Q: I rent an apartment in a prewar building in Upper Manhattan with my wife and our 1-year-old son, who crawls. Whenever our son spins an object on the floor, or drops a toy, our downstairs neighbor bangs violently on the ceiling, often shouting obscenities. He has twice complained to the management about us, but they don’t seem inclined to get involved. We have carpets on much of the floor and never wear shoes indoors, but it makes no difference. I try to be a respectful and accommodating neighbor. What can I do?
A: Babies are noisy. But you know what’s also noisy? Someone banging on your floor and shouting obscenities. Just as your neighbor is entitled to a reasonable amount of quiet, so are you and your family.
New York City’s noise code “prohibits unreasonable noise, and deliberate harassment of somebody would certainly qualify as unreasonable,” said Alan Fierstein, the owner of Acoustilog, a Manhattan noise consultant with clients who have faced eviction proceedings for doing things like banging on ceilings or shouting through walls.
Call your landlord and you will likely get the same response your neighbor got when he reported you: silence. “Landlords don’t like to get involved,” said David A. Kaminsky, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.
So, you need to gather evidence. First, step up your soundproofing efforts. Add extra padding beneath your existing carpets and lay down play mats in areas where your baby roams off the carpet. Then, write your neighbor a polite note, informing him of the soundproofing measures you’ve taken, and requesting that he stop banging and shouting. Tell him that going forward, you will record the disturbances and report the harassment to management.
Record the incidents on your phone, as even a poor-quality recording will bolster your claim. Write down the dates, times and durations, too. Send this information to your landlord, along with a letter insisting that management address the harassment. File a noise complaint with 311 or reach out to a mediation service, like the New York Peace Institute, which can intervene on your behalf.
This paper trail will help if you find that you need to withhold rent on the grounds that the noise and harassment violates your warranty of habitability, a state statute, according to Mr. Kaminsky. Withholding rent would certainly get your landlord’s attention, but consult an attorney first.
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