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Dealing with your Noisy Neighbors

Apartment living is an exercise in compromise, democracy, and diplomacy. You spent a long time picking your apartment, and you looked at so many, the differences became a blur. But you've found your castle, and with a lot of elbow grease, a dab of paint, and some new art posters for the wall, your apartment will be home for at least a year. But you didn't pick your neighbors, who live next to you and above you and beneath you. Your neighbors are all nice enough ... except, you can't get to sleep because the three tenants in Apt. 4B party all night. The music is loud, and strangers keep knocking on the door and banging it shut until dawn. Drunken party-goers stagger down the hall laughing and yelling loudly night after night. There are other, equally irritating, but less boisterous or immature disturbances. Take hardwood floors, for example. They're traditional and nice to look at. But remember, your ceiling is someone else's floor. You'll suffer an Excedrin headache if your upstairs neighbor stomps around in boots, heels or clogs without any rugs on the floor. The sound is like thunder at three in the morning. Or, what can you do about the neighbors across the hall who insist on putting their trash in the hallway in smelly, brown shopping bags that leak grease? Or the nice young couple who block the entrance foyer with their bicycles and baby carriage? Or the hardworking guy who leaves his yappy terrier alone all day and much of the evening? Here's what you can do.

You do have a right to "quiet enjoyment." A Supreme Court Justice once observed that in a free society, "your right to swing your fist stops at the tip of my nose." What should you do first? Try diplomacy. It's worked before in war-torn parts of the world. Try leaving a firm but polite note. Or pick up the phone. Or knock on the door. Introduce yourself and explain your problem. Pretend you feel awkward about the situation. But don't threaten or intimidate. You'd be surprised how often this approach works. Remember, there aren't legal solutions to every human problem!

Next, notify your landlord in writing. Your landlord's responsible for renting to those obnoxious tenants destroying your peace and quiet. He's also the one who guarantees your right to quiet enjoyment. So, don't hesitate to speak up and ask him to arbitrate the problem. To some extent, if you have a problem so does your landlord. Always do it in writing or follow-up your phone call with a short note. If you rent a condominium Unit, you should also write the trustees outlining the problem. Better yet, attend a trustees' meeting. Trying to create a harmonious living arrangement is part of a trustee's thankless job, and most of them take it seriously since their own investment in the building is at stake..

If the problem needs immediate attention, you can call the police. The most common reason for calling 911 is a raucous party. The response time may be slower than you'd like since the city has other emergencies, some of them life-threatening, but the arrival of two cops will restore quiet faster than you or your landlord could. You can always file a complaint or incident report the next day if you want to preserve a record in case the cease-fire is only temporary. If all else fails, you can march into the Housing Court and ask for a restraining order or preliminary injunction. You will get a hearing on your motion. And whether or not the Court grants you relief, you'll have made a deep and lasting impression on your neighbor. Going into court will not produce a lasting friendship with your neighbor, but it may result in the creation of a de-militarized zone until your lease is up. If nothing works and life is intolerable, do not resort to chemical warfare. Simply move. You must pick your battles in life carefully. Some inconveniences must be endured. Knowing how to stand up for your right to peace and quiet is important. But it's also important to know that urban life is a constant series of compromises and trade-offs, so pick your battles carefully.

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