Vol. 11, No. 23 Dec. 2 - Dec. 15, 1998


Honkers Need Their Own Wake-up Call


QUESTION: Next to the complex where I live is a garage. Late at night, hundreds of us are awakened by cars honking to be admitted to it. There is a buzzer that can be rung to summon the attendant. Either the drivers are too lazy to get out of their cars or the attendant takes too long to let them in. My neighbors and I deserve a good night's sleep. What can we do? Ernestine Davis

ANSWER: On a hunch, I contacted the city Department of Consumer Affairs. Its spokeswoman, Shonna Keogan, said that since parking lots and garages must be licensed by her agency, "we have a relationship with them" -- jurisdiction, in other words

However, since your relationship with the garage isn't that of a consumer, Consumer Affairs has no legal grounds for intervention, and so your complaint "would be referred to DEP [the city Department of Environmental Protection], who could cite [the garage]," Keogan said.

Keogan also said that because a business is involved, Consumer Affairs would be willing to "mediate." "We would contact the licensee by telephone," Keogan said. "If they won't cooperate, we would refer the matter to DEP so that the garage could be cited."

I contacted DEP. They said they definitely have jurisdiction in the matter and would do something about the noise. The first thing they needed was the name and address of the garage, so they could "research the history of the location" to see if there were other complaints or citations.

This information is essential because each time a business is cited -- issued a notice of violation, fined -- for the same violation of the Noise Code within a two-year period, the amount of the fine triples. (This is because, exactly a year ago, the City Council passed and Mayor Rudolph Giulani signed into law a drastic overhaul of the penalties section of the Noise Code.)

There were no other complaints against the garage on DEP's database. This compels me to ask: if your problem has been going on for so long and affecting so many people, why didn't you or your neighbors lodge a complaint with DEP? It's a simple procedure. Call the DEP's 24-hour hotline: (718) 337-4357.

DEP said it would immediately dispatch an inspector to the garage "to inform the person in charge of alternative practices." It's quite possible, they said, that the "garage's operators are unaware of the Noise Code." After this visit, any complaints DEP receives would be followed up by an inspector ready to issue a notice of violation. What would the owner of the garage be cited for? "It's up to the inspector," DEP said. "It works on a case-by-case basis."

My guess is that the owner is violating the general prohibitions provision of the Noise Code, section 24-218: "No person shall make, continue or cause or permit to be made or continued any unreasonable noise." (The owner is not actually making the noise; he is causing or permitting it.) The maximum fine for a first violation of this provision is $875; for a second violation, $1,750; for a third and subsequent violations, a whopping $2,625.

Horn-honking is a violation of the Noise Code except in the event of an emergency or, in the exact words of the code, "as a sound signal of imminent danger." DEP agreed with me, and you and your neighbors would no doubt agree with us, that honking in order to park one's car in a garage doesn't qualify as an emergency.

In case you're wondering if the drivers themselves can be fined, the answer is a definite yes. The fines are steep, identical to those mentioned above. However, it's so much easier said than done. A DEP inspector or a police officer must see a driver's hand on the horn, which explains why relatively few horn-honking citations are issued.

You and your neighbors should inundate the DEP hotline with complaints. Circulate the number in your complex. The hefty fines are bound to make the garage owner, too, lose some sleep, if not wake up to reality.

John Dallas is founder of the Bronx Campaign for Peace and Quiet. Sound Advice is copyrighted by John Dallas and cannot be reprinted without his permission.

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