Q: I live in a rental building in Harlem and have always worked from home. Since the pandemic began, the family directly above me has also been at home with two young children. Now that winter has arrived, they never seem to go out. I can hear running, jumping and screaming. Ordinarily I would work a couple of hours in the cafe on the street, but that's not an option. I know they must have cabin fever, but so do I. What should I do?
A: We've all been stuck in the house for almost a year and now that the weather is cold there are few ways to escape our isolation. Children have to play. But you have to work. These are not incompatible as long as the adults handle the noise.
Parents or carers could put thick pillows in a room to give children a designated area to run around. You could offer them activities that are more appropriate for indoor play. You could remind them to use their inner voices. You could bundle them up and take them outside to run around.
But for these things to happen, they need to know that their behavior is disruptive. You have rights. According to David A. Kaminsky, a Manhattan real estate attorney, most leases require tenants to carpet 80 percent of their floors and prohibit tenants from making unpleasant or annoying noises.
You can ask the building management to intervene and call the tenants or write them a letter. Keep a log of the malfunctions and note the date, time and type of noise. Inappropriate noise can violate your habitability guarantee, a state law. However, landlords tend not to be strong supporters of tenants with noise complaints against neighbors.
"Landlords are reluctant to get involved in noise problems and hope that they will somehow resolve themselves," said Kaminsky. (The courts also tend to view neighbor noise as an inevitable inconvenience to living in New York City.)
You may have better luck arguing directly with your neighbors. Talk to them or leave a message under their door. "Proceed in a way that makes you feel like this is a call to collaborate as opposed to a call," said Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert. Tell them, "There is a lot of noise coming from your apartment and I hope we can work something out."
You may not even have to mention the children. Simply state the noise you hear and explain how it affects your ability to work. End the conversation (or letter) by asking if they can keep the volume down. "That is up to you," said Ms. Gottsman.
Most people don't want their children to make other people unhappy. Hopefully this is how your neighbors feel and will make an effort.
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