Q: An apartment tower near me has some sort of loose machinery, perhaps in a rooftop elevator shaft, that makes a clanking noise all day long. It’s loud enough to wake me up at night. I’ve left messages with the building’s management, but they’ve gone unanswered. What are the building’s responsibilities in terms of neighbors’ right to quiet, and what are my options and rights in terms of getting them to eliminate this loud and intrusive noise? Which city agencies should know about this?
A: The tricky thing here is that you aren’t dealing with a noisy neighbor, who could simply be told to quiet down, but a noisy building.
The first step in dealing with this would be to “go to the source and contact the neighboring building that’s generating the noise,” said Ingrid Manevitz, a real estate lawyer and a partner at the law firm Seyfarth Shaw.
The New York City noise code includes separate sections on, among others, residential noise (“residents seeking relief from city noise”) and noise generated by exterior heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment.
“Noise that wakes you up from your sleep and disturbs other neighbors in your building likely qualifies as excessive and unreasonable, and would be a violation of the noise code,” Ms. Manevitz said.
Since you already tried to get the building’s management to act, the next step would be to call New York’s 311 help line and register a noise complaint. “If the noise is up to a level that’s above permitted decibel levels for that zone — depending if it’s a commercial zone, manufacturing zone, residential — the city would come in and issue a violation,” said Lisa A. Smith, a real estate lawyer and partner at the firm Smith, Gambrell & Russell.
Ms. Smith also recommended organizing a group of neighbors who have been disturbed by the sound to log complaints en masse, which could help expedite the process. “It may require multiple calls in order for a city inspector to be dispatched to the site,” she said. “However, it is likely the easiest and most inexpensive way for the neighboring building to address the issue.”
In addition to a noise complaint, if this is a case of faulty machinery, you and your neighbors could call 311 to notify the Department of Buildings about potential “illegal/unsafe construction work and improper building use.”
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