Q: I live in a rental building in Harlem and have always worked from home. Since the start of the pandemic, the family directly above me has been home, too, with two young children. Now that winter is here, they never seem to go out. I can hear running, jumping and shouting. Normally, I’d work at the cafe down the street for a few hours, but that’s not an option. I know they must have cabin fever, but so do I. What am I supposed to do?
A: We’ve all been stuck inside for close to a year, and now that the weather is cold, there are few escapes from our isolation. Children need to play. But you need to work. These are not incompatible, so long as the adults deal with the noise.
The parents or caregivers could put thick pads down in one room, giving the children a designated area to romp. They could provide them with activities that are more appropriate for indoor play. They could remind them to use their inside voices. They could bundle them up and take them outside to run around.
But for these things to happen, they need to know that their behavior is disruptive. You do have rights. Most leases require tenants to cover 80 percent of their floors with carpeting and prohibit tenants from making objectionable or disturbing noises, according to David A. Kaminsky, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.
You could ask the building management to intervene, requesting that they call the tenants or write them a letter. Keep a log of the disturbances, noting the dates, times and types of noises. Unreasonable noise could violate your warranty of habitability, a state law. However, landlords tend not to be strong advocates for tenants with noise complaints directed at neighbors.
“Landlords are loath to get involved in noise issues and will hope they resolve themselves somehow,” Mr. Kaminsky said. (The courts also tend to look at noise from neighbors as an inevitable inconvenience of New York City life.)
You may have better luck reasoning with your neighbors directly. Talk to them, or leave a note under their door. “Approach it in a manner which makes them feel that this is a request to collaborate as opposed to a demand,” said Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert. Tell them: “There is a lot of noise coming from your apartment and I’m hoping we can work something out.”
You may not even need to mention the children. Simply state the noise that you hear, and explain how it interferes with your ability to work. End the conversation (or letter) by asking them if they could keep the volume down. “That leaves it up to them,” Ms. Gottsman said.
Most people don’t want their children to make other people miserable. Hopefully, your neighbors feel that way and will make the effort.