Karen George had a lovely apartment on New York’s Upper West Side, except for one thing – her downstairs neighbor, the pop star Madonna.
According to George, Madonna had people over to her apartment for an hour and a half to three hours every day to conduct dance training and exercise routines. During this time, Madonna played loud music. According to George, the music was “deafening” and caused her walls and floors to shake. She says she often had to leave the apartment because of the noise, and was unable to entertain guests.
George repeatedly complained to Madonna and to the landlord, but she says the loud music continued for two years, until Madonna finally built a dance studio in one of her other New York City properties to use instead.
George sued the landlord, and a judge allowed the case to go to trial.
Under New York law, whenever an apartment is rented, there is a “warranty of habitability” in which the landlord agrees that the property will be kept fit for its use as a residence. According to the judge, “One of the most basic functions of a residence is to provide shelter from the outside world for its occupants to think, interact and relax in peace.” Madonna’s music may have violated this agreement.
The landlord argued that it made a good faith effort to stop the music, and even persuaded Madonna to try installing noise-blocking equipment. But the judge said that wasn’t good enough if the music continued to be too loud.
The landlord also argued that Madonna’s decibel level was never so high as to violate the city’s Noise Code. But the judge said that didn’t matter as long as the noise was actually disruptive.
According to the judge, “certain noises possess characteristics which make them more intrusive than others,” and Madonna’s music could qualify in that category.
The moral of the story is that landlords have a responsibility to make sure that certain tenants’ behavior doesn’t unreasonably interfere with other tenants’ enjoyment of their apartments. Landlords might be reluctant to confront tenants about a problem – especially if the tenant is a world-famous pop star – but the law still requires them to fix the situation.