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Neighbor’s Rights; Living in the city, you’re probably unaware of the sometimes awkward drift between neighbors in adjacent living spaces (not that our suburban brethren don’t have their over-the-fence dramas). Occasionally new neighbors don’t see eye to eye, or old neighbors find a small battle to pick at forever. More often than not, it’s our firm belief within ourselves that we can do no wrong and that whatever the issue is must be the fault of the other.
Sometimes quickly resolved matters over noise, garbage, children running amuck, or parking can cause two ordinarily lovely people to fight in the most significant ways. And it usually doesn’t stop there. If fights between neighbors don’t die down, they often end up at city hall, small claims court, or in the hands of the police.
New York City NeighborNew York City Neighbor
Okay, so maybe New York isn’t like other U.S. cities, and New Yorkers are a different breed of neighbors. But still, we’ve got to admit that intentionally ignoring, just not noticing, or otherwise not caring about our neighbors is weird and cold-hearted.
In a society where many families are geographically stratified, the population is getting older, many people are lonely, and most folks don’t know how to ask for help. Your neighbor might save your life. There’s the story of the famous actor who rescued an elderly neighbor who fell off a ladder, the account of the Long Island man who pulled his neighbor from a house fire, and the tale of how a group of neighbors in Bay Ridge saved 28 cats.
Talking to people might seem scary. It’s hard to initiate a conversation with a stranger because we are worried about being asked for money, getting hit on, or another unwanted outcome.
But, come on, if you’re in your elevator and you think your neighbor has a cute dog, tell him so. Similarly, if your neighbor moves something big and bulky, hold the door for her, or even gasp, offer help. Maybe you will find her name, and you can agree to get coffee, platonically.
The following are some excellent reasons to get to know your neighbors.
Common IssuesCommon Issues
New York has got to be the worst example of this. With so many people living so close, on top of, beneath, and next to, it’s virtually impossible to like everyone in every given direction. The newest wave of hateful neighbors has come from the recent, if not rampant, condo conversions that swept the city. In large and small buildings throughout the city, people struggle with the barriers between existing rent-stabilized tenants and new condominium owners.
Often the renters have many different expectations from the building, perhaps rightfully so.
Their apartments are usually less renovated, cared for, and sometimes in terrible conditions. But a rent-stabilized tenant sees their residence as hardly optional. The low prices they pay for the prized real estate can rarely be matched anywhere else in the area (even Jersey!). On the other hand, Condo owners are typically more careful with their property.
They realize that they are responsible for the value of their property, and most people like to have their equity appreciated. The problem lies in the law around renters and owners; the reality is that renting is a privilege by statute, while ownership is a right.
Rent-Stabilized Tenant CautionRent-Stabilized Tenant Caution
A rent-stabilized tenant must obey the building’s rules and regulations and maintain a non-disruptive living manner within the building. This can be wonderful for condo owners, as it promotes the feeling of choosing one’s neighbors. But for the renting community, it cannot be very comforting. Unfortunately, in this day and age (the age of condo conversions, to be exact), it’s not unheard of to have formal complaints filed against a publicly drunk, mean, drug abuse, or illegal rent-stabilized tenant.
Why It’s a Good Idea to Know Your NeighborsWhy It’s a Good Idea to Know Your Neighbors
Aside from a perfunctory “Hi” in the elevator or hallway, how many of us spend any real time with the folks who share our walls and shared spaces? You know, those folks known as neighbors.
Living in a building for years is not uncommon in fast-paced, busy, anonymous New York City, never knowing who is living around and among you. But, of course, I’m not talking about merely names and faces, but who are living behind the doors on your floor and in your building.
In the current world of lighting speed technology and ubiquitous social media connecting us to friends all around the globe, our proverbial backyard is often neglected. A 2015 report, Less in Common, issued by City Observatory, a think tank using data-driven analysis of cities and the policies that shape them, noted less than 20 percent of Americans report spending time with their neighbors, and almost a third of folks say no interaction at all with people who live nearby.
They’ve Got Your Back.They’ve Got Your Back.
Helpful neighbors will look out for you; they can be your extra pair of eyes and ears, helping to keep you and your family safe.
Keeping the PeaceKeeping the Peace
Good neighbors respect privacy, aren’t too loud, and don’t do things to make your life unbearable. As a good neighbor, you can keep the noise level down at night, make sure your cigarette smoke doesn’t invade your neighbor’s apartment, and be kind and thoughtful, which invites your neighbors to reciprocate.
