Letter: I fought a noisy hookah bar and won -- but lost, too

Hager?s former apartment building, which was the subject Hager’s former apartment building, which was the subject of numerous 311 complaints, in Alphabet City. Photo Credit: Hannah Hager

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I read amNewYork's story about noise complaints to 311, and it reminded me of my battle royal last year with my neighbor -- a hookah bar located directly under my first-floor apartment.

At the time, my roommate and I suffered from the usual naivete of first-time New York apartment renters when we listened to and believed the real estate agent who said there had never been any noise complaints against the hookah bar.

We moved in on a Monday and slept peacefully for four days. Then Thursday came. At 10 p.m. a torrent of Rihanna's melodies rose up through the floorboards, and an overwhelming sense of dread coupled with bass beats was its undertow.

I was immediately awash in the truth that we had been lied to and were trapped in a wet-inked lease. How could anyone live like this? Our floors and walls vibrated, and the dishes in our sink clinked along with every beat of the Thursday-to-Saturday showtime.

Noise ranks as the No 1 complaint since the 311 help line was established in 2003, according to amNewYork. More than 3.1 million noise complaints have been filed in the past decade. I was among those voices.

I'm not perturbed by sirens, honking or yelling. But I can't handle bass on a weeknight. We waged war on the bar owners, and I became an expert in New York sound ordinances. Commercial establishments must limit the level of unreasonable noise to 42 decibels as measured from inside nearby residences. To give you an idea, the level of normal conversation is 50 decibels, and stereos or boom boxes measure 110 decibels. The next highest level is a jet plane, which registers at 130 decibels.

I also became a prolific dialer and filer of 311 noise complaints. The cops -- whose station was located across the street and whose desks were visible from my kitchen window -- dutifully followed up on each complaint, but to no avail.

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Two of the hookah bar owners made halfhearted attempts to appease us. They said they would pay to install carpet and would caulk our pipes. They would do anything they could think of that wouldn't cost them more than $50 and would also therefore be useless.

The other tenants could feel and hear the bass up to the fifth floor. We had all become dependent on sleeping pills and wine. I begged the landlord to force the hookah bar to properly soundproof. Maybe it had been damaged during superstorm Sandy and there was insurance money available?

It was clear that the owners weren't going to spend the tens of thousands of dollars to do this, and it was also clear that if we didn't vacate, we would go insane. The night I found myself on the sidewalk screaming and pointing my finger in the owner's face, I realized my battle was a losing one.

We skipped out on the lease and moved five streets down to an apartment our friends were vacating. We sent a letter from a lawyer stating that our contract had been breached. Two days before we moved out, I received a letter from the city Department of Environmental Protection saying it would step in. It was a major victory, because the people at 311 made sure my voice was heard. My correspondence with DEP ended after that, because I had already moved.

We still live in our friends' apartment. The window in my bedroom is single-paned, and I can hear people talking on the street and car wheels striking manhole covers. A friend said the street noise reminds him of being in Venezuela. I haven't called 311 once. The traffic is my lullaby.

@Newsday

Hannah Hager, Alphabet City

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