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Noise transmission is the numero uno social problem in condos, in large part due to building code standards that are barely minimal for an environment where people live in close proximity to each other. (Click here for How to Explain Noise Transmission?)
It should become a key tenet of the Condo Act that anything interfering with residents’ quiet enjoyment of their suite or townhouse should be eliminated. It is a board’s duty, through the management office, to make certain that undue noise caused by residents, their guests or pets, is stopped.
Even if only one or a few residents are affected, the rule is the same: The situation has to be corrected.
Indeed, noise problems affecting only one suite often go uncorrected and the afflicted owners end up isolated and feeling helpless, as described in some of the letters in Readers Respond. Instances of managers and boards who turn against such owners are fairly common occurrences.
Noise from Common Elements
Since 2009, more letters have been received about noise from the common elements (pumps, chiller, elevators, exercise rooms, party room, etc) than about noise from other residents. These noises had not been resolved.
Owners wanted to know what to do about this?
- 1. Wait at least one day, and then make a polite phone call to the management office. Keep a note as to the time of this call.
- 2. The manager should come to listen and inspect the situation within a few days at most.
- 3. Write down a log of the noise: when it occurs, its strength, etc.
- 4. If you have not heard anything and nothing is done after a week, a polite follow up letter is indicated with a copy of your log.
- 5. This failing, after another week, please try to write a letter to the board of directors, attaching a copy of letter to the manager with the log.
- 6. In the meantime, try to see if other residents are similarly affected.
- 7. If the situation is serious, you might want, with the help of a lawyer, seek a court order, under Section 134 of the Condo Act of Ontario, that would force the board to comply and do something about the source of the noise.
Some residents slam doors; yell; are so loud that they are heard in other suites. Others have fights; watch TV or listen to music at top decibels; stump on the floor in the middle of the night; wear high heels that go clip-clop on their hardwood floor. Others have loud conversations on their cell phone on their balconies at all times. Yet others have loud parties on a regular basis. Needless to say that these residents create a lot of headaches for their neighbours, even though this is not their intent.
What can you do if this is a perfect description of your upstairs neighbours, or the one across the corridor from you, or the one next to you?
Steps to take:
Cautionary note: Very often, residents' noise is not their fault and stems from the poor soundproofing of the building. It often happens that normal walking or dropping a small object result in quite a bit of noise in the unit below--yet this is normal behaviour. Therefore, before getting into the steps below, please do recall that your above neighbours may not even know that they are making "noise."
- Start by documenting in writing the time, duration, and nature of the noise you hear. But, whatever you do, do not pick a fight with these neighbours!
- If the noise lasts long enough, see if you can have the person at the concierge desk come into your suite to be a witness. It is actually part of their job to do so.
- At the very least, report the noise to the desk, especially when you think that it can be heard from the corridor. Security persons have to document the incident in their report. Keep a log of when you report it.
- Then write a first letter to the manager. Be businesslike and to the point. Attach your report (documentation described above). Ask the manager to first speak to the residents in question. The manager should point out to them that perhaps they do not realize that they make so much noise and disturb others. For instance, the manager can talk to them about the fact that “noise carries in a building such as ours.”
- Keep a copy of any correspondence you have with the manager on this issue. You need a paper trail.
- If the manager believes that both you and the offending neighbours are reasonable persons, she might arrange a cordial meeting. However, this does not mean that you are responsible for solving the problem. This is management and board duty.
If the noise returns, continue your record of the time, duration, and nature of the noise you hear.
- If you can, have a friend, relative, or neighbour stay at your place for a while as a witness to the noise.
- After two weeks, if the noise persists, bring your log to the office again with a letter requesting that the manager write a formal letter to the residents asking them to stop.
- Ask the manager to give you a copy of this letter. He may choose to blot out the offending resident’s name.
- Again, keep a copy of your correspondence and documentation. And any conversation you have with the manager or report you make with security should be noted in your log.
- If the manager refuses to write or if nothing changes, then write the board, attach a copy of your logs and prior correspondence, and ask that they enforce the Condo Act.
