Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Today's topic: how to cope with your occasionally problematic New York neighbors.
There are many, many good things about living in a city block jam-packed with a bazillion other people. But there are downsides, too. Through a pair of thin walls, you overhear a neighboring couple get into repeated, heated arguments in the next apartment over. There's a crying baby who never seems to quit. Someone in the building always obstructs the hallway, either with smelly trash or an oversized stroller. Another person never cleans up after her aging Great Dane, who frequently cannot make it out to the street to do his business. So when faced with a panoply of problems, what do you do? Here's some recourse for five of the most common neighbor beefs in New York City. Did we miss a conflict that you've had to resolve? Let us know.
1) Why is it SO DAMN NOISY up in here?
A white noise machine and earplugs can only do so much?and the city has an entire noise code to try to keep the peace (and quiet). Call or write 311 to report noise in your building, especially if it's ongoing. The city defines non-emergency noise as "loud music or television, talking, and moving or dragging of furniture," but it can also encompass noise from pets, a loud air conditioner, and more. 311 won't contact your landlord about noise complaints in your building (so you won't look like a tattle tale), but if you think he'll be on your side, another option is to contact your super, building management, owner, or tenant association for help if the situation is ongoing and particularly acute. You can even cut out the middleman of 311 and keep pestering the cops to crack down. Want to know if you're alone in your fight? Check out 311's zoom-able map of complaints it's received to see if others in your building or neighborhood are hearing the same thing. To that end, getting more of the community involved ensures that you're not fighting the good fight alone.
Alternatively, if calling in the big guns at 311 or within your building doesn't get the job done, The Times reported one instance in which some Fort Greene residents negotiated with their drummer neighbors to keep the volume down. The Times also canvassed readers for how they dealt with noisy neighbors?in some cases, from the gentle extreme of appeasing them with a bottle of wine and a lighthearted request to put the kabosh on tap-dance practice after 10 p.m. to the extreme extreme of filing a lawsuit. (You can also replace noisy with smelly, dirty, or any other negative adjective... the general strategy to deal with those problems is the same.) The path is up to you.
2) I think there's a domestic dispute down the hall. What can I do?
Even though your instinct might be to call the less-serious-seeming 311, if you believe that whatever you're overhearing could result in harm to anyone, it's time to get the police involved. Last year, the city even launched a campaign similar to the "If You See Something, Say Something" subway plea, encouraging city residents to call in domestic disputes. In Astoria, one neighbor had little luck with the police, though, and respondents in a forum recommended that the worried resident to go down to the precinct in person to report the incidents and even to contact the office of your local City Council member or another elected official if you can't get a response from the NYPD.
3) My upstairs neighbor's washing machine is leaking water into my apartment.
In New York City apartments, these things happen. Marisa Tomei's neighbor even sued her last year for leaking water into his apartment! But there are other options here, one that won't leave you with paint peeling off your walls. You can report a leak to 311, but it's just a more circuitous way of getting in touch with the people who can actually stem the tide: your landlord (or management company, or co-op board). That tactic is confirmed by the helpful comments in this apt Apartment Therapy thread. Some suggest playing the agreeable card to propose doing the repair work yourself (or hiring someone to do it) as long as you're reimbursed; others push for a more aggressive approach that includes withholding rent or filing a lawsuit based on NYC tenant's rights law ?no doubt two risky moves. However, to incite some action from your landlord, there's some precedent for trying to negotiate a lower rent or other concessions from your landlord because of said leak, especially if it goes unfixed for a long time.
4) My neighbor's pet is driving me crazy!
Loud, incessant barking and similar bugaboos are pretty similar to other noise complaints?call them in them to 311, and the the city will walk you through the steps to take. If you think the animal may be abused, then you'll file a report with the ASPCA instead. If the problem is less about noise and more about odor, or a mess in the building's public areas, etc., then you can start with 311 but know that ultimately enforcement will lie with your landlord, the super, or whichever body runs the building internally.
5) Tenants in my building scratched my door (or worse) when they moved in/did renovations.
Property damage is another major hazard when it comes to living in close quarters. Perhaps even more common is the complaint that a neighbor's renovations caused some kind of adverse effect on your home. Go to your landlord first, and if the situation remains unresolved, then you might have to turn to the court system (especially if you own rather than rent). The Times offers some more tips on how to deal, which include checking the Department of Buildings website to make sure your neighbors have all the right permits; you can also file a complaint through them. Calling 311 can also help, and "result in the arrival of a buildings department inspector and possibly, a stop-work order or fines."
· Neighbor vs. Neighbor: Handling Conflict in Your Building [Cooperator]
· How To Deal With Roommate Problems: Leases; Costs; More! [Curbed]
· Curbed University archive [Curbed]