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How to handle loud neighbors when you're stuck at home—Brick Underground's best advice

New York's stay-at-home order translates into noisy apartment buildings. Here's some advice for when conditions become intolerable.


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Are noisy New York City neighbors driving you crazy while you are quarantining? Maybe they're playing loud music—or you're hearing fighting or abuse and wondering how to deal with it? 

In NYC’s densely populated buildings, children are doing online school and some people are working from home and it's a struggle to concentrate. Many New Yorkers are stressed out or sick (or both) and unwanted noise exacerbates the situation. If you're struggling to stay sane over your neighbor's noise, you are not alone. Apartment listing website RentHop found a 23 percent increase in noise complaints the week after New York’s shutdown went into effect compared to the same week in 2019. 

The first tip is not to address a noise problem while it's happening. You're more likely to come off as hostile and use words you'll regret. It's a good idea to keep a record of the problem, and reach out to other neighbors who might be dealing with the same issues. You can also try to dampen the sound from inside your own apartment and involve the landlord or building management company if needed. For more suggestions to specific neighbor noise scenarios, read on.

[Editor's note: An earlier version of this post was published in April 2020.. We are presenting it again here as part of our holiday Best of Brick week.]

Start by trying to make peace with a noisy neighbor

The most effective approach is to address your neighbor in a spirit of collaboration. One approach is to blame the noise on the building's thin walls, treating it as a building issue that is everyone's problem. Read: How to tackle asking a noisy neighbor—or landlord—to keep it down

Keep in mind that a landlord or owner is required to keep your apartment safe and livable at all times and excessive noise is one of the conditions they would have to address under the warranty of habitability. Find out more here: What is a warranty of habitability and why is it especially important during the pandemic?

Troubleshooting noise and cooking odors with others in the building

There's strength in numbers and if the noise is an issue throughout the building you will have a good chance of being able to address it. Getting together with neighbors can be done even in times of social distancing—read: I'm organizing my neighbors and negotiating with our landlord to pay half our rent.

For more vertical etiquette tips, Brick Underground's Ms. Demeanor column has plenty of advice on how to tackle specific noise issues in NYC apartment buildings. The column has lots of creative solutions and is a reminder that when it comes to noise complaints, you are in good company.

Start here: Dear Ms. Demeanor: My neighbors blast their television all night! How do I get them to lower the volume? Also: Dear Ms. Demeanor: The noise from our downstairs neighbor is making us miserable. What can we do? She also deals with cooking smells, another byproduct of the pandemic: Dear Ms. Demeanor: My neighbors' cooking stinks up the hallway. What can I do about it?

Home improvement measures to dampen noise

Find out if you can ask your neighbor to install more carpeting. Most rentals and co-ops insist 80 percent of the floor has some kind of covering, either carpets or rugs. That's not to say it's easy to get your neighbor to comply. Read: Can I force my noisy neighbors to get more carpeting?

For your own part, you can try improving your own insulation with rugs or drapes. Other options include pulling out some noise-canceling headphones or plugging in a white noise machine. For more tips read: Brick Underground’s best advice on how to deal with bad neighbors.

Document and record the noise you're dealing with

Documenting the issue is an important part of evaluating and addressing it. When it's a noise issue, you should also record the sound. Although this won't help in the moment, it gives you back some control and will be important in presenting your grievances either to your neighbor or landlord. Read: 8 ways to make peace with your neighbors.

What to do if you are hearing domestic violence or abuse

You may be hearing something more serious than just noise. Domestic violence is a major concern under New York's stay at home order, which can trap someone with their abuser. Here are some resources for domestic and gender-based violence survivors during the pandemic and domestic violence shelters are still open for intake. Read: I think I'm overhearing domestic violence next door. What should I do?

If a neighbor threatens you—know that New York state law defines harassment as any conduct intended to annoy, threaten, intimidate, or alarm another person. If that sounds like your situation, there are steps you can take—including calling the police if you are ever physically in danger. Read: Is your neighbor harassing you? 4 steps to handle the problem. Also read: My downstairs neighbor harasses me for being gay—and my building just renewed his lease. (The neighbor moved out soon after the article published).

What to do if you want to break your lease

If you are weighing up whether to continue to live in your apartment you may be able to negotiate to end your lease early.

Breaking your lease isn’t without risks so approach this with your landlord carefully and get legal help if necessary. You should also be aware there may be logistical challenges with moving—many buildings have banned moves for now. Read: What happens if your lease is up during the coronavirus pandemic? Also, I want to break my lease because of a noisy NYC neighbor. What are my options?