The D.J. Next Door
The D.J. Next Door
Q. My family and I moved into our condominium a year ago. Our immediate neighbor is a D.J. who produces house music in a music studio in his residence. The bass beats and vibrations from next door drive us mad. After months of trying to negotiate a solution with our neighbors and spending over $12,000 on sound insulating our common wall, the board sent a letter from a lawyer stating that the music production studio breaks residential zoning laws. The D.J. could either pay to soundproof his studio properly or use headphones at all times; if he did not comply, the board would seek an injunction to have the studio removed. But the D.J. has continued to use his studio, without consequence. Now the board tells us that it will not remove the studio unless we provide proof, at our own expense, that our neighbor is still using his music studio. To do that, we would have to record the bass beats with a tamper-proof bass-decibel reader, which would cost $4,500 for one week. Why is this our responsibility? Isn’t it the board’s responsibility to enforce zoning ordinances and building rules?
Park Slope, Brooklyn
A. Because your condo board has already pointed out that the music studio violates zoning rules, it does not really matter how loud the music is. Even if the D.J. worked in silence, the studio would still be illegal. (Of course, if his choice of profession did not include earsplitting music, you might not care as much.)
“It’s not just the noise,” said Steven R. Wagner, a real estate lawyer. “It’s the fact that they’re running the business out of there, which is illegal.”
Rather than ask you to shell out $4,500 to prove the obvious, has the board considered spending a few minutes inside your apartment listening to the endless soundtrack? After all, his business violates the building’s certificate of occupancy and probably disturbs other neighbors.
“The issue with noise isn’t the power to abate it, it’s the will to abate it,” said Arline L. Bronzaft, a co-author of “Why Noise Matters: A Worldwide Perspective on the Problems, Policies and Solutions” (Routledge, 2011).
There is another reason you might not want to spend a huge sum on a decibel reader: All the money you already spent soundproofing that wall might have reduced the noise enough so that it no longer violates city noise codes, but still makes your home life miserable.
“They’ve dug themselves into a bad situation by trying to make it better,” said Alan Fierstein, the owner of Acoustilog, an acoustical consultant.
Instead, find other evidence that the neighbor’s home doubles as a studio. His business website might list the home address. If he advertises in any trade publications, the address might appear there. Call 311 to report building code violations to the Department of Buildings and noise complaints to the Department of Environmental Protection.
“All of these things provide the evidence that the board needs to determine that it is not a he said-she said situation,” Mr. Wagner said.
Once you prove that the neighbor continues to run an illegal business out of his home and the board has not remedied the situation, you could sue the neighbor for creating a nuisance. You could also probably sue the board if it fails to enforce the building’s rules and the demands it has already made.
Q. My partner and I are searching for affordable apartments to buy in a variety of neighborhoods, and (surprise!) are having trouble conceptualizing, much less planning for, the necessary financing. We have a small down payment on hand, but are concerned it may not be adequate. Are there any common standards or important guidelines we should keep in mind if we find a seller willing to explore a rent-to-own arrangement in a condo or a co-op? I’ve heard of rent-to-own options in many other cities, but I’ve never heard of such an arrangement in New York City.
East Williamsburg, Brooklyn
A. Rent-to-own arrangements got some traction back in 2008 when the housing market took a nose-dive, particularly in new developments that struggled to find buyers. But these deals have long since vanished. With inventory tight and prices rising, you will be hard-pressed to find a seller eager to wait for you.
“Right now we’re not seeing it,” said Adam B. Ginder, the general counsel for MNS, a real estate brokerage. “There is really no need for a seller to enter into that agreement.”
If you could find a willing seller, a rent-to-own option would give you the chance to test drive an apartment. But it would not guarantee that a co-op board would ultimately accept your application. Granted, your conduct and payment history as a tenant would influence the board’s decision, but you would still need to go through the application process just like any other buyer.
If you do enter into such an agreement, make sure a lawyer draws up the contract. If possible, record the document with the New York City Department of Finance’s Office of the City Register, as you would a deed. In most cases, a lender would permit you to apply only a certain portion of the rent toward the purchase costs, according to Mr. Ginder. And you must meet all the other requirements to obtain a loan. Typically, money paid in rent would be used to pay for closing costs or reduce the purchase price. Above all, the agreement should provide you with an exit clause, in case you change your mind.
You might want to consider a different approach altogether, as housing markets can change on a dime. By the time you decide to buy, the landscape might be different from what it is today. Rather than lock yourself into an apartment that you cannot yet afford, look for a modest rental below your maximum budget. Then spend the next few years saving as much money as possible for a down payment.
Paying the Co-op Board
Q. In my co-op, board members are paid a monthly fee, which comes to a few hundred dollars a month. In our particular building, it seems worth it, and the shareholders have agreed to it. But is it common for board members to be paid a fee?
East Village, Manhattan
A. Your co-op’s arrangement is certainly unusual. A position on a co-op board is usually voluntary, and most co-op bylaws do not allow board members to receive compensation. On top of that, state law prohibits board members from using their position for private or personal gain, according to Lawrence Chaifetz, a real estate lawyer.
But if your co-op’s bylaws authorize payments to board members and the shareholders are content with the arrangement, it should not be a problem. In some co-ops, particularly small ones, board members do a tremendous amount of work. In a case where board members are expected to put in far more hours than the typical monthly meeting, a stipend might be in order.
“The board might pay more attention now that they’re being paid,” Mr. Chaifetz said. “They wouldn’t feel like they’re being abused.”
On the other hand, if a building decides to self-manage its operations to reduce costs, it defeats the purpose to pay board members to perform the same services that a property manager would do.
To keep the arrangement legitimate, shareholders should be made aware of the monthly fee and understand its purpose. If this is not detailed in the co-op’s bylaws and/or the proprietary lease, then the documents should be amended accordingly, which would require a shareholder vote. Otherwise, a shareholder might one day balk at the arrangement.