Dealing with HOA Noise Complaints

Cutting the Chatter

By Denton Tarver

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A community association's board has multiple duties—among them deciding when to make repairs, improvements, and additions, and establishing rules and regulations to control aesthetics and unwelcome behavior. Nine times out of ten, repair projects go off without a hitch, and rules are followed. Unfortunately however, those rules and reason sometimes collide, pitting neighbor against neighbor.

One Man's Noise…

One such situation that commonly reaches a fever pitch is that of noise. What control does an association have over regulating noise, and do the house rules and governing documents established by an HOA supercede regulations or ordinances that may be in place in a certain municipality or township? What happens if a resident is revving their motorcycle or car engine on a weekend or cutting the lawn really early in the morning when most homeowners are asleep? How about the newest America's Got Talentband member waking up the dead at 5 a.m. rehearsing in his dad's garage? What happens if the municipality itself is the noise culprit? Is there a formal process to handle a noise complaint?

Unfortunately, noise is something that is somewhat difficult to define, and even harder to prove. "One person's loud television is another person's 'I can barely hear it,'" says David Byrne, an attorney with Stark and Stark, a law firm in New Jersey that specializes in condominium association law. "How do you prove that it is noisy - install a decibel meter in the hallway?"

In a related article, Steve Orfield, writing for Orfield Labs agrees: "All condos are noisier than private housing, partly because in private housing, one is listening to one's own family or friends and this is not noise—which is technically known as undesirable sound."

According to the County Environmental Health Act (CEHA), "Noise means any sounds of such level and duration as to be or tend to be injurious to human health or welfare, or which would unreasonably interfere with the enjoyment of life or property throughout the state."

The most common noise complaints vary by community type, says Byrne. "In high-rise buildings, the most common complaints are TVs, parties, and conversation. Some of the units are not insulated properly, and that adds to the noise level in condominiums. In suburban areas, the most common noise complaints are usually animals."

What Are the Regulations?

The federal government set guidelines through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Noise Control Act of 1971. In 1983, the federal government decided that noise control was largely a local matter and should be left up to the state and local municipalities. The act did leave in place the guidelines set forth by the 1971 laws, which largely pertained to transportation noise such as aircraft, interstate traffic and railroads, motorcycles, and workplace activities.

The Office of Local Environmental Management (OLEM) exists to provide assistance to county and municipal governing bodies in the development and adoption of a local noise ordinance, to ensure that all local noise control ordinances are consistent with the Noise Control Act and comply with its requirements.

At the state level, New Jersey tends to pass the noise issue down to local authorities: "The way it works here in New Jersey is that some matters are delegated to local authorities under a program called CEHA, including noise complaints. We delegate enforcement authority, so that it is usually somebody from the county who investigates those kinds of complaints," says Karen Hershey, of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). The reason for this is that noise is largely considered a "regional" issue by state and federal authorities and so the local authorities would be better able to handle these complaints.

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So it would seem that finding an absolute authority on noise regulation is difficult to do. Even community associations are likely to have in place the hours and specifics of the kind and duration of noise that are tolerated in a certain area. In general, quiet hours are from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m., but hours may vary. The best way to find out what noise ordinances are in your area is to call the county or municipal office, or ask someone on your cooperative or community board.

Dangerous, or Just Annoying?

The lawn mower revving up at 7 a.m. is certainly annoying, and may prevent some much-needed sleep, and the garage singer who works the evening shift until 11 p.m. and then decides to practice at full volume may dance on your last frayed nerve, but at what level do sounds actually become dangerous?

According to a 2000 report on noise abatement and control by David M. Beardon for the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, exposure is responsible for hearing impairment in approximately 10 million of the nearly 30 million people with hearing loss in the United States. An additional 30 million people are exposed to dangerous noise levels.

Demystifying the Decibel

Sound is measured in units of decibels (dBA), and an increase of 10 dBA represents sounds that are perceived to be twice as loud. While sound levels of 65 dBA are annoying to most individuals, constant or repeated exposure to levels of 90 dBA or higher can lead to hearing loss. The following tables provide examples of various sound levels.

Resolving the Problem

So what can be done if there is a noise issue in your community? Do you turn to the board of your co-op or condo? Call the police or the Department of Environmental Protection? What if you need to press charges or file a criminal complaint?

"I tend to tell clients that noise complaints are not really things that community associations are set up to handle," says Byrne. "They are very subjective, and if the government, through the police, is not interested in doing anything when they are called to a site, then it is almost impossible to expect the association to be able to do anything about it."

