Turn Down the Music

madonna.jpgNew York City’s population density inherently gives rise to noise complaints by cooperative neighbors. The New York Post reported today about a lawsuit filed by a cooperative shareholder against his neighbor for unreasonable noise caused by his neighbor’s piano playing. This blog entry will discuss the various issues raised by this lawsuit.

Cooperatives are legally formed upon the acceptance of its Offering Plan for filing with the Real Estate Finance Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office. The cooperative’s Proprietary Lease and House Rules would be included in its Offering Plan. At the closing, the shareholder signs the Proprietary Lease and House Rules, agreeing to the terms thereof. The Proprietary Lease contains the provisions by which a shareholder has the right to occupy a particular unit and the regulations governing such occupancy, such as the obligation to pay maintenance, sublease rules and rights to transfer the unit. House Rules contain specific itemized rules such as where packages may be delivered, laundry room rules, move-in and move-out regulations, and rules governing which elevator can be used for freight or pets. If the House Rules are violated, such a breach is deemed to be a violation of the Proprietary Lease. The Proprietary Lease contains provisions for the cooperative’s board’s response to a default, typically commenced by the service of a default notice, which may result in the service of a termination notice.

Most Proprietary Leases contain a clause prohibiting a shareholder from making unreasonable noises. Likewise, the House Rules governing many cooperative buildings commonly prohibit the playing of musical instruments between the hours of 11:00 pm and 9:00 am. Once a shareholder finds the noise to be unreasonable, he should bring the matter to the attention of the board of the cooperative, encouraging the commencement of a default procedure against the offending shareholder under the objectionable conduct provisions contained in the Proprietary Lease. Should the Board remain unresponsive, the shareholder may need to commence a lawsuit against the cooperative for failure to enforce the governing documents and against the shareholder who is continuing to make unreasonable noise.

The resolution of the matter involves what is a reasonable amount of noise for a neighbor to tolerate. On the Upper West Side of Manhattan, populated by many musicians who perform at nearby Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, it should be expected that one’s neighbors may practice their musical instruments at home. The complainant in the case disliked hearing musical scales and did not agree that the musician was talented enough to subject him to constant noise. The relative talent of a particular musician or the particular notes that they play is understandably not part of the consideration of whether the noise is reasonable. Of course, these matters may be left to the subjective determination of the cooperative board or judge. As this author’s mother was a professional pianist, the sounds of the piano are inherently pleasing and if I were the determinant of the matter, I would likely give the musician more leeway. On the other hand, would even a well-played bagpipe account for reasonable noise that a neighbor should be expected to tolerate?

In 2009, one of Madonna’s neighbors brought suit against her cooperative, its managing agent and Madonna due to the noise emanating from Madonna’s unit, which was allegedly used as a dance rehearsal studio from time to time. During the course of the litigation, Madonna decided to use another property to serve as her dance studio. Eventually, the parties settled the lawsuit by stipulation, the terms of which are not available to the public.

Although one’s noise complaint may not involve a famous person, our firm is available to address the issue from different perspectives. While representing the cooperative board , we will advise our client as to whether a default procedure should be initiated. We commonly represent parties complaining of unreasonable noise, whether from musical instruments or other causes. At times the resolution may involve an agreement to install sound reduction acoustical devices or additional carpeting, while in other matters litigation may be necessary.