Saturday, January 19, 2008

Culture of Complaint in Manhattan Plaza

New York suffers from a complex web of convoluted and counter-productive housing regulations which hurt most the ones they are supposed to help. Since they are not likely to change soon, affordable housing is scarce. Those who have a good lease will go to great lengths to hang on to it. For one musician, that has meant a serious curtailing of his practice time.

Dave Schnitter is a one-time Jazz Messenger living in Manhattan Plaza, a housing complex built as a performing artist colony. Despite an official building policy stating: "personal rehearsal in apartments should end by 10 p.m.," Schnitter has been completely prohibited from practicing in his apartment and threatened with eviction because of some noise complaints from three neighbors.

Schnitter’s predicament has been brewing for some months (getting coverage in the local media in late October), but based on the bulletins I have seen recently, things must be coming to a head. More than anything, this underscores the corrosive effect of our litigious grievance culture. Instead of knocking on Schnitter’s door and discussing the problem like reasonable neighbors, they file an official complaint. If they had politely explained that due to an acoustical anomaly his practice sessions were coming through the walls loud and clear, I imagine Schnitter would have been happy to explore sound-proofing options—out of neighborly respect and to forestall more serious proceedings. Now he has to dig in and protect his rights.

As a result, Schnitter has been banished to the basement practice room (only available to tenants for limited blocks of time) and threatened with eviction. For their part, the complaining neighbors find themselves saying “no comment” to NY1 for You’s Susan Jhun and, I imagine, getting a deservedly cold reception from Schnitter’s friends in the building. This all seems avoidable had they used a little common sense, but that is about as scarce in the City as affordable housing.