What to do about excessive upstairs noise in NYC apartment
May 24, 2023 3:15 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend who lives in an apartment in New York City. She has an upstairs neighbor who "has for some months been placing her bass subwoofer loudspeaker against her bedroom floor (my bedroom ceiling) and playing random jolts of low bass sound at irregular intervals through almost every night."

She feels this is intentional and intended to harass her. She says the police say they can't get involved, and that the building's management refuses to inspect or test in any manner, believing whatever excuses the upstairs tenant is giving them. (There was a previous confrontation between friend and neighbor over a different issue; neighbor may be citing that to management as evidence of animus on the part of friend against neighbor; friend feels that is the reason neighbor is harassing her.)

My friend (who is elderly) has made attempts to record this sound as evidence, but has not had much success. She likes her apartment and the location and would prefer not to have to move. Discussion of the issue with neighbor has not worked so far. What recourse does she have? Again, specifically New York City.
posted by beagle to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
She could try using the free city mediation service with the neighbor.
posted by praemunire at 3:28 PM on May 24 [2 favorites]

Besides trying to record it, can someone stay overnight with her to attest to the sound disruption? Landlords will often be unwilling to intervene in complaints of this kind for a lot of reasons, mostly because evictions are really expensive, but one big one is the possibility of hallucination. If she ends up having or needing any kind of formal recourse, a witness to the sound would be hugely helpful, even just in terms of getting a tenants' rights org to take her seriously.

Try the Citywide Legal Services Hotline, stressing that it's about being free from the noise as opposed to a neighbor-on-neighbor dispute (i.e., the question is, how can the landlord step in, not how can I sue my neighbor) since many legal aid agencies won't advise on neighbor-on-neighbor.

Speaking generally, NYC has 'quiet enjoyment' protections-- which aren't exactly what they sound like; it's the right to use and occupy an apartment in peace, not a right to a quiet apartment. But a landlord has an obligation to guarantee the tenant's ability to occupy the apartment peaceably, and sometimes courts'll find that a sufficient unabated nuisance constitutes a quiet enjoyment violation. It really depends.
posted by peppercorn at 3:58 PM on May 24 [4 favorites]

Sorry for a weird question, and mods are free to delete if it's a derail, but this seems like a lot of effort to surreptitiously harass a neighbor, so: Does she ever hear these irregular sounds while she's completely awake? Exploding head syndrome is a thing.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:47 PM on May 24 [12 favorites]

If the police and landlord won't help, her next step might be to go to her local city council member. Often a phone call from them goes a long way. She should call to set up a meeting in person and follow up to confirm by email. In my neighborhood, if this doesn't work, posting a description of the situation on a local FB group and tagging the city council member often helps.

The police should be willing to do something but they will likely need to hear the noise themselves. There is also the possibility of withholding rent to get the landlord to do something, but that is pretty risky in this situation.
posted by luckdragon at 6:13 PM on May 24

If this is happening nearly every night, it should be easy enough to record with either a phone or a stand-alone digital recorder. Whoever the matter gets escalated to, they’re going to need evidence.

If no one is able to document the noise, I think a check in with a physician really needs to be the next step.
posted by not just everyday big moggies at 7:17 PM on May 24 [4 favorites]

Re: struggling to capture audio of the subwoofer. I sometimes need to record demo clips of subwoofers for work. (Just a "prove that it works" type thing, not anything high quality)
If you record audio that's only deep bass on a phone, the audio will be nearly or completely inaudible when played back on the built in speaker in the phone. (Due to the speaker in the phone being unable to reproduce deep bass.) Your friend should try listening to the recording with a decent pair of headphones, earbuds or a bluetooth speaker.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 7:41 PM on May 24 [8 favorites]

Excessive noise can be a violation of warrant of habitability laws in NYC. Landlord have to ensure the places they rent meet basic standards

Speak to a tenants' rights org and focus on the landlords responsibility to meet warrant of habitability srandards.
posted by brookeb at 10:02 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

If the bass is so bad that you can really feel the vibrations, she might be able to keep a glass of water on the table and film what happens when the bass comes on.

Do you know anyone technologically adept who maybe has the kind of camera you can just leave on all night? Or who has a decibel meter?

A witness really might be helpful. Also, depending on the apartment layout someone in the unit adjacent to the upstairs neighbor might be affected too.

That said, this really does imply the upstairs neighbor is not getting much sleep themselves...
posted by trig at 10:36 PM on May 24 [3 favorites]

An elderly family member of mine complained that her neighbor was playing the radio too loud at all hours, and suspected it was intentional to harass her. It turned out she had developed some form of tinnitus.
posted by dbx at 5:18 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't be so quick to attribute this to intentional harassment. I bet it's from a sound system connected to a television, and that the "random jolts of low bass sound" are from movies or video games. Most likely the upstairs neighbor has no idea it's intruding into the apartment below to such an extent. Subwoofers are almost always placed on the floor, but this isn't actually the best place for them, so maybe they can be convinced to move it.
posted by slkinsey at 8:41 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]

Yeah, just an anecdote, but something very similar happened to my grandmother, and my mom was all geared up to go to battle with the neighbor, but then they were driving somewhere and my grandma said "I hear it now." So it turned out to be an auditory hallucination.

All of which is to say that the first step here really needs to be confirming that someone else can hear this.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:18 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]

A non-elderly friend was uh, convinced that the downstairs neighbours were pissed at them and lifting ceiling tiles to bang against their floor and be noisy.

Having been at the apartment, and encountered the neighbours, and having an idea of the building style - I suggested it was probably the pipes doing something weird and carrying or echoing noise weirdly.

They did not believe me.

They... Kinda *still* believe that the noise was intentionally their neighbours and not the pipes, despite later sending a *video* to us, of when their pipes were revealed, the pipes creating a didgeridoo-like resonance, echoing and vibrating weirdly, and they've stopped complaining about their neighbours so much after the plumber finished fixing that.
They were also able to record the didgeridoo pipes, which they hadn't for what they assumed was their neighbours making weird sounds to fuck with them, but I guess it's just really hard to walk back from that for a lot of people.


So, first step is not attributing intentional malice to something that can be weird echoing, pipes, hot or cold water etc, and thoroughly investigate that *first*.

Like, when people are intentionally pissing off their neighbours, they just play *music*, it takes a Machiavellian mind to, instead, play 'low bass sound' irregularly, and erratically, when it'll wake them up too.

This sounds waay more like water hammer or knocking, which is when people using the bathroom in the middle of the night (anywhere in the apartment block) creates a dull knocking, or *low bass sound*, at certain junctures.
Something might have come loose, or air might have got in to make this happen...
posted by Elysum at 3:20 PM on May 25 [3 favorites]

Apparently the low bass humm is just referred to as pipes humming, separate to knocking, but it can absolutely sound like low bass vibration noise.
posted by Elysum at 6:08 PM on May 25

I’m also thinking some other device like an air filtration machine maybe kicks on periodically?
posted by amanda at 5:44 AM on May 26

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