While You’re AwayWhile You’re Away
When going on vacation or a business trip, a neighbor can provide invaluable assistance, such as collecting your mail, watering your plants, feeding your cat, and keeping an eye on your place.
It’s a Small World, After AllIt’s a Small World, After All
Learning about different cultures and getting to know folks from different backgrounds is one of the perks of living in NYC. Where else can you find a population of people speaking almost 200 languages?
Borrowing a Cup of SugarBorrowing a Cup of Sugar
Sure, it’s a cliché, but it is convenient to have someone close by who can help with that single missing ingredient you need to complete the meal for your dinner party or lend a ladder to change your light bulb.
A Surrogate FamilyA Surrogate Family
Since you might be far from your family, your neighbors are close enough to help in a crisis.
What happens when New Yorkers meet their neighbors? New York Magazine took the time to find out – and it’s fantastic!
You might not know who is next door to you, but perhaps you should try to find out.
And, if you need an app to get started, there’s that, too. Nextdoor.com helps you find a private neighborhood social network in your backyard!
Dealing with a Nightmare NeighborDealing with a Nightmare Neighbor
Moving boxes emptied? Check. Walls painted? Check. Furniture arranged just the way you like it? Check. Your new place is shaping to be home sweet home, but one problem remains — your neighbors. Like any alpha world city, New York has some of the world’s highest population density, meaning you’re bound to be in close quarters with hundreds of other people, including your neighbors. These are the most common complaints tenants have with those next door.
While residing in close quarters has its advantages (it’s nice to know that someone is always around in case of an emergency), living the apartment life comes with its challenges, one of which is the nightmare neighbor.
You’re familiar with at least one of the four scenarios below depicting a problematic neighbor. Please note what you can do to alleviate some of the most common complaints among New York City dwellers because one could eventually happen to you.
The renovatorThe renovator
As long as a homeowner takes the proper steps, hires an architect, receives board approval, gets required permits, etc. renovating an apartment is perfectly legal. Damaging your unit in the process, however, is not.
Before the first hammer swings, a good neighbor will bring a remodeling project to your attention. The neighboring apartments’ condition is often documented through photos and videos and the unit being renovated.
If you run into issues with damages, call 311 immediately. Depending on the circumstances, a building inspector will visit the job site, and the contractor/owner could be fined.
If noise is the issue, settle it privately with your neighbor. Contractors should be working within the hours permitted, between 9 am and 5 pm Monday through Friday for many buildings, so there’s not much you can do if construction happens between those hours. However, if you hear the disruptive noise before or after these hours or on weekends, immediately reach out to your managing agent to nip the problem in the bud.
The irresponsible pet ownerThe irresponsible pet owner
Tired of listening to your neighbor’s dog bark at odd hours? You can report the noise to the City of N.Y. Be sure to provide your address and name if you want the barking to stop.
The Department of Environmental Protection should send a letter to the dog’s owner within seven days and suggest curling the barking. If they’ve posted a message before, they may come to the site and do a noise inspection.
The noisemakerThe noisemaker
Noisy neighbors are not unique to NYC, but living in cramped quarters makes it hard to find peace 24/7. Perhaps your neighbors regularly throw parties, blare music over their stereo system, or have vocal pets. If talking to your neighbors doesn’t work, a white noise machine can cover up the disturbance (or at least make it less noticeable).
Some even come complete with sounds like a gentle rainstorm, babbling brook, or even crashing waves — which would be preferable to hearing your neighbor sing in the shower at 7:00 am.
Are they blaring television? Vibrating music? Yelling or loud conversation? You can report these and other nonemergency noises, and the police will respond to your complaint when they are not handling urgent matters.
However, you may want to start with your landlord, super, or managing agent before involving the law. Try making a complaint with your building first, and if the noise doesn’t stop, dial 311 or contact NYC.gov to report a noise complaint. Also, we have a section on additional remedies against noisy neighbors; you can guide to soundproofing.
The SmokerThe Smoker
Smoking is illegal in public spaces such as halls, elevators, and lobbies of buildings with ten or more apartments. Unfortunately, smokers have a right to light up inside their unit, but when a cigarette, cigar, marijuana, or other smoke affects your well-being, you have a right to speak up.
It’s best to document when smoke enters your unit and the inconvenience or health issues causing you and your family. Try and resolve matters with your neighbor, and involve your landlord or super if you need to.