It is the board’s duty to make sure that your right to the quiet enjoyment of your suite is upheld. The board should begin by sending a formal board letter to the resident. If this does not work, a lawyer’s letter should follow and, depending on the province, refer to the costs of mediation and arbitration.
- At the extreme, when even a lawyer’s letter fails, the board may request mediation and then arbitration. This failing, application for a Court order may be necessary. Consulting the condo’s lawyer is imperative for the board at this stage.
If the offending neighbour is a tenant, manager and board should copy the owners and have a conversation with them. It is reasonable to request that owners not renew the lease and warn the tenant that this will happen.
However, an evicted tenant should be closely monitored when he or she moves out because he could retaliate by damaging walls, for instance, or breaking something both in the suite and in the common elements. Manager and owner may need to cooperate and make sure that an inspection of the suite and the common elements takes place before releasing any deposit required for the use of the service elevator (where applicable).
Piano, Musical Instruments, Loud Music
Residents who play piano or other instruments or like to blast their sound system may need to soundproof their music room. The onus is on them and not on their neighbours who have to hear this music, however pleasant it may be....
Hours of playing are generally restricted. A carpet and pad under the piano or sound system or under furniture on which speakers are placed will be helpful. Carpets absorb noise.
Sound systems placed against a neighbour’s wall may require a sound absorbing background made of cork or other noise absorbing material.
Managers should never force residents to “go upstairs and settle the issue with your neighbour.” It’s not a resident‘s job to remedy noise problems created by other residents. It’s managers’ job to do so on behalf of directors.
Aggrieved residents can follow the same procedure described in the previous sections.
Parties in Units
If someone plans on throwing a party that may last until 11 p.m., a suggestion is to write a nice note to neighbours and apologize ahead of time. Perhaps include what you are celebrating, assure them that you will do your best to keep it quiet and that you don’t do this sort of thing every month.
Better yet, have the party in the party room, especially if the party will extend to 1 a.m. (But click here for Party Room Noise Issues) Day time parties in suites are much more acceptable.
One evening party in a suite is acceptable but when this occurs on a regular basis, this becomes a problem. Then the same procedure as detailed elsewhere can be followed by affected residents. It is always a good idea for a first warning letter from the manager to refer to rules and declaration and to wait for a second letter to mention possible legal recourse.
With noise issues of this type, especially when only one resident is complaining, boards at times say that “it’s none of our business.” Wrong! It is their business.
Unfortunate instances have occurred when boards or managers have turned against a helpless resident, victim of excessive noise, when he or she requested action. The poor resident is twice victimized. He or she may consider obtaining a Court order against the board on the basis of oppression under Section 135 of the Condo Act of Ontario. A lawyer should be consulted. (But, for Problems of Legal Recourse, click here into Auditors and Lawyers)
Dogs that bark at all times may need to be trained or muzzled. It is perfectly legitimate for a dog to be removed from a suite by the board after due written warnings have been issued. Again, the same procedure as in Noisy Neighbours can be used.
Recording a pooch’s barks from a corridor or from a suite provides good documentation. In fact, recording any sustained noise may be helpful. (Click here for Pets in General)
Suite Door and Noise
Suite doors are a great noise transmitter. In fact, in many condos, just walking down a corridor allows a person to hear conversations and even more so quarrels. Residents may want to be a bit more discreet...otherwise the entire floor will know their business...
A suggestion is to carry a loud quarrel or discussion away from the main door... and with windows closed...!
Noise from Renovations and Tools in Suites
Generally, unless there is an emergency, renovation work in suites is carried out during regular work hours. Here as well, notifying neighbours and apologizing in advance is the polite thing to do. Still, renovation noise should not result in drilling and hammering for hours on end. The suite door is not left open in order to prevent noise and dust from spreading and reaching an unbearable limit.
Drilling, hammering, and the use of a saw on a regular basis for a hobby or a business are not allowed in a residential building. (Click here for Do Residents Have the Right to Use Their Unit for Business?) If a resident has a noisy hobby, then the suite needs to be soundproofed accordingly or the resident should engage in this hobby elsewhere.
Noise from Children Playing and Running
Healthy children love to bounce, jump, and run. They drop toys, throw them about, and some have loud temper tantrums.