So what's to be done? According to the professionals, the first step is to politely request that your neighbor reduce his or her sonic output. If that approach fails to obtain results, the next step would be to call the police, so that an official complaint is filed. From there, you might have the option of pursuing other, possibly less neighborly avenues, such as a civil lawsuit, if you chose to do so—though that course of action very often ends in frustration.

Byrne cites the lack of provable evidence in such a case, and stresses the importance of New Jersey's alternative dispute resolution (ADR) rules, which state that disagreeing parties must meet and explore other means of resolving their differences before launching full-blown legal action. This type of forum is recognized in New Jersey as an alternative to a civil lawsuit, and can save both parties involved a substantial amount of time and money.

Community associations are required by the DEP to provide forums like ADR to its members. This type of resolution is a voluntary agreement among parties to agree to terms that are hopefully mutually beneficial—or at least tolerable. There are two types of ADR hearings available: mediation and arbitration. The DEP defines them as follows:

Mediation involves the affected parties developing a joint resolution of the problem and agreeing on a future course of action. The Office of Dispute Resolution acts as an impartial third party to help the parties explore options for resolution that may not previously have been considered. The majority of mediations handled by the Office of Dispute Resolution are matters that have already been contested and are scheduled for either an administrative hearing or a trial.

Arbitration is a formal fact-finding process in which the arbiter can render a judgment on the issues. This judgment can be binding or non-binding. The Office of Dispute Resolution does not engage in arbitration, but can help select qualified arbiters should the parties choose this course.

As far as noise-related conflicts are concerned, "There is no independent determination as to whether or not it is actually noisy," says Bynre, "so the ADR mediation option exists for people to get together to see if they can work out an arrangement that will make their lives easier. For example, I may not agree that my TV is too loud, but I may agree not to watch it after 11 o' clock; I may not agree that my dog is too loud, but I will agree to keep him upstairs at night - that sort of thing."

Often, the arbiter or mediator in an ADR hearing is a volunteer - possibly someone from the community or building. If no one volunteers, then someone would have to be hired. Byrne also stresses that community associations are not required to resolve disputes, or to go to court on either party's behalf. "All the association has to do is to provide a forum in which people can come together to try to work things out. If it doesn't work out," he says. "People are free to go to court to try to settle it."

In the event that the municipality itself is the culprit, the appropriate action would again be to call the police. The town or county certainly must obey its own noise ordinances. The Department of Community Affairs (DCA) has little authority over noise regulation.

"The DCA has the power to force the association to provide ADR, but they do not have the power to go after a noisy neighbor," says Byrne. "If regular people can't live with each other, DCA doesn't have the power to keep people quiet."

Denton Tarver is a freelance writer living in New York City.

Comments

denver88

HOA's can be abusive and homeowners can be simply annoying and troublemakers. Look, if you are rude and not considerate of your neighbors you are wrong, a dog barking at everything and everybody walking on the a sidwalk or barking to come in and out of the house is annoying and it should stop, mowing your lawn at 7 am is simply not appropriate, blasting a stero or radio while washing your car, who the hell wants to listen to it, some things are not an issue with HOA's but common sense, not everyone likes your dog, musice, noisey motorcycle, think, that is all, you are infringing upon other's rights to peace and quiet, geeze, is it that difficult to understand

ibby

very well written. I am thinking about getting a condo and this was helpful so i know I'm free to enjoy my own place at a volume i find appropriate but will likely also have to deal with a possible noisy neighbor.

an unknown user

I understand about lawn mowers, but out neighbors filed a complaint that somebody in our place went to a bathroom at night. The HOA took it! They send us a letter "your floor was squeaking"... If there is a structural problem in the building that makes walking too loud, then HOA should fix it. Otherwise, they sound like idiots.

an unknown user

I live in a condo unit in NJ. The best way I can put this is we fit together like lego's because we all are duplex's. My master bedroom wall butts the living room wall of the unit on top of me. We have written in the by laws the 10PM to 8AM rule about noise but it also states that any noise no matter what time of day that is interfering with everyday life of people around them is unacceptable. It quotes such things as loud TV's, radios, washing machines, dishwashers, etc. The person on top of me and to the side just ignores this. She comes home after 10 and starts a load of laundry, her TV in the living room is loud as hell and she falls asleep on her couch, never goes to her bedroom, and that TV is right up against my bedroom wall. I sleep with ear plugs every night. She took up her rugs to put hard wood floors down and you can hear all day long chairs dragging back and forth on the floor. I have told her but she does not give a damn. What can I do. She won't even look at me. She is just so inconsiderate I feel like I paid just as much for my unit why should I have to put up with this. Help

joe

noise in condos is subjective.I live in a place with subwoofers going all night until 3am,I complained,nothing ever done,instead began to get repeated complaints about my guitar playing,it was ''an electric guitar''when it was acoustic,it was played late at night,it was etc etc,all complaints coming from noisy subwoofer 3am types up all night.I do not make excessive noise,have to use earplugs at night with sound machine to sleep,yet get complaints concerning my music.

