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How to File a Noise Complaint


Q: I live in a Harlem condo. The owner of the neighboring unit rents out her apartment to a tenant who runs her air-conditioner all day and night. The unit is directly outside my bedroom window. During the day I don’t mind the hum, but at night the noise is unbearable if I open my window. I reached out to the owner of the apartment, who claimed the tenants agreed to put the air-conditioner on a low setting at night. But they haven’t done so. What should I do?

A: Air-conditioners are notoriously noisy, but your neighbor’s might have bigger problems than a typical rattly window unit. “It could be broken, a bad design, bad installation or bad geometry,” said Alan Fierstein, the owner of Acoustilog, a Manhattan noise consultant.

While noise complaints can be difficult to win, you do have some avenues to pursue that could work. Start with your condo association. Review the condo’s governing documents to see if an air-conditioner is a common element of the building. If so, the condo is responsible for maintaining it and you should write a letter, sent by certified mail, insisting that the board repair or replace the unit.

But even if the board isn’t responsible for maintaining the air-conditioner, it has other obligations to you. Check the house rules to see what language exists about unreasonable noise or nuisance, then write the board a letter insisting that it compel your neighbor to fix or replace the unit. The board could hire a noise consultant to check the noise levels in your apartment.

You could also file a complaint with the city. For that, call 311 and request that an inspector come to measure the decibels. Despite the pandemic, city inspectors are still out in the field. “For a complaint concerning noise created by an air-conditioner, inspectors have been taking noise readings from outside of dwellings, typically within a few days of the report coming in,” said Ted Timbers, a Department of Environmental Protection spokesman. If the levels violate the city noise code, the unit owner could get a ticket.

Throughout this process, continue a dialogue with the unit owner. Encourage her to repair or replace the air-conditioner. Record the sound at night so she can understand how loud it is. Tell her if she doesn’t resolve this problem, you will escalate your efforts and get the city or board to act on your behalf.

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