Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

May 23, 2017

Renovating Among The Stars

By David Reiss

Justin Theroux, photo by David Shankbone quoted me in Justin Theroux’s Renovation Drama: What Went Wrong? It opens,

Actor Justin Theroux might have many admirers (including his wife, Jennifer Aniston), but apparently the “Leftovers” hunk inspires more than his share of haters, too—including his Manhattan neighbor Norman Resnicow. Apparently their feud started two years ago, when Theroux decided to renovate his apartment; Resnicow lives one floor down.

As anyone who’s lived under, next to, or anywhere near a demolition site knows, home renovations can get noisy—which is why Resnicow, a lawyer, felt it within his rights to ask Theroux to do the neighborly thing and install soundproofing to muffle the ruckus. There was just one problem: According to the New York Post, the requested soundproofing would cost a whopping $30,000 and make it difficult for Theroux to preserve the original flooring in his place, which he was keen to do. So he refused.

That’s when things got ugly. According to a lawsuit filed by Theroux, Resnicow embarked on a “targeted and malicious years-long harassment campaign” to derail those renovations and just make life unpleasant for the actor.

  • Resnicow accused Theroux’s contractors of damaging the marble in the building’s entranceway, and demanded they make repairs.
  • He halted Theroux’s roof deck renovations by arguing that the fence separating their portions of the deck encroached on his property.
  • Then, for good measure, he cut down the ivy lining the fence purely because he knew that the site of the foliage made Theroux happy.

Theroux now seeks $350,000 from Resnicow, alleging nuisance, trespass, and all in all “depriving Mr. Theroux of his right to use and enjoy his property.”

But Resnicow remains resolute, telling the Post, “I have acted for one purpose only, which remains to assure my and my wife’s health and safety.”

How to balance renovations with neighbor relations

As Theroux’s predicament makes painfully clear, few issues can ruin a neighborly relationship like noise—particularly if you live in an apartment building or other tight quarters. Problem is, homeowners also have a right to make home improvements. So at what point does reasonable renovation ruckus become so loud it’s a legitimate nuisance? That depends, for starters, on where you live, as noise ordinances and other regulations vary by area.

New York City’s Noise Code prohibits construction noise that “exceeds the ambient sounds level by more than 10 decibels as measured from 15 feet from the source.” (And in case you have no clue how to figure that out, the city uses devices called sound meters; you can also download sound meter apps to take your own measurements.) Volume levels aside, most areas have limits on when you can hammer away; in New York, work is typically limited to 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The third variable to consider is the co-op, condo, or HOA board that governs your building or community, which may place further restrictions on hours or even the type of renovations you do. Yet if a homeowner like Theroux is following these rules, odds are he’s in the clear.

“In New York City, they say ‘hell hath no fury like an attorney dealing with noisy neighbors,’ but as long as you have the proper permits, then construction noise created during normal business hours is generally allowed, with the understanding that it will only be temporary,” says Emile L’Eplattenier, a New York City real estate agent and analyst for Fit Small Business. “As long as he isn’t running afoul of his building’s rules—which is doubtful—then his neighbor has little recourse.”

Still, if you’re a homeowner about to embark on a renovation who doesn’t want to drive your neighbors nuts, what can you do? For starters, keep in mind that even if the sounds don’t ruffle you, people’s noise sensitivities can vary.

In the words of David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School, “One person’s quiet hum is another’s racket.”

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