Loud neighbour? Eyes burning from smoke? Have you tried…

In our last post we wrote about the options for obtaining compliance from owners and residents, like courts, tribunals, and liens. Today, we will discuss some more practical tips to solving common issues in condominiums, so you (hopefully) will not need to use the various options described in our last post.

Most of the issues between neighbours in condominiums involve nuisances, commonly noise, smoke, and odours. These issues are now addressed by the Condominium Authority Tribunal (CAT), but we do not have reported case law to determine how the CAT will resolve these issues. We should start seeing decisions in the next month or two. In the meantime, here are some tips to resolve nuisances between residents without legal proceedings.

Noise & Vibration

Noise complaints can be one of the most challenging issues to resolve. This is especially true where one resident is inconsiderate of others and/or the person complaining has unreasonable expectations about the level of quiet they are entitled to in their unit. Fortunately, in most cases the residents can resolve the issue by taking steps to reduce the noise and tempering expectations. Here are some suggestions for people making noise that is disturbing others:  

  • Music/televisions – move equipment away from the floor, ceiling, or shared walls. Purchase a headset to listen or watch instead of using speakers. Keep in mind that the volume will be more noticeable to others late at night or early in the morning when they do not have their own devices on and may be trying to sleep.   
  • Mechanical/Appliances – try to do laundry during the day and not at 2 am. Same goes for vacuuming, running the dishwasher, blender, or other appliance that creates excessive noise.
  • Stomping/Walking – do not wear shoes in the unit or wear soft-soled shoes or slippers. Try not to walk on your heels.
  • Slamming Doors – try to close the door instead of slamming it. If this is not possible, purchase items to reduce the noise from slamming. These items can be found at your local hardware store or online. You could also add hinges that close cabinets or doors slowly.
  • Children/pets – Obviously, children and pets are going to make some noise, but their parents (or pet parents?) should teach them not to engage in certain activities that annoy others, like banging toys on the ground. Adding foam playmats or area rugs can also help with noise from toys on the floor. For dogs, move crates away from windows or doors where the dog may see people coming and going and bark regularly (note: please do not crate children).

The person complaining of noise should also take steps to reduce it as well, including purchasing noise-cancelling headphones, earplugs, or a white-noise machine. Sometimes moving furniture around can assist, such as moving an office that is below a space used for children to play in the unit above. 

The condominium can create rules to address noise as well. Some condominiums have rules that require flooring within the units to meet certain minimum noise attenuation ratings and require prior approval of the board of directors before an owner changes the floor. Some condominiums have rules that prohibit the use of musical instruments or other equipment during certain hours, such as between 11 pm and 7 am. Some prohibit the use of garbage chutes late at night or early in the morning to prevent the noise from the chute disturbing residents in the adjacent units.

In some cases, it may be appropriate for the condominium to carry out investigations on the common elements to rule out building-related issues, like noise from an elevator that requires service. It may even be appropriate to carry out an investigation with an acoustical engineer.

Smoke & Odours

Smoke and odour complaints seem to have increased in recent years, likely because of a combination of shifting attitudes toward smoking in general, the legalization of cannabis, and the variety of options now available, like vaping. Odour complaints are still relatively rare in my experience and are typically related to smoking. Other types of odour complaints include cooking smells and poorly maintained units where garbage is not removed often enough.

The condominium could create rules that limit or prohibit smoking on the property. This was quite popular in 2017-2018 with many condominiums looking to prohibit cannabis smoking on the property before it became legal. The condominium should rule out building-related issues, like a defective garbage chute door or bins that need to be cleaned. The condominium should also consider the settings on its makeup air systems and related equipment. In one case, a client found smoke complaints were worst in the morning hours. It was determined that the contractor had turned off the makeup air system at night to prevent noise and cut costs, but this caused smoke to build up in the hallways. Running the makeup air system all day greatly reduced their smoke complaints. 

There are several steps that residents can take to ensure their activities do not unreasonably disturb their neighbours. For example, running fans while cooking or smoking can greatly help reduce the transfer of smoke and odours to adjacent units. Similarly, using air purifiers and similar equipment can help without creating other nuisances that deodorizer may create.  If laundry vents are causing odours that disturb neighbours, try unscented laundry products. Similarly, the condominium could use unscented cleaning products for the common elements.

Everyone has an obligation to work together to find solutions to nuisance problems. People have the right to live in their units without fear of complaints about normal living activities, but they also must take steps to ensure they do not unreasonably disturb others. People need to recognize that they will experience nuisances from other units when living in close quarters. The condominium will likely be stuck between the two parties from time-to-time, in which case the condominium should investigate the complaints and determine if the nuisance rises to the level of being unreasonable nuisance. If so, the condominium should take steps to have the owner reduce the nuisance caused to the other. If not, the condominium is not required to take steps, but may choose to make suggestions to reduce the nuisance and restore harmony to the condominium.

It will be interesting to see how these nuisance issues are resolved by the CAT. Stay tuned here for future posts about CAT decisions and be sure to check with your local CCI Chapter as many will likely be hosting educational sessions about the decisions.