Noise Complaints: Artists and Musicians


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Michael Kolomatsky/The New York Times

Schoolhouse Rock

I live in a private house directly behind a public elementary school. Once a week, beginning at 4 p.m., the windows of the school music room are thrown open and a very mediocre pop/rock band plays for hours. The musicians are adults, not schoolchildren. As a teacher, I wholeheartedly support arts in schools. But I don’t feel any obligation to endure this noise just so some adults can have free or cheap rehearsal space in a residential neighborhood. What are my options?

West Village, Manhattan

Musical abilities aside, I can understand why you would not want to listen to hours of band practice. The administrators who rented out the space might not be aware of the disturbance, particularly if they are not in the building when the band takes the stage. But obliviousness does not absolve them of responsibility.

“A school should be particularly cognizant of the fact that sound can be intrusive on other people, because noise is intrusive on children’s learning,” said Arline L. Bronzaft, the chairwoman of the noise activities department of Grow NYC, a nonprofit group.

Tell the school about the ruckus. That might put an end to this. If it continues, talk to your neighbors. (For added effect, knock on their doors during one of the jam sessions.) See if any might be willing to sign your letter or call the school. A chorus of complaints could get the amplifiers turned down.

If your calls fall on deaf ears, hire an acoustical engineer to measure the noise. See if you can share the cost — usually a few thousand dollars — with disgruntled neighbors. If the noise violates the city noise code, send the results to the school, said Steven D. Sladkus, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

And if all else fails, you could sue the school for creating a nuisance, filing an expedited motion for an injunction against the school. “That should wake them up,” Mr. Sladkus said.

Elevator Repairs

My wife and I rent a ninth-floor apartment in a condominium. We just learned that the building’s only elevator is going to be out of service for replacement for eight to 12 weeks this summer. We have a toddler, so this is a significant imposition. What can we do? Are we allowed to withhold rent or reduce rent because of the inconvenience or unavailable building services?

Kips Bay, Manhattan

After about 20 years, an elevator’s mechanical parts need to be replaced, a process that can take 12 weeks, or sometimes longer, said Robert Cuzzi, the executive vice president of VDA, an elevator consultancy.

Such a repair can wreak havoc on a building with only one elevator, particularly among residents with physical limitations, like the very young and the very old.

It “creates a very tough situation for all residents,” Mr. Cuzzi said. “Most people do not like to walk the stairs, and some are not capable of doing so.”

While the work may be necessary, it should not be conducted in a manner that violates the warranty of habitability, a state law that protects tenants. You could argue that removing the elevator service and forcing a tenant to walk up eight flights of stairs with a toddler on her hip violates the statute.

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“The bottom line is that if the work interferes with a tenant’s ability to enjoy their home, it’s a violation,” said Jennifer Addonizio Rozen, a Manhattan lawyer who represents tenants. “And the tenant may be entitled to compensation.”

You have the right to withhold rent, and if your landlord takes you to housing court for nonpayment, you could ask for a rent abatement from the judge. That strategy, however, could land you on the tenant blacklist.

“Simply being named in a housing court proceeding makes it more difficult for the tenant to rent in the future,” Ms. Rozen said.

To avoid the blacklist, write to your landlord and ask for a rent reduction, explaining the stress this causes your family.

While a cut in the rent might help your pocketbook, it will do nothing to lessen the misery of climbing those stairs. Ask the landlord to contact the condo association or the managing agent to find ways to ease the burden. Management could place chairs on landings, assuming there is space to do so safely, so weary tenants can take a break as they walk. Management could reserve space on the ground floor to store strollers and carts. It could also temporarily hire extra staff to help residents carry bags up stairs and assist those who need help.

Noisy Sculptor

I live in a condo apartment with a small backyard that adjoins the yard of a neighboring property. Whenever the weather is nice, my neighbor is outside for hours creating metal sculptures, using grinders and other noisy equipment. I like him and don’t want to alienate him, but I also want to enjoy my outdoor space on sunny days. Are there any rules about this kind of use in a backyard?

South Park Slope, Brooklyn

Nothing puts a damper on a glorious day like the sound of metal grinding. Next time you happen upon your neighbor, strike up a conversation. Ask him about his work, the garden, the neighborhood. “People like to talk about stuff that they’re passionate about,” said Brad Heckman, the chief executive of the New York Peace Institute, a mediation service. “This could be priming for a conversation about the challenges.”

After you break the ice, tell him how the noise affects you. Be polite, but firm and direct. “Don’t sugarcoat it,” Mr. Heckman said.

Rather than telling him, “I need you to stop making noise,” put the onus on him to find a solution. Ask him, “What can we do to work this out?”

If he shrugs you off, you do have leverage. The city noise code prohibits unreasonable noise. “The use of power tools intended for construction is specifically regulated,” said Howard Schechter, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

Call 311 to file a complaint with the Department of Environmental Protection. And if your neighbor sells his work, creating it would be considered a commercial activity, which might be prohibited in your residential neighborhood, Mr. Schechter said. Call 311 to report the activity to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Division of Code Enforcement.

With any luck, it will not come to that. “More often than not, if someone is coming from a genuine place,” Mr. Heckman said, “they’ll find a way to work it out.”

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