It is parents’ duty to carpet their unit as necessary. It is exhausting to live under a small child who jumps and runs on hardwood floors. The child is not doing anything wrong but the environment is not properly built to handle this activity. (For Building Code Problems, click here into How to Explain Noise Transmission?)
It is not fair to ask a young child who is by nature physically active to cease all activity. Children need exercise. A suggestion derived from research on child development is to take young children out to run, bike, or play ball in a park or a safe street on a regular basis as an outlet for the activity level they need. This will increase their ability to concentrate and improve their attention span, both at home and at school.
One enlightened board and manager allow one hour daily during which children participate in a “running program” in the party room located on the ground floor.
They require one supervising parent for every third child above the age of 4 and parents of younger children all have to be present.
This same condo has a pool “children’s hour” each Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 11 a.m. During this hour, children aged 4 to 12 can throw large soft balls and use soft toys in the pool. Up to 10 children can attend and parents have to supervise them.
The condo has experienced a total decline in the number of complaints pertaining to noisy children and parents report that their children are much quieter at home.
Noise from Condo “Hotel” Suites
One very difficult problem occurs in some condos when a company or an owner buys several suites that are then transformed into a “condo hotel” in the midst of what is a strictly residential condo. In these instances, suites are furnished and tenants arrive with suitcases, stay one day, one week or one month, and then are gone. This becomes a transient situation and such an environment prevents boards from developing a spirit of community in their building.
A cleaning staff, hired by these suite owners, may come daily and adds another dose of concern for the manager. Some condos provide this service for a fee for hotel-suite owners in order to control what is going on.
Still, it is surprising that these suites are allowed to operate because they constitute a business. (Click here for Do Residents Have the Right to Use Their Unit for Business?) Unless these condos’ declaration allows this situation, such suites should not be permitted and neither should their staff be on the premises.
In a downtown condo, several companies collectively own 32 suites that are used by out-of-town employees, for conventions and other meetings. The problem here is that, for these employees, these trips to Toronto are an occasion to socialize among themselves, hold parties and, in so doing, create a great deal of noise for adjacent residents. It is difficult for other residents to do anything about this situation because the corporate owners of these suites represent a formidable voting bloc: They have 32 votes and elect boards who turn a blind eye to these activities.
In another situation, an entire floor has been bought by one company and transformed into a condo hotel with all attendant services. Residents who live below have to put up with a lot of noise, especially at night.
In a mid-town building, a handful of owners have bought a third of the suites and, although they are not furnished, are rented out even for just a month at a time. Tenants are constantly moving in and out which causes a huge amount of work for the concierge desk and the manager. More management hours are required than would be otherwise necessary, more repairs occur, more wear and tear and frayed nerves as well. As a result, all owners end up with higher fees, in fact subsidizing the profits of this handful of owners who control too many votes to permit a change in the situation. (For info on proxies, click here into Owners' Meetings and Voting)
It should be expected here that status certificates reflect the existence of these suites, otherwise there may be no way that a prospective owner would learn of this situation. Admittedly, I am not certain if this is a requirement. At the very least, it should be—but it is definitely not done. (Click here for Why Is a Status Certificate So Important?)
Party Room Noise Issues
Party rooms are generally on the ground floor, on a floor opening to a terrace, or on the penthouse or even roof level. Different noise problems arise from each one of these locations and rules may differ accordingly.
Unfortunately, many new buildings have a party room that is not sound proofed—even though all prospective buyers of adjacent suites have been assured of the contrary by the initial real estate agents. Please have such promises put in writing at the time of purchase!
In fact, some prospective owners refuse to buy a suite that is directly above or below or adjacent to a party room. Others do not buy on the same floor.
Despite these cautions, some party rooms are so poorly sound proofed that it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to attend to this defect—and, even then, the results may not be entirely satisfactory because of the noise conductivity of materials in the structure of the building. (For Building Code Problems, click in How to Explain Noise Transmission)
Even owners who have done due diligence and have bought a suite not immediately adjacent to the party room have to leave their unit as soon as loud music or dancing take place. As a result, these condos have to limit access only to parties with no music or very low music. Others allow music but only up to 11 p.m., although the party can continue until 1 a.m.