What is the 80% Carpet Rule and How Should I Handle It?

Written on June 24, 2016 by , updated on January 18, 2017

Carpet RequirementIf you’re a tenant in a New York City high-rise apartment or condo, you’re probably familiar with the “80/20 carpet rule,” which requires you to cover 80% of your floors with carpeting.

Although not common everywhere, this rule does appear in lease agreements in some places other than the Big Apple. Some leases in San Francisco raise the requirement to 85%.

The primary purpose of this 80% carpet requirement is noise abatement.

A Clause in Lease Agreements

The ubiquity of the rule in NYC tenements, apartments, and condos suggests that 80% carpet requirements is a municipal law, but it isn’t.

It’s usually included in rental agreements, however, as a matter of course. And that makes keeping the floors covered your responsibility as a tenant.

The spirit of the 80% carpet rule is to create good neighbors.

While violating it doesn’t put you at risk of legal action, it can result in termination of your lease, and ultimately eviction.

Enforcement Is Rare

If you’re conscious of the noise you make, you have little to fear. True story:

This advice probably isn’t wise, nor should you completely ignore the requirement to carpet your floors if your lease contains an 80/20 clause.

Another true story:

How Much of the Floor Do You Have to Carpet?

Does the 80/20 rule refer to parts of the floor that are under furniture? Not if you consider that its main intention is to reduce noise from foot traffic. In many cases, it probably fulfills the spirit of the rule to carpet 80% of the walkable portions of the floor. That is, of course, as long as you don’t have pets or kids who like to bounce up and down on the beds.

Kitchen Floors

Laying carpets in all parts of a dwelling unit except the kitchen probably satisfies the letter of the 80% requirement. It violates the spirit, however, if you spend most of your time in the kitchen.

That doesn’t mean you need shag carpeting where you prepare food. Here are three options:

  1. Luxury vinyl tiles are attractive, effectively absorb footstep sounds, and you can remove them when you move.
  2. Laminate flooring can be installed with a sound-absorbing underlayment.
  3. Sisal mats are easy to take outside and clean.
  4. Take your shoes off when you enter the apartment.

Hope for Distressed Tenants

As a home improvement consultant, I often field questions from distraught downstairs tenants. They generally want to know what they can do to their units to deaden the sound coming from upstairs.

One such question came from a woman in a Boston brownstone who had just moved in.

The answer, unfortunately, is “not much”. Permanent improvements require the landlord’s approval, and your landlord should pay for them. This is more difficult, however, in older historical buildings, such as brownstones — which are notoriously noisy. Soundproofing even one of the units in such a building would be an overwhelming project.

I usually recommend asking the upstairs neighbors to install carpets.

Absent an 80/20 lease clause, however, there’s no incentive for the neighbors to comply. If the rule is written into the leases of everyone in the building, though, your demand for carpeting upstairs is reasonable. It can produce a quick resolution to a pernicious problem.

As a tenant, look for the 80/20 rule in your lease before you sign it. It’s there for your benefit, and someday you’ll be thankful when a family of 10 moves in upstairs.

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23 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Nicole Owens

    I was thinking about getting into the New York market. I have never herd of the “80/20 Carpet rule”. This was very informative. Thank you!

    • Chris Deziel

      The rule is becoming more prevalent. Besides San Francisco, I have heard from a reliable source that buildings in San Diego use it.


    Would it be appropriate to put in lease to carpet/rugs on 75% of floors for a single home where different tenants are renting the 2nd and 3rd floors separately?

  • Rosanna

    Hi, I moved recently to a 2nd floor of single house. The landlord is asking to put 80% carpet/rug but this is not in the lease.
    Does the landlord has the right to ask me that?
    Thanks for your help.

    • Chris Deziel

      The 80 percent carpet rule isn’t a law, and if it isn’t in the lease — or there’s no other prior, signed agreement — the landlord cannot force you to adhere to it. You might want to install some carpeting, though, because it prevents noise problems, and that’s to your advantage as well as the people downstairs.

  • Man Yu

    Our management company asked lawyer to write a letter to me for ing 80 % carpet down and took $400 from my maintenance auto- deductible account as legs fee. It is legal? Thanks.

    • Chris Deziel

      Check your lease. If the agreement to cover 80 percent of the floors with carpets is in there, and you haven’t done that, the landlord has the right to take remedial action. Charging you for legal fees seems harsh, but it’s probably allowable. If there is no such agreement in your lease, however, you shouldn’t have to pay for carpets or legal fees.

  • Hana

    Good article, but where you have the 3 options, your 4th point – taking shoes off inside – does not work. Bare feet make about as much noise as high heels. If you don’t want to make noise, you need to wear soft-soil shoes. So yes, take shoes off, but replace them with house shoes.

