Last year I was engaged in a Battle Royale over noise brought on by my neighbor – a hookah bar located directly under my first-floor apartment.
At the time, my roommate and I suffered from the usual naivety of first-time New York apartment renters when we listened to and believed the real estate agent who said there had never been any noise complaints against them.
We moved in on a Monday and slept peacefully for four days. Then Thursday came. At 10 p.m. a torrent of Rihanna’s melodies rose up through the floorboards and an overwhelming sense of dread coupled with bass beats was its undertow.
I was immediately awash in the truth that we had been lied to and were trapped in a wet-inked lease. How could anyone live like this? Our floors and walls vibrated and the dishes in our sink clinked along with every beat of the Thursday – Saturday show time.
Noise is the number one complaint since the 311 helpline was established in 2003, according to amNewYork’s Monday front page article. More than 3.1 million noise complaints have been filed in the past decade. I was among those voices.
I’m not perturbed by sirens, honking or yelling. But, I can’t handle bass during a weeknight. A war was waged on the bar owners and I became an expert in New York sound ordinance codes. Commercial establishments must limit the level of unreasonable noise to 42 decibels as measured from inside nearby residences. To give you an idea, the level of normal conversation is 50 dB(A) and stereos/boom boxes measure 110 dB(A). The next highest level is a jet plane, which clocks in at 130 dB(A).
I also became a prolific dialer and filer of 311 noise complaints. The cops – whose station was located across the street and whose desks were visible from my kitchen window – dutifully followed up with each complaint, but to no avail.
Two of the owners made half-hearted attempts to appease us. They said they would pay to install carpet and would caulk our pipes. They would do anything they could think of that wouldn’t cost them more than $50 and would also therefore be useless.
The other tenants could feel and hear the bass up to the fifth level. We had all become dependent on sleeping pills and wine. I begged the landlord to force them to properly soundproof. Maybe it had been damaged during Hurricane Sandy?
It was clear that they weren’t going to spend the tens of thousands of dollars to do this and it was also clear that if we didn’t vacate we would go insane. The night I found myself on the sidewalk screaming and pointing my finger in the owner’s face I realized the battle was a losing one.
We decided to skip out on the lease and move five streets down to an apartment our friends were vacating. We sent a letter from a lawyer stating they our contract had been breached. Two days before we moved out, I received a letter from the Department of Environmental Protection saying they would step in on the matter. It was a major victory.
We still live in our friends’ apartment. The window in my bedroom is single-paned and I can hear people talking on the street and car wheels striking manhole covers. A friend said the street noise reminded him of being in Venezuela. I haven’t called 311 once. The traffic is my lullaby.