an unknown user

I own a condo where the lady below us has been complaining about a "constant" noise but refuses to help us identify the noise. It could be our fridge clicking on or our cadet heaters, we don't know. She has even complained when we weren't home and our HOA has taken the complaints and started sending us fines. I feel really helpless that we are being extorted for money on a basis that doesn't even need to be proven. We are going to have to go to court to dispute it.

Sandy

Just thank god you don't own any thing in Sleezeside Heights sorry that's Seaside Heights. In June it is just pure hell there.

Shell

I bought a condo 9 years ago and unfortunately have had transient renters come and go next door to me. They reve up and idle their Harley cycles for 20 minutes coming and going-at all hours, banging on my wall every day because of my music that I listen to while on the computer. I dont even listen to it THAT loud, and if I do it's btwn the hours of 11 AM to 5 or 6 PM. I've already spoken to the President of our condos. Nothing was done. "A Harley Davidson HAS to be revved up and idled before using," the owner said. Nothing the President could 'do for me'. Was wondering if someone out there could give me advice as to what to do. This isnt the best of times to sell the condo, and even if I did chances are the situation would present itself once again. These are the times we live in, right? At 4 PM I should be able to listen to music or tv at a reasonable level without being harassed. Noise ordinance laws are 11 PM to 7 AM here where I live. Thanks for listening.

an unknown user

My neighbor upstairs is on the HOA board and her husband told us they will make sure we move out cuz he doesn't like us. Since that day, their tv or stereo is up so loud we can't hear our own tv. We don't make a peep at all. How can we get a board member to stop?

Martha

I live in a Condominium Building I am owner of a unit and since II know the maintence man make alot of irregulators of this Building he hates me and now I am suffering because he damage my unit since more then two months I have full of DUST in my all apartment and differents strongs odors all day and night I been complaining to the City Hall, to the Health Department, to the Association and nobody help me, and the Association hates me too because they put this man here and my Association fees are up to date since I bought this unit...what can I do with this problem? this is a nightmare!

Brad

I have noisy neighbors who have refused to help me identify what I know are their kids running around and screaming.

just a dude

you could live in a mobile home park w/ an annoying neighbor that has a carpet cleaning business that is loud as all hell, running his compressors to clean his personal vehicles, a sign entering galaxy manor says no loud music but not noise..the management is unprofessional they tell neighbors to work out their problems w/ each other even where the land line is between properties..recently there was that big 5 county drug bust here as well. getting back to noise it gets ridiculous here, high volume sounds like i'm at a machine shop, i kid you not,,,

Will not buy into condo again

I live in California and bought a condo. The HOA in the complex don't seem interested. I suggest for anyone buying into a condo that they have the walls checked to see if they have sound reduction. Whether you are the one making the noise or your neighbor. Once you buy you can't just move out. If you have money to sound proof or noise reduce the walls, don't buy a condo. Eventually will have someone who doesn't care that will move inl

jim

i rent an apart in a single home,the washing machine,and dryer is next to my apart,the people who own the home use the machines every day,more than once,which is driving me up the wall because of constant banging of the machine doors.can you you give me some advise on how to approch them,there is only one person living there,

Christy

To just a dude: your neighbor who is running a business out of his mobile home is breaking rules about home operated businesses. He cannot make a lot of noise, nor bring a lot of traffic into the mobile home park. Check with your city's business licensing division.

sara

I live in a Town home residence and work from home. My neighbor is a nurse and has a teenage son. While she's at work, he ha parties music BEYOND loud. I have contacted the HOA and they have sent letters to appear to the fining committee and a fine is assessed but the fining committee waives the fine. I am on the HOA Board of directors and I cannot attend the fining meetings. I called the Sheriffs Dept they have came out twice now but the kid will not answer the door. they said if he doesn't answer there is nothing they can do--mean while my job is in jeopardy s my clients can hear this....HELP!!!

