If 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.
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:
One long-term New York condo dweller reports that she had to carpet the floor to get her move-in deposit back. Once the deposit was safely in hand, she was contemplating replacing the carpets with smaller ones. She commented: “As long as you don’t have any deposit tied up and aren’t making noise, do what works best for you.”
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:
Another long-term NYC tenant decided to have her hardwood floors refinished. The downstairs neighbor saw the flooring trucks outside and commented that uncovered hardwood floors were impermissible. The upstairs neighbor chose — against her wishes — to cover the freshly refinished floors.
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.
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:
- Luxury vinyl tiles are attractive, effectively absorb footstep sounds, and you can remove them when you move.
- Laminate flooring can be installed with a sound-absorbing underlayment.
- Sisal mats are easy to take outside and clean.
- 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.