Of all the compromises that come with condo ownership, living with noise might be the biggest. Whether you have a neighbour with creaky hardwood floors or a penchant for practicing freestyle clarinet solos or late-night acrobatics, you know all too well how noise can affect your life.
Although most strata corporations have bylaws restricting noise and other forms of nuisance, it can be difficult for owners and strata councils to figure out when the noises of everyday life cross the line and become legitimate complaints.
Most noise complaints come down to a conflict between how owners wish to use their properties and how different noises travel in buildings. For example, one owner may want to use their spare bedroom as a 24-hour home gym while the person living below can hear every footstep above their bedroom. When both owners have a right to live and use their property, who is responsible to change their behavior or expectations?
From a legal perspective, making a noise that impacts another person’s quiet enjoyment of their property can be considered nuisance. The challenging comes down to figuring out what level or noise or interference is reasonable. We all experience life subjectively and what bothers one person may be entirely acceptable to another.
In British Columbia, the courts will normally try to establish whether the level of noise is objectively reasonable to the average person. The courts will look at the nature and frequency of the noise as well as the nature of the neighbourhood and the property. When a neighbourhood changes over time, this too must be taken into account.
If you believe that a neighbour’s noise is affecting your ability to enjoy your home, look for ways to create evidence in support of your noise complaint. Take recordings of the noise if you can. Keep a journal of the timing, frequency and nature of the disturbances. You may also want to hire an acoustic engineer to measure the level of the noise and compare it to normal levels, verify the source and propose modifications in behavior or building construction.
At the other end of the scale, if you receive noise complaints, ask for specific details about the type of noise and the timing of the incident. Your strata corporation has a statutory obligation to provide you with specific details about the alleged offence. If you want to challenge a noise complaint, remember that you will need to show the strata council, and potentially the courts, that you were not engaging in any unusually noisy activities given the time of the complaint. If the issue persists, consider working with your neighbour and strata corporation to come to an agreeable solution.
If you are a member of a strata council dealing with noise complaints, avoid jumping to conclusions and take the time to investigate the complaint. Your strata corporation has a statutory duty to enforce the bylaws, make reasonable decisions and provide owners with a fair adjudication process.
While a late-night party or barking dog are obvious problems, many persistent noise issues are structural in nature. Your strata corporation is responsible for the repair and maintenance of common property between strata lots, and if the common property is a contributing factor in the transmission of noise between strata lots, the strata corporation may have a duty to repair or minimize the transmission of sound.
The simplest and most cost-effective way to resolve noise disputes is to work with neighbours and strata council to determine whether the noise is normal and to look for ways to minimize the disturbance.
If extending an olive branch doesn’t work, you may have legal remedies. Most of the time, owners have a right to the quiet enjoyment of their property. If you believe that your neighbour or your strata corporation are failing to respect your rights, or are unfairly targeting you, speak with a strata lawyer to review your matter and provide you with qualified legal advice.
For additional information on this and other strata property topics, visit my free online strata law guide at www.stratalaw.ca. Finally, always remember that this article provides general reference information, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, always speak with a lawyer.