You rented your Hamptons’ summer home for serenity, but your neighbor apparently rented his to throw parties. Your idea of perfection is outdoor lunch with some nice background music and perhaps a nap on the hammock or reading a book. Your neighbor clearly likes drinking with a DJ and loud dance parties. You are just incompatible and this isn’t going to work. What should you do?
The starting place is to know your rights – you have a right to quiet and your neighbor doesn’t have a right to party.
To illustrate, in the Town of Southampton, pursuant to Code section 235-3, residential noise restrictions, at the lot line, are set between 7AM and 7PM at a limit of 65 dBA’s and between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. at a limit of 50dBA’s. Penalties for violating these limits are levied against everyone present during a violation and are set at $1,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 15 days or both coupled with an injunction to prevent continued violations.
So, if your neighbor is violating this code, you can report a complaint by utilizing this website: sos.southamptontownny.gov/entryForm.html
Remember, the East End is composed of many different towns and villages with their own unique local law setting noise restrictions.
To find your local law, utilize this website: generalcode.com/resources/ecode360-library/#NY
However, what happens when you find the local law, report the neighbor to code enforcement, but code enforcement does nothing? Can you file a complaint against your neighbor by yourself?
No, but you can sue your neighbor to stop the noise and recover money for your lost enjoyment. The lawsuit is called a private nuisance cause of action and is actionable where the neighbor’s noise intentionally, substantially, and unreasonably interfered with your use and enjoyment of your property. Interestingly, New York courts do not require that the town or village first issued a noise ordinance violation in order for you to be able to sue so don’t worry if the town or village didn’t act on your complaint.
If you are experiencing a noisy neighbor, here are the steps you should take to stop the noise:
Be neighborly and simply ask your neighbor to be respectful and to lower the volume. Sometimes being brave enough to ask is everything and no further action is necessary. However, many individuals feel awkward about approaching their neighbor with such a request and just won’t. If you are such an individual, try a nice handwritten letter to your neighbor including the request (make a copy of your letter for future evidence). Remember that every judge in America is going to want to see that you tried to resolve the issue before going to the courts for help so don’t skip this step even if you know it won’t help.
If the noise won’t stop, you should next check your local town or village code for the specific decibel rules for your community. Then, purchase a noise decibel reader (you can even get an app for your cell phone) to calculate the decibel level. After carefully recording the decibels at the lot line for multiple days and keeping a record of your findings, you should file an official complaint with your town or village. Remember to monitor your request and follow-up with the town or village because they are bombarded with requests and you don’t want yours to slip through the cracks.
If the town or village does nothing (remember to have patience before you give up on local government) and the noise hasn’t stopped, then and only then, call an attorney. You should initially have this attorney send a demand letter seeking the end of the noise. If that doesn’t solve the problem, it’s time to start a lawsuit. When considering this option, be mindful that these types of lawsuits can cost tens of thousands of dollars and will likely require an expert witness to go out and record the noise level, so only bring the lawsuit when you are out of alternative options.
Andrew M. Lieb, Esq., MPH, is the managing attorney of Lieb at Law P.C. and a contributing writer for Behind the Hedges.