Commercial activity makes my building unsafe. What can I do?

Q: I live in a small rental apartment building in Brooklyn. Another tenant has leases for several of the units. He lives in one and uses the others for a gallery and an office. There is a flood of interns or employees playing music and leaving the front doors open and unattended for parties or loading or unloading of goods. This has led to the theft of packages and people coming to buy drugs. The owner must be aware of this, but has denied that it is happening. As a neighbor, I get frustrated and sometimes feel unsafe in my own building. Is there something to do?

A: Your neighbor may be allowed to use some of the apartments as commercial space, but not at the expense of your safety and well-being.

From what you describe, your neighbor creates a nuisance for you and other tenants, and that nuisance could violate your livability guarantee, a state law, according to Jennifer Rozen, a lawyer who represents tenants. You should not be subjected to excessively loud noise or music. And people shouldn’t enter without permission, which puts your safety at risk. By letting this situation escalate, your landlord is failing to meet their basic obligations to you.


Create a paper trail and ask other frustrated neighbors to do the same. Take photos, videos, and notes whenever you see issues. Notify the owner, in writing, whenever an incident occurs, including copies of any evidence you have gathered. If you see intruders or any other really dangerous situation, call the police. “This will help strengthen the paper trail,” Ms. Rozen said.

The neighbor can use the spaces illegally, but it depends on how the building is classified and where the units are located in the building. Check the building occupancy certificate on the New York City Department of Buildings website to see if commercial use is permitted. While it is allowed, it is prohibited above residential floors, according to Kenneth K. Lowenstein, land use attorney and partner at Manhattan law firm Holland & Knight.

If you believe the use violates the Certificate of Occupancy, call 311 to report the problem to the Building Department, who could dispatch an inspector and potentially issue a violation. A city ticket might not end the problem, but it would be another way to get the owner’s attention.

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