By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Frustrations were high for Stuyvesant Town tenants attending a forum on noise while trying to come up with solutions for peace and quiet in the neighborhood. The main complaint from tenants at the meeting, held by the ST-PCV Tenants Association at the PS 40 auditorium, was the seeming lack of enforcement on the part of management about noise issues. Discussing the issue with a crowd of around 70 tenants were city experts on noise.
“People will call management then management will call public safety, but by the time public safety comes up they won’t hear the noise,” Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg said. “They say not to get involved with your neighbors so you have to wait for public safety but the next thing you know, it’s going on again.”
In response, Noise Activities Chair for GrowNYC.org Dr. Arline Bronzaft said that she disagreed that tenants shouldn’t approach their neighbors.
“You should know your neighbors,” she said. “If there’s a problem, we should be able to interact with each other.”
Other residents felt that the lack of enforcement was due to the non-compliance of many apartments on the 80/20 carpet rule, which states in Stuy Town leases that 80 percent of the floor must be covered by carpeting to mitigate noise between floors.
“Two of the last three tenants who have lived above me were not compliant with the carpeting rule,” resident Arlynne Miller said. “You have to get (management) to jump through unbelievable hoops to get them to comply.”
A representative from CWCapital did not respond to a request for comment on how the rule is enforced, but Bronzaft reminded residents that if they intend to lodge a complaint about a neighbor flouting the rule they should be sure that they’re protected first.
“If you complain and you’re in violation of the rule yourself, all bets are off,” she said.
Many tenants at the meeting said that they are having continuous problems with noise from college students, and dealing with the problem through the proper channels has been tedious.
“In the apartment above me there are at least three guys living in a one-bedroom apartment,” Stuyvesant Town resident Jo-Ann Polise said. “I said to somebody before this meeting started, it sounds like they’re teaching their baby dinosaur how to walk and they have a television that looks like a movie theater. It’s almost like they taunt you to see what your tipping point is because you’ll call public safety when they’re making a racket and when they come to check on it, they’re quiet as can be.”
Before taking legal action, both Bronzaft and Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Compliance Unit director Gerry Kelpin recommended that tenants call 311, and Bronzaft noted that City Council representatives also enforce the noise code. Kelpin added that the complaints to 311 should have as much information as possible to guide the representatives from the DEP.
“There should be specificity so the inspector knows what to look for,” she said.
Bronzaft also mentioned that she has drafted letters that have been sent out at various apartment buildings to remind tenants that they have a responsibility to be respectful of their neighbors, but many residents were frustrated that this would not be an effective solution.
Kelpin explained that the noise code had last been updated in 2007, after not having been updated for more than 30 years. Various components to the code include noise from stationary equipment like circulation devices, fans from restaurants and exhaust equipment.
“The code sets a limit for the amount of noise that can come into a residential space from that equipment,” she said. “That’s a fair number of the complaints that we get.”
She added that construction is one of the biggest sources of noise throughout the city, and the DEP has been trying to work with contractors to consider noise mitigation before construction rather than dealing with it once the project has started.
Dogs are another contributing factor to excessive noise in some neighborhoods.
“The law is a question of reasonableness,” Kelpin said. “It’s not about the dog who barks once when someone walks by the door. What the code goes after is the dog that is lonesome and barks and barks while the owner is away. This is the hard part: we have to observe the dog barking. Sometimes the owners don’t even know that this is a problem because they don’t realize that the dog barks while they’re away, so we often hand out literature to remind people to be mindful.”
Bronzaft was also at the meeting to provide a legal perspective about tenant rights concerning noise.
“Each one of us should know what the law is about,” she said. “Once you know the law, life becomes easier for you.”
She noted that there is a “warranty of habitability” that tenants are guaranteed, meaning that it is a violation of the lease to make an apartment uninhabitable through various sources, one of which is noise.
“It’s based on the concept of reasonableness,” she said. “You can’t say something like, the grandkid that’s visiting your upstairs neighbor drops a toy once every two months.”
Bronzaft added that while a tenant can’t sue their neighbor for walking loudly across the floor, residents do have the right to take their landlord to court because the landlord has signed the warranty of habitability that guarantees a livable apartment.
“People are entitled to peace and quiet,” she said. “Bring the complaints to management and quote the law.”
Steinberg asked if the cumulative effect of the penalties would ever lead to any kind of legal action against the landlord, and Kelpin was doubtful that this would be very effective.
“It’s complicated, and it depends on what the violation is. For that to happen, it would have to be the same violation for the same tenant; the same section of the noise code and the same location,” she said. “If it’s happening in a lot of different apartments, you wouldn’t be able to make the case. It would have to be repetitive.” After a slight wave of laughter spread the crowd at her last comment, Kelpin conceded, “Although it wouldn’t actually be that hard in some cases here, it sounds like.”