If you live in the city, you’re probably all-too-aware of the sometimes awkward drift that can occur between neighbors in close 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. But more often than not, it’s our solid belief within ourselves that we can do no wrong, and that whatever the issue is must be the other guy’s fault. Sometimes easily resolved matters over noise, garbage, children running amuck, or parking can cause two ordinarily lovely people to fight in the biggest of 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 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 are struggling with the barriers between existing rent-stabilized tenants and new condominium owners. Often the renters have many different expectations from the building, and perhaps rightfully so.
Their apartments are usually less renovated, cared for, and sometimes in altogether lousy condition. But a rent-stabilized tenant sees their residence as hardly optional. The low prices that they pay for the prized real estate can rarely be matched anywhere else in the area (even Jersey!). Condo owners, on the other hand, 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 appreciate. The problem indeed lies in the law around renters and owners though; the reality is that renting is a privilege by statute, while ownership is a right. A rent-stabilized tenant must be careful to obey the building’s rules and regulations and maintain a non-disruptive living manner within the building. 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. This can be wonderful for the condo owners, as it promotes the feeling of choosing one’s neighbors. But for the renting community as a whole, it can be altogether frightening.
Why 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.
In fast-paced, busy, and anonymous New York City it’s not uncommon to live in a building for years and never know who else is living around and among you. I’m not talking about simply 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 very 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 report no interaction at all with people who live nearby.
Okay, so maybe New York isn’t quite like other U.S. cities, and New Yorkers are a different breed of neighbor. But still, we’ve got to admit that intentionally ignoring, just not noticing, or otherwise not caring about our neighbors is a bit 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 just 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 strike up a conversation with a stranger because we are worried about being asked for money, getting hit on, or some other 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 is moving something big and bulky, hold the door for her, or even, gasp, offer to help. Maybe you will find out her name, and you can agree to get coffee, platonically of course.
Following are some good some reasons to get to know your neighbors:
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 Peace
Good neighbors respect privacy, aren’t too rowdy and don’t do things to make your life unbearable. As a good neighbor yourself, 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 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 All
Finding out 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 different languages?
Borrowing a Cup of Sugar
Sure, it’s a cliché, but it is convenient to have someone close by who can help out 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 Family
Since you might be far away 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 living next door to you, but perhaps you should attempt 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 very own backyard!
So You Love Your New Place But You Hate Your Neighbors. Dealing with a Nightmare Neighbor: Know Your Rights in NYC
Moving boxes emptied? Check. Walls painted? Check. Furniture arranged just the way you like it? Check. Your new place is shaping up to be home sweet home, but one problem remains — your neighbors. Like any alpha world city, New York has some of the highest population density on the planet, 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.
Chances are you’re familiar with at least one of the four scenarios below depicting a problematic neighbor. Take note of what you can do to alleviate some of the most common complaints among New York City dwellers because one could eventually happen to you.
As long as a homeowner takes the correct 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.
A good neighbor will bring a remodeling project to your attention before the first hammer swings. Often the condition of neighboring apartments is documented through photos and videos, along with 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, try and settle it privately with your neighbor. Contractors should be working within the hours permitted, which for many buildings is between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm Monday through Friday, so there’s not a whole lot you can do if the construction is happening between those hours. If you hear the disruptive noise before or after these hours, or on weekends, reach out to your managing agent immediately to nip the problem in the bud.
The irresponsible pet owner
Tired of listening to your neighbor’s dog bark at odd hours? You can report the noise to the City of NY. Be sure to provide the address and your 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, along with suggestions on how to curtail the barking. If they’ve sent a letter before, they may come to the site and do a noise inspection.
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, or 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 a variety sounds like a gentle rainstorm, babbling brook or even crashing waves — which would all be preferable to hearing your neighbor sing in the shower at 7:00 a.m.
Blaring television? Vibrating music? Yelling or loud conversation? You can report these and other non—emergency noises and the police will respond to your complaint when they are not handling urgent matters.
You may want to start with your landlord, super, or managing agent before you involve the law, however. 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 below we have a section on additional remedies against noisy neighbors, you can try and guide to soundproofing.
Smoking is illegal in public spaces such as halls, elevators, and lobbies of buildings with 10 or more apartments. Unfortunately, smokers have a right to light up inside their unit ––, but when a cigarette, cigar, or another type of smoke is affecting your wellbeing, you have a right to speak up.
It’s best to document when smoke enters your unit and the inconvenience or health issues it’s causing you and your family. Try and resolve matters with your neighbor, if possible, and involve your landlord or super if you need to. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to hire an attorney to be sure you know your rights. A lawyer can advise you on next steps. In the meantime, check out these links below.
Errant trash is a problem on two levels — not only does it look bad, but it smells terrible, too. Some residents are all 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 right 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. Chances are they won’t like to hear about their tenant doing things to lower their property’s curb appeal.
Water damage from your upstairs neighbors can be a major headache. Leaks not only create a massive mess in your own home but can also lead to costly, time-consuming repairs. 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 serious structural safety concerns, so don’t rely on a quick fix bucket for long.
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 and more. Notes under the windshield will only go so far. Luckily, operators at the end of the 311 line are equipped to handle illegal parking complaints.
Neighbors can be your best friends or worst nightmares. Whenever problems arise, handle them with a cool head and find the happy medium that will make everyone happy.
How to Quiet Your Noisy Neighbors: A Guide to Soundproofing
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 simply want a fast fix for your home, these solutions will help you dampen unwanted sound and create a quieter space.
Dampen Outdoor Noise With Drapes
Thick draperies can reduce the volume by as much as 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 actually the difference between the sound of a busy street and the hum of a washing machine. You may not block the noise out completely, but you should be able to turn it into a permissible background drone.
Image via Flickr by Renato Ganoza
Thicken 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. If you don’t have to carpet, those thin hardwood floors could let a lot of sounds through. Thicken your floors easily and attractively with heavy rugs. The thicker, the better. So lay down a foam pad first, then choose the plushest floor dressing you can find.
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 noise coming through that wall. For a soft textured look, simply hang floor-to-ceiling curtains along the wall.
Rearrange Your Furniture
Heavy furniture pieces can absorb a great deal of noise, particularly when they’re full. A bookcase packed with books or dresser filled with clothing will dampen the noise 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 Own
If the previous tactics aren’t dampening the noise as much as you’d like, it may be time to create some noise 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 out all the unwanted sound. White noise, like a gentle background whooshing, 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 drown out the sound of neighbors easily and effectively with these simple fixes. For a minimal amount of money and less than a weekend of free time, you can transform your home into a peaceful paradise.
- Why It’s a Good Idea to Know Your Neighbors
- They’ve Got Your Back
- Keeping the Peace
- While You’re Away
- It’s a Small World After All
- Borrowing a Cup of Sugar
- A Surrogate Family
- So You Love Your New Place But You Hate Your Neighbors. Dealing with a Nightmare Neighbor: Know Your Rights in NYC
- The renovator
- The irresponsible pet owner
- The noisemaker
- The Smoker
- Misplaced Trash
- Leaky Ceiling
- Illegal Parking
- How to Quiet Your Noisy Neighbors: A Guide to Soundproofing
- Dampen Outdoor Noise With Drapes
- Thicken Your Floors With Sound-Absorbing Rugs
- Hang Soundproofing “Art”
- Rearrange Your Furniture
- Create Noise of Your Own