Neighborliness in the Time of Coronavirus

  |   By Tracy Peterson

Even in the best of circumstances, “vertical living” is rife with the challenges that come along with human beings living in a “stacked” configuration. Now, with much of New York City in “shelter in place” mode and people staying in their apartments close to 24/7, these challenges can potentially become even more acute. Accordingly, now more than ever, it is important for board members, as community leaders, to urge their fellow building occupants to act as neighborly as possible.

For example, legion is the tale of the New Yorker who uses her oven for additional shoe storage or who has nothing but energy drinks and vodka in his fridge and freezer. In the city that never sleeps are thousands who never cook. However, as restaurants are closed, food delivery options minimized and all are encouraged to stay at home as much as is possible, many New Yorkers are now doing the previously unthinkable: cooking! Unfortunately, what may smell ambrosial to the newly-minted chef, may be offensive to his neighbors. The governing documents of most condominiums and cooperatives prohibit occupants from permitting “offensive or annoying” odors to emanate from their apartments. Building occupants can be gently (but firmly) urged not to open their apartment doors as a means of ventilating their apartments while cooking, and instead, to open kitchen windows for such purpose.

Condominium and cooperative governing documents similarly prohibit occupants from permitting “offensive and annoying” noises to emanate from their apartments. As a result of the lockdown, both adults and children are mostly confined to their apartments and, naturally, accumulate excess energy and limited options for exercising same. Before starting your rehearsal of the latest Tik Tok dance, getting in your 100 jumping jacks or engaging in a family dodgeball game, think about whether your neighbors in the adjoining apartment are going to be affected. In addition, many buildings have an “80% Rule” whereby 80% of floor space must be covered by a rug or similar covering. To address noise complaints, owners and occupants can be reminded of this rule and urged to comply with it. (*Home furnishing stores may be temporarily closed, but abundant online options are available.)

Separately, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has recently issued a recommendation that all New Yorkers wear a face covering when outside their homes ( This would include being in and traversing through the common areas of apartment buildings. Building occupants can be advised of this guidance and urged to comply with same. Should a condominium board of managers or cooperative board of directors wish to require staff to wear a face covering while on duty, it would be wise to provide masks or similar face coverings to facilitate compliance. Disposable face masks are in short supply, priority going to front-line medical workers. The internet, however, is rife with “how-to” tutorials on making your own face mask.

Another act of “neighborliness” consistent with social distancing guidelines is letting the elevator go if it arrives with other passengers. While in “normal” times, it is neighborly to engage in chit-chat with your neighbors in the elevator, for the time-being, be generous with your neighbors by allowing for solo elevator rides.

In sum, during this unprecedented period, we are all in this together. This “pause” period will end and slowly, we all will begin to re-emerge into the outside world. In the interim, there is nothing wrong with reminding folks that inherent in condominium or cooperative living is a certain “neighborliness” that inures to the benefit of the condominium or cooperative community at large.

My colleagues and I are available to answer any questions you may have about “neighborliness” and other issues that may be affecting your building during these challenging times.