Canada's Condominium Magazine

Reader’s plea for help about condo noise seems to indicate management negligence

A reader asked for advice concerning a noise problem in his (or her; no name given) condo. Details are sketchy but the gist of it is that a group of men have been partying every night for the past several weeks in the condo above. Oddly, the writer notes, the condo is unoccupied. Management “has given up,” the city has sent a warning to no avail, and the complainant has given up on the police. He says he has a complaint log from the city but, being disabled and recovering from a car accident finds it difficult to maintain it.

There is just so much wrong with this situation as outlined that one hardly knows where to start. Management has given up? The unit is unoccupied but used as a party place every night? The police have been unable to do anything? A disabled person is being victimized this way?

The usual procedures to follow in noise-related issues hardly seem adequate in this bizarre case, yet they are all we have. The reality is that noise problems, maddening as they are, can take time to resolve. The last thing one should ever do is to react angrily and take matters into one’s own hands. That is simply too risky. Reputable advice-giving organizations like the Condo Information Centre, stress that noise problems are seldom cut and dried—in many cases the offender is not even aware that he’s causing the neighbours distress. Once informed, the noise-maker is often more than willing do the neighbourly thing and pipe down.

Keep good records

However, if you are faced with a persistent noise problem, methodical, detailed record keeping is the best way to ensure a favourable outcome. Document every instance in writing; you can also record them. Make sure to include dates and times and the duration of the noise. Be as detailed as possible. Remember that a certain amount of noise is inevitable in a multi-residence building. You may have to prove that the noise you are experiencing is beyond the normal, expected level. Condo boards must determine that there is a real problem before they can take action, and the mere fact that a person complains about something is not always sufficient. The board will have to determine whether the noise being complained about can reasonably be considered an annoyance or disturbance serious enough for them to get involved.

Report it, if the noise seems to be going on for an unreasonably long time, to the concierge if there is one, or to security. It is part of their job, says the Condo Information Centre, to come to a noise complainant’s suite to witness a noise incident. Record the visit in your noise log and if possible get the concierge to acknowledge in writing that there is indeed a problem.

Write a letter to management, asking that they speak to the residents causing the noise. Keep copies of all correspondence between you and management. Note that calling the management office by phone, or dropping by in person, are not as effective. If management does not have a form for noise complaints, your written notice is the best option. Management should clearly explain the noise problem to the offending neighbour, and how it is affecting other unit owners. They should clearly request that the noises cease.

If, after a meeting between management and the offenders the noise continues, maintain the noise log and after two weeks or so take the log to management, with a second letter asking them to formally demand that the noise stop. Attach copies of all prior correspondence. Ask them to enforce the Condo Act, which guarantees your right to “quiet enjoyment” of your home. It is their duty to enforce this.

At this point, a formal letter from the condominium’s lawyer may be sent, advising the offender of the potential costs of mediation and arbitration. If this formal legal warning fails to solve the problem, the condo board can move it forward to mediation or arbitration as a last resort, depending on their legal advice.

This is roughly how the process could unfold, though every situation will be different. The key is for the complainant to be methodical and persistent, never accepting that “there’s nothing more we can do” or other excuses from management or the board. They do not have the option to “give up” and ignore the problem.

Condo managers and boards should be reminded that in extreme cases, such as that of the Toronto condo owner who used her suite as a commercial dance studio, noise can be deemed to constitute “oppressive conduct” under section 135 of the Condominium Act.

In that case, a woman living below the dance studio was forced to move after years of failing to convince the condo management to take her complaints seriously. Court finally found that the board had failed to act appropriately to address her concerns about the noise, and they were ordered to pay more than $60,000 in expenses and fees.

Because of the corporation’s failure to enforce its own rules, all of the owners had to pay in the end.

While some noise problems can be solved amicably with no more than a conversation between the parties, others can prove much more difficult. No matter what level of difficulty, however, condo owners should never feel that they have been abandoned by their boards.

 

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