Classes are back in session at Manhattan College, and as students return to their dorms and off-campus apartments, neighbors have become nervous about what’s been a years-long battle with noise on the streets they call home.
Tucked between Riverdale proper and Fieldston, Manhattan College provides housing to its roughly 4,000 students in places like Overlook Manor on West 238th Street, the school’s only official off-campus housing dedicated to juniors, seniors and graduate students. Others rent apartments and houses around campus.
Those off-campus students are loud both in their apartments and on the streets, say some of their non-student neighbors. Karolina Elzbieta lived at the corner of West 238th and Waldo Avenue for three years before moving rather than face another year of constant noise.
“It got progressively worse. It was not as bad the first year,” Elzbieta said. “The noise would start on Thursday night, when you had work the next day.”
The partying would go on late into the night all weekend, keeping Elzbieta awake. The students were not only loud, she said, but messy, leaving bottles and cans scattered in the halls and on sidewalks and bushes outside. As a city employee, she was sometimes scheduled to work weekends, and more than once called out on a Saturday morning after sleeping just a few hours the night before.
Elzbieta started filing 311 noise complaints, using the app so she would have a record of her complaints. She also made calls to Manhattan College itself. She forwarded to the dean of students photos and videos of what she described as the students’ loud and destructive behavior. Eventually, Elzbieta gave up on 311 and instead started simply calling the police.
Even the dean stopped returning her calls, Elzbieta said.
“They said, after a while, ‘We don’t know who it is, so we can’t really do anything about it,’” Elzbieta recalled. “They have all the students’ addresses, they know who lives in the building.”
Elzbieta refers to a handbook given to Manhattan College off-campus students requiring them to provide the registrar’s office with their local address.
Another neighbor, Shannon Oksman, still lives around West 238th. She sees different students renting in a building near her apartment in each of the seven years she’s lived there, and initially Oksman wasn’t concerned about the noise.
“When we first moved we heard some backyard parties, we thought, ‘Oh, it’s the summer, they’re just having a barbecue,’” she said. “But closer to the school year, it got unbearable.”
The students play games, she said, and shout late into the night.
“The issue isn’t just that it’s loud,” Oksman said. “They go into the night — to 2 or 3 in the morning when people have to go to work.”
It’s not just students in apartment buildings. Fenwick’s bar on West 238th, for example, is popular with students and has been subject to noise complaints and police raids, according to past reports.
Like Elzbieta, Oksman called police and called the college. Once, Oksman said she got the dean of students on the phone and stuck her receiver out an open bedroom window so he would clearly hear the noise from students below.
“I’m not some Clint Eastwood, get off my lawn,” Oksman said. “I’m OK with them partying. But they live in a residential neighborhood. There are people with kids.”
The school’s handbook also contains a “good neighbor” policy, asking students to respect their urban neighborhood and act respectfully toward other residents. Students are asked to “act in a manner that is safe, civil and respectful” at all times.
Failing to “maintain sanitary conditions” and acting disorderly — including making excessive noise or other behavior infringing on the rights of their neighbors — could result in school-levied fines of up to $1,500. More than three offenses in a single academic year could even lead to expulsion.
“Our office of public safety makes every effort to identify students who are the subject of complaints from our neighbors and members of the Riverdale community,” said Richard Satterlee, the vice president of student life at the school. “Our dean of students office disciplines any Manhattan College students who violate our community standards and code of conduct policy off campus.”
The college works with the 50th Precinct and its public safety office to follow up on noise complaints from the community, Satterlee said.
“I know it’s hard because it’s new students every year,” Oksman said. “Kids who aren’t necessarily familiar with the rules, and you need to constantly reintroduce every year. But they can do that. It is possible.”
Oksman says she wouldn’t have moved into her current apartment if she had known the noise would be such an issue. Elzbieta says she isn’t the only one who has moved in recent years to escape the noise. While it would have been nice to stay put — especially in an effort to become more financially secure — dealing with the noise was too much.
And while Oksman admits her desire to move involves some other unrelated factors, the noise from Manhattan College students looms large.
“I want to be open to college students being here, too,” she said. “It’s a safe area for students to live in. When I was in college I wasn’t in an area that was as safe.
“But I wish they would understand that other people live here, too.”