DONNA

CAN U BE FIND FOR NOISE? IN A CONDO

an unknown user

hard wood floors Is there any insullation that would prevent noise downstairs

QuietNoisemaker

How about neighbors that complain about closing car doors, or bedroom doors, or simply walking up carpeted stairs? There is a limit to how much noise you can make, but there is also a limit on what you can/cant complain about. Certain neighbors are just utterly ridiculous with their complaints of noise.

AnnoyedOwner

I own a 3rd floor condo in a nice complex and have been an owner 10 yrs but in the same building for 20. As I sit here typing this, I am enduring yet again a inconsiderately rude neighbor on the ground floor hosting another party on his outdoor deck (4ft x 10ft maybe) but tonight he's actually set up tables and chairs in the courtyard again with a nice spread for his guests, has tiki torches and bbq going, a hookah, alcohol and about 10-12 people sitting out there being loud and yelling. He does this every summer as football begins. The association has fined him repeatedly but he ignores it as he rents from a relative. Last weekend he kept me up til 230 AM with his noise. I should have called the police then but didn't hoping he'd get it out of his system. Apparently, it just adds fuel to his brazen ego! But as I saw him setting up, I went downstairs to confront him and told him in no uncertain terms that I will be calling the police at 11:01 if he doesn't take it inside! He didn't seem to care...

widowed woman

I live in a town house and been here for 27 years no problems until the family next door moved in. they have parties and drink but then they start screaming obscenities at my house, throw trash in my yard ,mark up my car and yell in my windows 2am what can I do?

Dagmar Collins

I leave for work at 6am in the morning on my motorcycle....omg I do not revv the bike or anything. i get on and leave .my neighbors have no understanding for my way to work and the hoa want to fine me

retiredon social security

yikes-thought buying a condo was the answer to my old-age prayers but not even close! renters below have hardwood floors and woofers and tweeters and there is at least 2 of them-young, dumb and drunk-maybe drugs-whatever-after reading these-guess i'm not alone-sad for all of us! not many options especially for old people-all $ invested in this place-geez-why doesn't some young lawyer see these and take us all on!

David

I rented a duplex several years ago that motivated me to get my own home. The duplex was a '50s era ranch style that was clean but nothing was remodeled. This was back in 1990. All seemed in check until I was jolted awake from a midday Saturday nap ( I had just worked a 60 hour shift and was burned out big time!) from what sounded like a cathedral organ. Well, I wasn't too far off range with what I predicted. The wall that I shared with my neighbor (he was an old guy in his late '60s) had a humungous church organ behind it. I wasn't aware that my elderly neighbor had this giant organ in his living room and he needed to practice daily because he played the organ at his unitarian church. His living room is right off of my bedroom, and when he played his organ I could see the mirror above my dresser shaking! I talked to him and asked if he could play much quieter. He said that he needs "to feel the music" to get into it. I made numerous attempts to contact the property owner via letters and phone messages, but the property owner in the end said I should call the police if noise if an issue! I said that I wish I would've been told that this old guy I share a wall with practices his church organ nearly everyday. The property owner wouldn't terminate my lease. I threatened to sue, and he finally gave in and ended my lease. I've had my own home since 1998. My nearest neighbors are 200 feet from me. It's been pure serenity for 16 years:)

Rasitan

We have new neighbor that has this extremely loud music system right next to our bedroom wall. Every day he is playing music so loud you can hear it from everywhere, even our bedroom walls are vibrating from noise. I wake up at 5:30am and when I come home I just want to relax and sleep - not to listen some concert! We talked to our neighbour but he has no common sense! He just thinks it's his unit he can do whatever he wants. We are planning to take an action against him because building rules states "No loud music, TV or other noices at any time if it disturbs others".

MusicLover

This is not a one-sided issue. Don't people who enjoy music have any rights? If I have a neighbor on one side who works the day shift and my other neighbor works the night shift and I ever allowed to vacuum the floor or do my laundry. If you want complete quiet you should not be living in a Condo..that is known up front. Any extreme is offensive...a condo owner who insists on complete quiet is just as obnoxious as the condo owner playing excessively loud music.

Homeowner

I own my own home but my neighbor puts her big speaker outside and will blast her music for the entire block to hear it and I don't want to hear the music I can't even watch tv with my windows open on a nice day so I called the Environment Office in the borough and was told if the music disturbs my piece of living it has to be turned off and to call police I've been doing that and I called today and was told basically that the environment director doesn't know what he's talking about and gave me wrong information so now I'm going to get an attorney and sue the renter who is renting out the home across from me - i got to the point that I hate music


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