Practicing At Home

Can you practice in your apartment? Yes. No matter what your neighbor might say, the law is on your side: professional musicians have the right to practice in their apartments during reasonable hours. However, there are limitations, set by NYC regulations and rules that may govern your particular building.

Generally speaking, you can practice between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. provided that the sound is not more than 10 decibels above the ambient noise level of the surrounding environment. For reference, midtown traffic registers at about 80 decibels, while a lawnmower at 10 ft registers at about 90. Comparing the two, that is approximately how much louder than the surrounding environment your practicing would need to be to be in violation of Section 24-203(34) of the NYC Noise Code (Local Law No. 113), which provides that music is not an impulsive sound, and of Section 24-218, which states that a violation occurs if “sound other than impulsive sound, during the hours between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., is 10 decibels or more above the ambient noise level.” If you live in a building without any sound dampening materials or insufficient insulation, this may require you to add carpeting, sound tiles, or use mutes when you practice.  However, you CAN practice. It should be noted, however, that using your apartment, co-op, or condominium for commercial purposes could be a violation of a residential lease and should be avoided.

If my neighbors complain, what could happen? A neighbor could file a private nuisance claim against you. Local 802 counsel Harvey Mars explains that a “private nuisance claim requires factual allegations that a defendant is engaging in behavior that ‘substantially, intentionally, and unreasonably’ interferes with a plaintiff’s right to use and enjoy real property. [If faced with such a claim,] it is a good idea to first try to work these issues out. The law is on the musicians’ side, but failure to take a reasonable, balanced, and strategic approach can lead to costly and time-consuming litigation.”

What have the courts said?

  • “The development and practice of one’s musical talents is an important part of a musician’s professional work, and is just as much a pursuit of a legitimate business or livelihood as the operation of a factory or auto repair shop which also necessarily involves the emanation of sounds or noises.” People v. Cifarelli, 115 Misc.2d 587, 588, 454 N.Y.S.2d 525 (Crim.Ct. Queens Co. 1982)
  • “Efforts of a co-op board trying to restrict the playing of musical instruments to one and a half hours per day per person, and prohibiting any playing after 8 p.m., were unsuccessful. The court found that such a restriction was arbitrary and unreasonable.” Justice Court Mutual Housing Cooperative, Inc. v. Sandow, 50 Misc.2d 541.270 N.Y.S.2d 829 (Sup.Ct.Qns.Co.1966).   

For more information, please see Local 802 counsel Harvey Mars’ Allegro article on the subject.

(reprinted from this blog post.)