  • Matt

    So if I am forced to have carpets in my place and the sun damages them because there are no or limited blinds offered by the landlord, who is liable? The building for requiring the carpets or the landlord for not putting up blinds??? Or nobody??? How much sun would the blinds have to block to eliminate liabilities? Are there any other sticky points on the 80/20 rule?

  • Mike

    My landlord, large apartment building in B’klyn, NY, is installing carpet in common areas on every floor. Is that legal? Inevitably, carpeting will cause serious indoor air quality issues as it repeatedly gets wet and soiled; off-gasing as well. I cannot believe doing this legal. Most of the world eliminating carpet for same reason. My landlord installing by the ton. What’s permissible under the law? Thank you.

  • Irene

    With all these silly wetssbei, such a great page keeps my internet hope alive.

  • anne

    I have a hoarder up above me. For 8 months they have been removing the clutter. For the last 4 months I have had 12 mice, cockroaches and horrendous noise. The woman has a walker and clutzey slippers. She has no soft tabs under the legs of her bed, dining room table and all chairs. She drags her chairs over the floors. I can hear the clumping of the walker in all bathrooms, bedrooms and kitchen areas dining room and living room.
    She is a very uncooperative woman who has no regard for the neighbors around her.
    Thank you

  • kyle applegate

    We live in a building where we are 1 of 5 rent stabilized apartments left in a building that turned coop. The other 30 apartments have been sold. The guy up stairs has a couple of tiny carpets he picks up and sets his robot vacuum on, then goes to work. We hear motor and banging into furniture for 2 hours. Those are for stand alone homes not apt. Ugh.

    • chris

      This is exactly why I came to this site–rent stabilized, in building with non-rent stabilized apartments–landlord refuses to inspect apartments that are not rentstabilized, even when noise complaints are filed and I have viewed myself that there are no carpets. All apartments have 80/20 rule. Only rent stabilized tenants are subjected to enforcement. very, very loud tenants aren’t required to get carpets, if they’re not rent stabilized.
      What to do about this economic discrimination?

    • Chris Deziel

      I agree. Ugh!

      • Chris Deziel

        Sorry, Chris. The above comment was meant for Kyle. The situation you described is one that would be best addressed by your local authorities.

  • Paul Hunter

    Imposing the 80/20 rule is not appropriate if the rule doesn’t specify the reason. If the reason is to mitigate the noise, then it should suggest you the 80/20 carpet, but leave you free to obtain the same reduction the way you prefer. You could decide to use special shoes or even to walk very softly. In the other hand, such a rule doesn’t specify any sound parameter limits to be observed, neither discriminates between night and day. If, for instance, it would call for 45 dbm maximum at night, it would be the upstair tenant to avoid to exceed such a limit, whatever he does to reach it. An instrument can be used to record the noise level and give prove of it. In any case, you can pile up gaz carpets and still generate noise.

  • Bill

    Can I refuse to put carpet down with the 80/20 rule in my lease if I have children with asthma and I myself suffer from allergies

  • Liz C

    I would disagree that not putting carpet under tables or beds is true to the spirit of the rule. People push noisy chairs and tap feet under tables, they pull out and push back in storage bins and shoes and drop objects under beds at all times of morning and night. Worse still if your neighbor has a hideaway bed.

    I’d rather have carpet under all the loud, scraping furniture than under shoes and I should know since there is neither.

    On the flip side, most units stack kitchens… and place them furthest from the most noise sensitive area- the bedroom, so a tenant who spends lots of time there isn’t likely to bother anyone downstairs who is trying to relax quietly.

    – a distressed SF tenant with a landlord that doesn’t care.

  • Helene

    I live in rent stabilized apt in queens Property manager not enforcing capeting law in apt bedroom above me after writing letter and numerous phone calls. Made me very ill. Ongoing situation. Lies to me and asking me to write another I am on SCRIE and pay low rent . The stress from anything makes me nervous after long term noise issue with previous tenant also. What are my options? Property mgr recently told me will see what he can do meanwhile I had to carpet my floors

  • James Moriarty

    It also happens in SF. I’m also shocked that the tenants have to pay for this. It should be on the landlord to make the necessary improvement for the well being of their tenants.

  • Charles

    I own a COOP on Long Island, NY. I’m on the first floor but I choose to have wall to wall carpeting with padding because who wants to walk on cold floors – seems silly to me. I don’t interpret the 80/20 carpeting rule the same way as laid out here. Because if the person living above you decides to put their TV or stereo speakers on the wooden part of the 80 the noise coming downstairs would just as bad as if they had no carpeting at all. I think that the 80 should be wall to wall and the 20 should be nothing in the kitchen and bathroom.

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