New Noise Code Passed for N.Y. City

Update: Although the new Noise Code took effect officially on July 1st, 2007, City inspectors are not always using the more sophisticated meters that we recommended and are now required by the code. Read More

The New Noise Code was passed by the City Council on December 21, 2005 and signed by Mayor Bloomberg on December 29. It goes into effect on July 1, 2007. Alan Fierstein of Acoustilog was involved in the new Noise Code, invited by City Council Speaker James F. Gennaro to inform the Council of the ramifications of DEP’s proposed changes to the existing law. Read letter from Councilman Gennaro

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Mr. Fierstein had previously testified at two separate public hearings at City Hall, in January and December of 2005. He made two main points: That the existing Noise Code was not being enforced properly at the time, and that some of the new proposals would unfairly hurt residents as well as unfairly impact businesses.

For example, the DEP proposed that vibration be measured in apartments. Any business playing music could be fined if the vibrations measured over the limit. While many people complain of “vibrations”, what they are referring to is actually “low frequency” or “bass” sounds. The existing law to measure these isn’t being used. We argued that it should be. We also demonstrated to the Council, using a vibration meter, how wildly different readings can occur by measuring the same vibrations in different places within inches of each other.

The Council forced the DEP to remove this proposal. Vibration will not be measured. Our proposal that DEP obtain Spectrum Analyzers to measure the real problem, bass, has been incorporated into the new code. The Mayor had stated that he was in favor of using the latest technology to attack the problem. When we pointed out that the proper meters would accomplish this, he agreed.

The DEP also proposed that Commercial Music heard on a street could be a violation, even without using meters to test the sound level. We attacked the idea of using the totally subjective “plainly audible” idea for several reasons. First of all, we said, what is in people’s apartments is the issue, not the sound on the street. Second, any business owner ticketed because the sound was “plainly audible” in some inspector’s opinion would fight it in court, wasting time, his own money, and the taxpayer’s money, instead of spending it on the proper soundproofing. These court fights can drag on for years, during which time the residents affected by the noise would get no relief.

Fortunately, the Council forced DEP to remove this proposal also. "Plainly audible" will not be used with regard to commercial music. Instead, actual objective readings will have to be taken, which are less likely to be argued about. Sidewalk noise outside businesses must now be metered and tested at least 15’ from the storefront. In our experience business owners prefer to fix problems over paying lawyers if they believe that they are truly violating a reasonable law.

Business owners: there is a cure provision for a first violation which allows you to make corrections, including soundproofing, etc., rather than pay a fine. This does not exist in any other Code nor does it exist in this Code for any other industry. However, you should remember that the DEP can give more violations and impose fines at any time after the first violation, even during the cure period. Therefore, you must cure the problem immediately.

Sound will no longer be measured in unreasonable non-living areas such as closets and crawlspaces. A hardship provision will help businesses that, for example, legally moved into a commercial area that later received new restrictive or residential zoning nearby.

We argued that often people take up illegal residence near an establishment and then complain that it is too noisy. The DEP agreed to modify the law so that when sound readings are taken in residential units, the apartments must be legal residences.

Sometimes multiple air conditioners on a roof add up to more noise than any one unit. The DEP proposed making businesses jointly liable with other businesses or even residential tenants for multiple roof a/c units, including the owners of the quiet units. At our urging, this section has been deleted. Owners are only responsible for their own units.

We had a problem with inspectors forcing businesses to test equipment at inappropriate times. The DEP agreed to modify the Code. Therefore, if inspectors arrive at a busy time and want a business to shut off the sound system, kitchen exhaust fan or a/c unit, they can be told to delay the testing if it would cause discomfort to business employees or customers.

We argued that people should be able to do quiet construction after hours. By quiet, we meant spackling, painting, measuring, etc. The DEP added language to the Code such that construction activities with minimal noise impact will be able to be done after hours.

There were many other proposals we made, and these may have an impact on the internal rule-making that DEP does between now and the date of enactment. We intend to push for more intelligent, fair and simple rules that solve problems for residents without unfairly impacting businesses. We also intend to push for “unreasonable noise” regulations that allow DEP to issue violations to noisy residents who disturb their neighbors.

Alan Fierstein: Testimony Before NY City Council Re: New Noise Code

On January 26th, 2005 Alan Fierstein testified before the New York City Council regarding the revision of the noise code. A press release covering the main points of his testimony appears below;

The City Council has the opportunity to improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers. However, the proposed bill, Intro. No. 397, needs to be changed before adoption, or thousands of businesses will be adversely affected, and millions of New Yorkers will face unnecessary noise disturbances.

The Council cannot afford the time to evaluate a technically complex proposal. They must recognize that there are serious problems with the law that must be resolved by a Task Force of Civic, Industry and Government experts. The Council does not have the time or expertise to debate the dozens of fine points that will make the law either a success or a failure.

I will highlight the following problems with Intro. 397:

Consultation re: Nightlife Licensing Code

Alan Fierstein has also been working with New York City Dept. of Consumer Affairs to develop new Night Life Licensing Code.

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