The distress caused by noisy neighbors

Photo credit: Reynaldo #brigworkz Brigantty

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

As the member of the GrowNYC Board of Directors who responds to New York City noise complaints, city residents often reach out to me for help dealing with their noisy neighbors. I have received many pleas for help with noisy neighbors and have been able to curtail the noise in some, but not all cases. People also contact me through Quiet Communities to help with noise disturbances. The people who call me have a great deal of stress in their voices and some even start to cry as we talk.

Thus, I understand Bianca’s comment from Esther Addley’s article in The Guardian, that the noise from her neighbor has seriously affected her mental health. Bianca added that her neighbor cranks up the volume in response to her complaints. Yet, despite some response to her complaints from the appropriate authorities, the noise continues and Bianca feels helpless.

This article quotes an attorney who said that a lawyer can assist with noise complaints by checking if agencies are complying with their own noise policies. Lawyers can also apply for a mandatory order to force landlords to carry out mitigation work. The lawyer goes on to advise complainants to check on the building’s noise policy and seek assistance from an environmental health agency. If all this fails, she then advises one to seek legal assistance.  

Mike Talbot, the chief executive and founder of UK Mediation, an organization that advises people how to resolve disputes, said noise can cause distress. He advises people to resolve neighbor noise problems early on. He states that it may be wise for people to get to know their neighbors so if a noise problem arises, so they would be approaching a neighbor who they already know. This sounds like a good suggestion. 

But there was a section of this article that startled me, and should startle you as well. Addley informs us of a man, Mark Pearce, who took his life because of the stress of neighbor noise. When a landlord failed to address Pearce’s noise complaints about an inconsiderate neighbor, he died by suicide. Guardian readers who learned about Pearce’s death contacted the publication to share their experiences with neighbor noise. They describe how stressful and painful neighbor noises are and that nothing can be done to stop neighbors from making these noises. Hopefully, people subjected to excessive noise will not harm themselves. 

While death might be rare, what is not rare is the stress and mental anguish that neighbor noise imposes on so many people. What is also common is that noise complaints are frequently ignored or dismissed. So what can be done?

Legislation exists that can address noise complaints, and public officials are obliged to see those laws enforced. Where no laws yet exist, public officials must take action to pass appropriate regulations. Neighbor noise complaints must be addressed — our health and well-being are at stake!

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