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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