The joke in New York City is that there are two seasons: winter and construction.
Residents in other cities quip the same, but the idiom rings truest here, where New Yorkers filed more than 446,000 noise-related complaints in 2017, the most common reports coming via 311. Those complaints flag loud construction sites, car and truck horns but even more typically “loud parties” or music.
For New Yorkers woken up to the sounds of jackhammers in the morning, the city’s Noise Code protects its residents from such sonic assaults. And, earlier this year, the City Council passed a bill sponsored by Councilman Ben Kallos that aims to limit construction noise—particularly during overnights and weekends.
New construction projects need to abide by a lower sound limit when working after hours — before 7 a.m. or after 6 p.m. — during the business week and anytime on weekends. Before the law passed, crews were not permitted to make noise above 85 decibels within 200 feet of a residence. That limit will drop to 75 decibels in 2020 under the new rules.
Listening to sustained, repeated sounds “at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss,” according to the National Institutes of Health. For comparison, a normal conversation has a decibel level around 60 decibels; a jackhammer is around 110 decibels and a nearby jet takeoff would be at roughly 130 decibels.
The city’s Department of Environmental Protection offers a summary guide to the code online and Edward Timbers, a DEP spokesman, helped answer some common questions on rules around noise violations:
Under current laws, what levels of noise are permissible in residential New York City areas and when?
According to the NYC Noise Code, the level of noise that is permissible depends largely on the level of ambient noise in the area.
If a report of unreasonable noise comes to DEP, an inspector will be sent to the location to take readings of both the ambient levels of noise, and the level of noise with the offending activity, whether it be construction, a barking dog or an HVAC unit.
The Noise Code sets out parameters for each particular activity, and how much noise it may legally create above the ambient level. A noisy party may result in a visit by NYPD, who will determine whether the noise is reasonable, or not.
What protections are in place to ensure that construction contractors meet those noise regulations?
All construction projects must file a noise mitigation plan and take all reasonable steps to limit the amount of noise they create. If a certain activity is creating an unreasonable amount of noise, a recently passed law authorizes DEP to order the activity to be stopped until the excessive noise is abated.
And what penalties are in place for contractors, or individual residents, who violate noise regulations?
A Notice of Violation issued by DEP carries penalties ranging from $50 to $24,000. A repeat offender who shows no willingness to remedy an unreasonably noisy situation could be issued a cease and desist order from the courts.
Where can residents go to file noise complaints?