New to the Condominium Way of Life: Part 4
Our fourth Q-and-A style blog post has arrived. This time we discuss how you can navigate having a noisy neighbour, a neighbour that has complained about you being too noisy, how you can build a case for a complaint, and what you can do if you disagree with a ruling of a condominium.
Noise is one of the most common types of nuisances in condominiums, especially in residential condominiums constructed with shared walls, like apartments or townhouses. While owners have a right to use and enjoy their units, there is no absolute right to silence. Living in close quarters means that owners must expect some level of noise from their neighbours. The residents are entitled to make ordinary household noises without fear of complaints against them or enforcement steps being taken by their condominiums. The courts have suggested that in most cases ordinarily household noises will include the sound of people walking in the unit above, children playing, doors and cabinets closing, chairs moving away from tables, and vacuuming.
Q. What can I do if another unit owner is being noisy and disturbing me?
A. Ask yourself the following questions: Is the source considered an ordinary household noise? Is the sound at a reasonable level? Is the noise occuring during the day?
If the answer to these questions is yes, there is likely not much the condominium can do to assist you as the other residents have the right to use their units. You could purchase noise reducing earplugs or a white noise machine to cover the noises. You could also speak with your neighbour to see if you can work out a solution, such as the owner agreeing not to vacuum at a certain time of day when you might be sleeping.
If the noise is unreasonably loud or very frequent, or occurring late at night, and your neighbour is not willing to reduce the noise or work with you to find a solution, you can reach out to the condominium for assistance. The condominium will likely ask for details about the noise, such as the date and time of occurrences and a description of the type of noise (i.e. loud music, banging or hammering). The condominium may also ask you to provide a recording from your phone or other device if the noise is the type that is easily recorded. This information will help the condominium investigate your complaint and address it with the other resident. In some cases, the condominium may have an acoustical engineer or other professional investigate the noise and provide a report of the sources.
You might have success calling by-law officers to report the noise. Keep in mind that the by-law officers will only ticket the other resident if they can hear noise that violates the municipal by-law at the time of their attendance. Often by the time the officers arrive the noise has subsided. Also, in some parts of the province by-law officers will not attend condominiums in response to noise complaints.
Q. What can I do if another unit owner has complained about me?
A. Consider if you are making too much noise in your unit and take steps to reduce the noise. Often installing area rugs or flooring with high quality underpad can work for a variety of noise issues. You can purchase inexpensive felt pads to reduce noise from banging cabinets, furniture moving across the floor, and closing doors. Keep noise from electronics, like televisions and computers, to a reasonable level or use a headset. Ask your kids to stop screaming or not jump off furniture, especially early in the morning when some people might still be sleeping. If you have people over for dinner or a party, remind them of the rules about noise and their obligation to keep the noise down. Whatever you do, do not ignore a letter from the condominium alleging any sort of rule violation, including excessive noise, as it could have significant consequences.
If you believe the owner complaining about you is unreasonable or there are special circumstances causing the noise, such as a renovation project, you can try speaking with them to see if there are certain noises or times of day that they find most irritating and work with them to find a solution. You can keep your own record of times when you are home and your activities to refute the complaints if you feel the other owner is making them up or exaggerating about the noise. If you feel the noise is caused by another unit or from the common elements, such as the elevator, garbage chute, or HVAC equipment, ask the condominium to investigate to rule out deficiencies with these items.
Q. What can I do if the condo has ruled against me in a complaint but I think the decision is unreasonable?
A. If you feel the condominium is not addressing noise from another unit that disturbs you, you could gather your own evidence to make a case for the condominium. For example, have witnesses give you statements of what they hear and feel when they visit your unit. You could hire an expert to provide a report of their findings. You could record the noise with your phone or other device. If the condominium still refuses to address the noise, you should speak with a lawyer about your options for requiring the other owners and the condominium to comply with the rules regarding noise.
If the condominium takes steps to enforce against you and you feel you are not causing excessive noise, you should speak with a lawyer about your options for defending yourself. For example, you might want to request mediation to try to resolve the matter without court as mediation tends to be much quicker and less costly than court.
Special thanks to Zach Powell, summer student at Robson Carpenter LLP, for asking the questions owners want to know and preparing this post!