Our Position on Proposed Changes to the NYC Noise Code

A recently proposed change to the Noise Code, Intro. 160, would weaken protections for both businesses and residences that are being disturbed by noise. A NYC Council hearing on this proposal was held on October 16, 2023.

The nightlife industry, which I often support, has proposed changes which were not crafted with the help of experts in the field. The changes would allow businesses to produce sub-bass music which leaks out of their premises.

I have urged the NYC Council not to pass this proposal. Furthermore, I have recommended just the opposite - to pay more attention to the bass music and other bass sounds as well.

As most people know, bass music or "vibrations" are the most common noise that is heard when someone plays loud music in a bar, gym, restaurant or even a loud home music system.

The proposal is to ignore the bass, particularly the loud sub-bass, by using a method of measurements known as "dBA". While this method has always been used in the Noise Code, expanding the use of dBA as the exclusive method of measuring music from a business is obviously bad for the surrounding neighbors.

While there is another section of the code that protects residences from some bass frequencies, it leaves the disturbing "subwoofer" frequencies unregulated, and sets no limits for any kind of bass that leaks into an office, store or school.

Depending on how the Code is changed, what will the residential neighbors do? Maybe they will call the police, who lack the training and equipment to measure noise. Possibly they will call 311, and the City DEP inspectors will come over and test how much sound is leaking into their space. They will use a meter that ignores the loudest part - the sub-bass. The inspectors say everything is fine. The residential neighbors then have to suffer with noisy homes and lost sleep.

How about the commercial neighbors? They will do the same thing as the residents- call the police or the City DEP inspectors. They too will get frustrated, so what happens next?

Using the Noise Code is not the only method to enforce peace and quiet; but it is far simpler and cheaper for everyone involved than entering into a major lawsuit. With the proposed change, lawsuits will be much more common, wasting tremendous amounts of money and time.

Let's say you run a gym or a dance studio. The people who live upstairs, or the office workers next door tell you that your noise is too loud. But you don't know if they're too sensitive. So you don't lower your volume or soundproof. What will happen next? Now, the neighbors have no choice but to sue you. Expect anywhere from $10,000 to $500,000 in legal fees. Isn't it great that the Noise Code saved you from getting a $2000 fine?

Or maybe you run a bar, restaurant or nightclub. The neighbors can complain to the State Liquor Authority, and your liquor license is now in jeopardy. If you lose it, your business is gone. Typically, you will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.

As a business owner, you might think that having preventative rules and fines is bad for you. In the short run, that's true. If there was no speed limit, you would be able to get to your friend's house more quickly, in the short run. In the long run, you will be stuck in traffic behind the fatal crash scene, or maybe you will be the cause of it. Come to think of it, maybe the speed limit wasn't such a bad idea.

We supposedly live in a civilized society. Let's have rules that make sense for all of us.

Alan Fierstein