Depending on the circumstances, you may need to hire an attorney to ensure you know your rights. A lawyer can advise you on the next steps. In the meantime, check out these links below.
Misplaced TrashMisplaced Trash
Errant trash is a problem on two levels — not only does it look bad, but it smells terrible, too. Some residents are too familiar with neighbors that leave trash in hallways, on/near the property that’s not theirs, or the worst — trash left outside a dumpster. It might be tempting to bring it back to their door, but that probably won’t get you anywhere. Instead, have a frank discussion with your neighbor about your concerns. If that fails, contact your landlord. They won’t like hearing about their tenants doing things to curb their property’s curb appeal.
Leaky CeilingLeaky Ceiling
Water damage from your upstairs neighbors can be a significant headache. Leaks create a massive mess in your home, leading to costly, time-consuming repairs. Of course, it might not even be your neighbors’ fault—it could be a plumbing problem. But there are cases when neighbors don’t clean up water spills or fix known issues with their toilets, sinks, or showers.
In situations like these, it’s best to contact your landlord, a certified plumber, or both. A leak left unchecked could lead to severe structural safety concerns, so don’t rely on a quick fix bucket for long.
Illegal ParkingIllegal Parking
Parking is already a nightmare in NYC, but what if your neighbor is the culprit? Illegal parking takes some forms: occupying multiple spaces, parking in front of fire hydrants, blocking a bike lane, unauthorized use of a handicap space, etc. Unfortunately, notes under the windshield will only go so far. Luckily, operators at the end of the 311 lines are equipped to handle illegal parking complaints.
Neighbors can be your best friends or worst nightmares. So whenever problems arise, handle them with a cool head and find the happy medium that will make everyone happy.
How to Quiet the Noise of a NeighborHow to Quiet the Noise of a Neighbor
Noisy neighbors are a common problem, particularly in apartments or duplexes where you share a wall with the residents next door. Whether you’re tied into a rental and can’t renovate or want a fast fix for your home, these solutions will help dampen unwanted sound and create a quieter space.
Dampen Outdoor Noise With DrapesDampen Outdoor Noise With Drapes
Thick draperies can reduce the volume by 10 decibels when hung around offending windows where you’re experiencing a lot of noise leakage from outside. That may not seem like a lot, but 10 decibels is the difference between the sound of a busy street and the hum of a washing machine. You may not block the noise completely, but you should be able to turn it into a permissible background drone.
Thicken Your Floors With Sound-Absorbing RugsThicken Your Floors With Sound-Absorbing Rugs
Fibrous materials can absorb sound and dampen it, leaving less noise to travel through the air and to your ears. Thicken your floors quickly and attractively with heavy carpets and rugs. Those thin hardwood floors could let many sounds in if you don’t have to carpet. The thicker, the better. So lay down a foam pad first, then choose the plushest floor dressing.
Hang Soundproofing “Art”Hang Soundproofing “Art”
Foam, Styrofoam, and fabric are all effective at blocking noise. If the sounds from your neighbors are coming through the walls, choose some decorative wall hangings that’ll reduce the noise. Cover a piece of foam in a decorative fabric for an eye-catching DIY piece that’ll fit in with any environment. Stick a piece of Styrofoam in the back of an open canvas behind a beloved painting or canvas print to dampen the noise coming through that wall. For a soft textured look, hang floor-to-ceiling curtains along the wall.
Rearrange Your FurnitureRearrange Your Furniture
Large furniture pieces can absorb much noise, particularly when full. A bookcase packed with books or a dresser filled with clothing will dampen the sound effectively. If you’re suffering from a thumping bass behind the same wall you have your headboard on, rearranging your furniture could make a big difference in how you sleep at night.
Create Noise of Your OwnCreate Noise of Your Own
If the previous tactics aren’t dampening the noise as much as you’d like, it may be time to create some sound of your own. This doesn’t mean competing with your neighbors to see who can play the loudest drum set. Instead, fill your space with peaceful, soothing background noises to block unwanted sounds. Like a gentle background whooshing, white noise can block out other sounds and help you get a good night’s sleep. A peaceful album of ocean sounds or rain may work if these environments soothe you.
If your home isn’t the peaceful haven you’d like, you can efficiently and effectively drown out neighbors’ sounds with these simple fixes. You can transform your home into a peaceful paradise for minimal money and less than a weekend of free time.