a neutral party in resolving noise complaints.
Mediating boards do report some success with noise complaints
but their success rests heavily on the willingness of the
parties to cooperate with each other. Of course, when all
else fails, shareholders turn to legal counsel. Such action
can end up being very expensive for the shareholder, the
neighbor, and the cooperative or condominium.
In my opinion, it would be best if managing agents and
board members handled noise problems in their buildings.
At the very least, residents would feel that management
is listening to their noise complaints. It has been found
that the frustration of not having someone listen to your
noise complaint can exacerbate the physiological and psychological
reactions to the noise itself.
Cooperatives and condominiums that will consider implementing
the following simple recommendations can do much to improve
the quality of life in their buildings:
All buildings should have house rules
that speak to the rights of shareholders or unit owners
with respect to noise. Managing agents and board members
must see that these rules are enforced. This means that
floors are to be properly covered or treated, that television
sets cannot be played loudly at night, that noisy repairs
cannot be done on weekends. House rules on noise must
be made clear to new buyers, and existing shareholders/unit
owners should be periodically reminded about the noise
Those in charge of cooperatives and condominiums
must understand that renovating an apartment may create
noise problems. For example, failure to adequately cushion
sounds from newly installed air conditioners may bring
these sounds into a neighbor’s apartments. Complaints
tend to increase after apartments have been refurbished,
so more attention must be paid to contractor plans.
Before installing new boilers, new washing
machines, or cooling towers, managing agents should inquire
about potential noises and seek to cushion these sounds.
Superintendents and board members must
attempt to listen to the noises themselves – at
times when the noises are loudest, even if this means
coming into the apartment in the evening when ambient
noises are lower. They should stay in the apartment long
enough to get a good idea of how disturbing the noise
really is. Too often, superintendents and board members
don’t visit the apartments to listen to the noises;
if they do, they tend to stay only a few minutes.
Someone on the board can be assigned the
task of overseeing noise complaints. If it’s a matter
of neighbor-to-neighbor noise, the board should attempt
to get the two people together to discuss the problem.
A board member could act as a mediator.
If neighborhood noises are disturbing
several residents, (such as a cooling unit on the roof
of a nearby building, or loud music from a bar), the board
should approach the owner of the neighboring property
to discuss a remedy. If this fails to correct the problem,
the board should seek advice from a local public official
or the local community board. Responsible boards should
act on behalf of their shareholders.
Above all, respect the individual who
is complaining about the noise, and do not instantly treat
that person as troublesome and difficult.