Noise is the top complaint in New York City with booming construction surrounding residents who complain only to see their concerns go unaddressed for days or met with a small fine paid by developers as a cost of doing business. We passed a law I authored with support of Environmental Chair Constantinides in 2017 to reduce noise on after hours construction from 85-decibels to 75-decibels, a reduction of about half.
We also changed the law so violations could be issued without having to measure noise from inside someone’s home.
In all, the legislation requires:
- Responding to Noise Complaints When They Are Likely to Happen – DEP will adopt rules for responding to after hours noise complaints in order to ensure that inspections happen when the noise is likely to continue or repeat.
- New After Hours Construction Noise Limits in Residential Neighborhoods - within 200 feet of a residence after hours building construction noise would be capped at 80 decibels starting next year and 75 decibels in 2020.
- Measuring After Hours Residential Noise Inside or Outside – within 200 feet of a residence after hours building construction noise could not exceed 8 decibels above the ambient noise levels inside the home with windows and doors closed, which in 2020 will decrease to 7 decibels. In addition to measuring building construction noise levels inside the home, noise could now be measured outside the home at least 50 feet from the noise source and within 200 feet of the residence.
- New Noise Standards for Interior Renovations – interior renovations will now be explicitly subject to new rules for noise mitigation, methods, procedures and technology.
- Electronic Filing of Noise Mitigation Plans – noise mitigation and alternative noise mitigation plans would need to be filed electronically to make it easier for inspectors and the public to access online.
- Review of Alternative Noise Mitigation Plans – when construction cannot be done quieter than 85 decibels the developer would be required to submit an alternative noise mitigation plan that would now be required to set a specific decibel limit for the project and would also be subject to city approval.
- New Enforcement Powers to Stop Noisy After Hours Construction – whenever after hours building construction exceeds noise levels the city would have to issue an advisory or violation and could also issue a stop work order for a specific piece of equipment.
- Reporting on Noise Enforcement – DEP will report annually to the Council and the public on the number of noise inspectors, number of complaints by type, the number inspected on time, how the complaint was resolved, the number of alternative mitigation plans and the number of advisories, violations and stop work orders issued.
Responding to New York City’s Top Complaint, Noise, in Time to Fix It
In 2016, violations went down as complaints went up, according to the New York Post. Analysis found that noise complaints peak dramatically after 8pm then fall after midnight, with a second increase between 7am and 9am, according to Pratt Professor Ben Wellington in The New Yorker.
In response, I joined Council Member Constantinides to introduce legislation that would require the city to respond to noise complaints for nightlife and construction within two hours or on a subsequent day within an hour of the time of the complaint. The bill aims to increase the likelihood that inspectors will identify the source of the noise, issue a violation, and restore quiet.
Lowering the Volume on After Hours Construction Noise in New York City Passes Council
Introduction 1653-B, which I authored in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), passed that committee and then passed the City Council later that same day. After hours noise would officially be targeted with new rules for responding when the noise is still happening or is likely to happen again, turning down the volume on after hours construction noise in residential neighborhoods over the next two years, and empowering DEP to shut down equipment that is too loud. The law went into effect in January of 2018.
See news coverage of this issue and my legislation below:
New York Daily News: “Construction sites must lower noise during city’s quiet time under new law” (December 2017)
Construction done at odd hours will have to turn down the volume under a bill passed by the City Council on Tuesday.
The legislation sponsored by Councilman Ben Kallos places stricter limits on construction within 200 feet of a home before 7 a.m. and after 6 p.m. on weekdays, and any time on weekends.
“New York City may be the city that never sleeps, but that shouldn’t be because of after-hours construction that wakes you up,” said Kallos (D-Manhattan). “Noise is the top complaint in New York City.”
Time Out New York: “City Council passes measure to make NYC quieter at night”
Introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos, the measure would require the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to more thoroughly inspect and respond to late-night noise complaints. Currently, crews working overnight are forbidden from creating noise that exceeds 85 decibels within 200 feet of a residential building. This legislation forces that figure to drop to 75 decibels in 2020 and removes some barriers that prevent the DEP from investigating noise complaints.
Instead of scheduling an appointment with residents to inspect excessive work noise, the measure would allow representatives from the DEP to measure decibels on the street level. Further, it would require the department to dispatch an inspector within two hours or on a later date at the same hour of the day that the original complaint was received.
The legislation still requires sign-off from Mayor Bill de Blasio. If (and when) that happens, New York City could become a (slightly) quieter place at night.
AMNY: “How are noise complaints handled in NYC?” (May 2018)
City Council Member Ben Kallos joined members of the East Side Task Force for Homeless Outreach in celebrating the Dec. 10 grand opening. This new location will help distribute locally grown produce and other healthy groceries, offering a community diner that serves restaurant quality meals, clothing rooms and even a transitional mailing address, in addition to the wide array of social service resources.
“Our neighborhood is proud to welcome anyone in need, whether you are from midtown or downtown, Manhattan is sticking together to get through these tough times,” said Kallos, a founder of the East Side Taskforce for Homeless Services. “I am proud to have partnered with our faith-based organizations and fellow elected officials to be able to open a much-needed community center like this one.”
City Limits: “Unhealthy Levels of Noise Outside Some City Schools” (July 2018)
A recent piece of local legislation, authored by Councilmember Ben Kallos and passed in January, mandates all noise mitigation plans be filed electronically, effective for all plans created after May 5th. “After years of getting noise complaints then asking the city to do something about it and requesting a copy of the noise mitigation plans, I started to think they didn’t exist. Now we will be able to see for ourselves, force developers to follow the plans, and turn down the volume on construction noise,” wrote Councilman Kallos in an email.
New York Times: “New York Is a Noisy City. One Man Got Revenge” (June 2019)
City Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side and is also a lawyer, said Mr. Edison was pursuing an unusual legal route.
Small claims court is typically the last resort for settling disputes over specific monetary damages — not a venue for fighting quality-of-life issues.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that he was able to win some small victory,” he said.
CBS New York: “Manhattan Man Sues Construction Company, Local Stores Over Late Night Noise And Wins by Natalie Duddridge” (June 2019)
The man not only sued, he won his case to end the noise according to elected officials.
“He did something I thought nobody would ever do… he got them to agree and he got paid. That is huge and I really hope that more people do it and force developers to turn down the volume,” city councilman Ben Kallos said.
For more information, view the full bill text at legistar.council.nyc.gov.